Parents spend endless hours commiserating with one another about the travails of parenthood. Yet when researchers present data about children and unhappiness, parents rise up in protest. Research may depict parenthood as a bile-inducing, rage-fueling, stress-producing ordeal, but parents tell us that becoming parents is the best thing they ever did. Nonparents write off this reaction as defensiveness—if you've screwed up by having a kid and don't want to admit it, you pretend to be happy—but parents regularly choose to have more than one child. If parenthood were as subjectively awful as the objective research implies, wouldn't all parents stop at one child? It's one thing to claim that a stubbed toe doesn't hurt, and quite another to aim a second kick at the chair.Parents, I would argue, are hardly unique in spending hours commiserating about the travails of what they do: ever hang out with teachers? We talk about the kids. If you get a bunch of people from the office together, I bet they complain about the stupid people who call customer service or the middle-management boss who can't deal with people, rarely gets caught doing his job, and picks his nose semi-discretely (but obviously not enough so that it isn't an open secret). In short, anyone who has someone to commiserate with about work, does. And there are a lot of parents out there. In any case, there's a fair point to be made there. The article continues:
Parenting is a grind, and most parents are stressed out much more than they are happy. But when parents think about parenting, they don't remember the background stress. They remember the cuddle and the kiss. Parenting is a series of intensely high highs, followed by long periods of frustration and stress, during which you go to great lengths to find your way back to that sofa and that kiss.
We have a name for people who pursue rare moments of bliss at the expense of their wallets and their social and professional relationships: addicts.Hmmm. I see what he's getting at, but I just don't quite buy it (yeah, I know--the first step is admitting you have a problem, right?). To me, it's not that parenting, in particular, has a lot of frustrations, disappointments, stresses, and heart-break, along with occasional rewards--that's life. Could it be that we've got it so good in the Twenty-first Century that real life looks strange to us? That we expect life to be one big amusement park, a brave new world where we take the good and avoid/ignore the bad?
Once, growing up more or less meant taking on the responsibilities of a job, a family, a place in society or your community, dealing with hard realities, and finding meaning--and joy--in the midst of it. Increasingly growing up seems to mean just getting older and getting a job to get more toys. We're not junkies, we're grown-ups (I've written before, elsewhere, about how getting married and having children are neither necessary nor sufficient conditions for becoming mature, so I'll let that gross generalization stand). Ben wasn't talking about this precisely, but he was right to write that "All of the things we did before we became parents were fun. Now all the things we do as parents are fulfilling, and fun, in different ways." Fun is nice, but fulfillment is where we really touch life.
But maybe that's just the addiction talking. Maybe I'm just too far gone....