The stories are a little disturbing, even if you don't have kids at home: Moms who confess that they love one child more than another. People who decide they don't want to be a full-time parent. Study after study showing that non-parents are happier than parents.
Is the latest parenting trend "parents who hate parenting"?
"Parents of young children report far more depression, emotional distress, and other negative emotions than non-parents, and parents of grown children have no better well-being than adults who never had children," points out Robin Simon, a sociologist at Wake Forest University.
New studies by Richard Eibach and Steven Mock, psychologists at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, confirmed that people idealize parenthood in order to justify the costs, which are mind boggling-more than $200,000 to raise a child born in 2007 to age 18, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data.
"Although raising children has largely negative effects on parents' emotional well-being, parenthood is often idealized as a uniquely emotionally rewarding role," wrote Eibach in the abstract for his studies, which were published in the February 2011 issue of "Psychological Science." Or, as Time Magazine explained it: "Having kids is an economic and emotional drain. It should make those who have kids feel worse. Instead, parents glorify their lives. They believe that the financial and emotional benefits of having children are significantly higher than they really are."
The financial benefits of parenthood were very different just a few generations ago. And our expectations were, too. Back when children were thought of as commodities, rather than tiny treasures, it was the norm for a young woman to go from her parents home to her husband's, and to start having kids soon after. Now, more men and women are having children later in life, and that may lead to dissatisfaction with parenthood simply because, after having established their careers and their finances and themselves before having kids, they know exactly what they're giving up when Junior arrives. And they miss it.
In a New York Magazine article titled "All Joy and No Fun," writer Jennifer Senior points out that there's a difference between feeling happy and feeling rewarded, that having a strong support system leads parents to feel happier, and that when it comes to parenthood, the gulf between our fantasies and reality is huge. Like marriage, parenthood is often portrayed as being full of wonderment and joy, and it is, but let's face it: They don't call them "The Terrible Twos" for nothing. And the teenage years are no picnic, either. There's also a big difference between "like" and "love"; we're not likable all the time, why do we expect our kids to be?
But when it comes to happiness and parenting, I'd argue two things: First, the fact that we can focus so intensely on personal happiness means that we've got it better than most people in the world. And second, sure, when you look at the cost analysis, having kids isn't strictly rational-but then again, neither are many other things we do. Focusing on how much you hate parenthood isn't helpful when it's still one of the most important jobs we have.
Susan Callahan, co-author with Anne Nolen and Katrin Schumann of "Mothers Need Time-Outs, Too," points out that the intense focus on our children can lead many moms to resent motherhood. "We believe that parents, and women in particular, run into a couple stumbling blocks when parenting," Callahan says. "The three big themes tend to be perfectionism, multitasking, and stress."
After interviewing more than 500 women while researching their book, Callahan says that she and her colleagues found that "perfectionism is the number one issue keeping modern mothers from enjoying the moment."
"We are all so busy trying to be everything to everyone-and doing a stellar job while we're at it-that we don't have a spare second to plug into our own needs or desires," she points out. She offers these 10 tips to help moms give themselves permission to take care of themselves and, in doing so, find more joy in parenting:
- Give yourself a break-you don't need to be so hard on yourself.
- Just say no! What are your real priorities?
- Take time to write it down. Journaling will bring clarity to your life.
- Slow down and savor living in the moment.
- Plug into your kids so you can really connect with them.
- Don't forget about your husband-intimacy is life-affirming!
- Reach out beyond your family. It will enrich everyone.
- Make your physical and mental health a priority.
- Is more always better? Simplify everything.
- Be a little selfish-you deserve it, and it will make you a better mother.
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