So, there’s an article in the Washington Post that’s floating around Facebook that has the completely click-baity headline of (paraphrasing): Parenting Is Worse Than Everything.
Read the article.
So, for you TL;DR folks (which, would you really be reading this either?) – it basically states that parents in a German study were asked to rate their happiness before and after children and pretty much most parents reported a decrease in their overall happiness during the first year of their child’s life. The drop was worse than what is usually seen with divorce, the death of a spouse, or unemployment.
Naturally, people on FB were totally up in arms and offended because BEING A PARENT IS THE BEST, right? HAVING KIDS IS A BLESSING!
Okay, but here is the thing. Being a parent sometimes SUCKS. It is HARD and a lot of the time THANKLESS work. It strips you of your autonomy and your agency and your sleep. It completely changes the spousal/partner relationship. For some of us, it takes away our work, which for most people is a huge part of identity. It makes it hard to maintain friendships with people who like to go out and do adult things (which you still like to do but can’t anymore). And it is hard to prepare for this, no matter how prepared a parent thinks they will be.
That doesn’t contradict, however, that children are a (one hopes) blessing. I love my kids without measure. You try to hurt my kids, I will fucking cut you. If I could turn back time, I would absolutely have my kids again. But … if I am being totally honest, then yes, with each of my kids, I was less “happy” in their first year than in the time prior to when they were born.
But again, “happy” isn’t the same as “grateful.” Being less happy (because, lets face it, I am exhausted, I have basically zero time to myself, I am adjusting to a completely changed body shape, I moved to the suburbs) is, as Dan Savage would say (although in a completely different context) the price of admission. Because having kids requires self-sacrifice. And self-sacrifice often leads to diminished happiness.
If I did all the things that would make me happy in the way that I was happy before kids, I would be a terrible parent. I’d be out multiple nights a week, having happy hour, staying up too late and drinking a bit too much, sleeping too late on weekends, spending money more frivolously, etc. etc.
An important thing to remember, as well, is that this study measures one year. The first year with Quinn was really hard. The second was better. By the third, I had got some of the old me back. She wasn’t nursing, she was sleeping okay, I could go out, I could even work a bit. My life wasn’t tied to her nap schedule. I could shower completely alone in the bathroom. Mike and I could go on dates. Having a second child, everything resets. I’m tired, I’m overwhelmed, I miss my life before, all the while loving my son like crazy. But, soon this year will be over. And then it will get easier and the things that make me happy outside of my kids will start filtering back into my life again.
It isn’t a surprise that life is not black and white. Parenting can be marvelous and awful at the same time. You can love your kids and miss your life before them. I’m not sure why we feel it’s necessary to make everything into a dichotomy. And not allowing parents to have honest feelings about their kids – which includes negative feelings – doesn’t help anyone. Being unhappy (or less happy) isn’t the same as failure. Being a good parent means doing the things that you need to do for your kids, while sacrificing the things you want to do for you, at least for awhile.