Thursday, March 15, 2012

Parenting = happiness?


I read this article a week or two ago, and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since.  Basically it’s all about how society tends to think that having children brings parents happiness and that while your kids are young, you need to enjoy all your time with them because they’re only young once.  But studies show that the hard work of parenting actually decreases a person’s happiness and that parenting is a “chore” for most people at times.

To quote the article:

“One reason for this is that much of the work of a parent is physically tiring, emotionally taxing, banal in its repetition, and unappealing in its content. We wake up in the middle of the night to screaming infants, we endlessly cook, clean, and wash, and we fight through power struggles with teenagers seeking greater freedom. Parents have plenty of reasons to find this labor of love a chore. And research indicates that, on the whole, that's precisely how we see it—at least most of the time. In an oft-cited time-sampling study by Kahnemann, et al., a sample of mums indicated they experienced more positive affect doing just about anything—including housework—when compared to working with the children.”

I have to admit, this article REALLY spoke to me when I read it.  Don’t get me wrong, I love my kids, and I wouldn’t trade them for the world.  But I do find myself daydreaming quite frequently about the days when my kids aren’t quite so dependent on me.  I long for free time to just do whatever I want, whenever I want, without having to fight with my preschooler about pooping on the potty or trying to figure out how the heck to get my baby to sleep.  I feel guilty for not enjoying every single moment of my day with my kids, and in fact, I spend most of my day frustrated by Abbie’s “sassiness” and Ben starting to fuss as soon as I sit down for a second.  I feel like I’m behind in my housework almost all the time and I have a hard time with deciding what to do with my “free” time – play with Abbie or do something constructive with her or work on the hours of housework that is staring me in the face or do something I want to do.  And if I choose doing something I want to do (like blogging), I often feel guilty about it later, thinking I should have been reading to Abbie or doing the dishes or working on laundry or whatever else.  The article also specifically touches on this:

“Children require us to put off our natural self-serving tendencies, to sacrifice ourselves for something greater (them), and to engage with them. Effective parenting requires us to control ourselves for their benefit. In a lot of cases, this means we feel less satisfied with our lives. We experience less positive affect. We experience more negative affect. We see our friends less. We chase our ambition less. And we feel more guilt when we do something for us. The reason most studies show parenting reduces happiness is because most studies measure happiness through subjective wellbeing, or the extent to which our life satisfaction is high and positive affect is high. Making these sacrifices will reduce happiness when that's how we measure it.”

The gist of the article is that if you view parenting as your “calling”, that you’ll find more happiness in raising your kids.  I can think back on numerous occasions when Abbie was younger where I did think that parenting was my calling and she was the reason I was put on this earth.  But I waver between feeling like I was meant to being a parent and really wishing I had much more time to myself.

I know right now I have a lot on my plate.  Having any preschooler can be difficult at times, but I think sometimes Abbie is particularly difficult.  Her babysitter often times tells me that Abbie is very strong-willed.  She is definitely not a push-over by any stretch of the imagination, which is a good thing, but it’s also exhausting.  She is VERY demanding and multiple times a day will demand that I do something for her.  “Get me juice right now.”  “Change me right now.”  etc.  I will tell her to not talk to me like that and I’m not doing anything for her until she can ask me nicely.  But then as soon as I tell her to do something – “Abbie, you need to eat your food.” – she throws back in my face “You don’t talk to me like that!”.  She’s very smart, which again is a blessing, but it also means I answer literally a hundred questions a day.  She requires quite a bit of patience and I’ll admit, sometimes I just run out of it and wish I could just go lay down and take a nap.

And speaking of sleep, that’s another huge factor in life being difficult right now.  Ben doesn’t sleep well at all during the night.  I would say I’m up with him at LEAST 8 times a night on average between giving him a paci and feeding him and changing him.  It seems like as soon as I fall asleep, he’s up fussing.  I’m not sure I ever really fall into a deep sleep because he’s up so much, which doesn’t help my daily functioning or my patience level at all.  I think almost anything becomes a chore when you’re tired.

I know that these days are short-lived.  Ben is fast approaching my favorite age – 4-6 months, and pretty soon he’ll be sleeping through the night.  (As I was working on writing this, he actually slept for 8 hours during the night for the first time!)  Abbie is one of the sweetest kids I know and often comes up to me during the day and gives me a hug and says, “I love you mama.”  I love my kids, and as difficult as they are at times, I couldn’t imagine my life without them.



Anonymous said...

Hang in there! Being a parent is such a hard job, but it is worth it.

Unknown said...

I feel all the same things! I don't know if I ever felt like being a parent was my "calling" but I knew that I wanted to have children.
I often times wish I were more like the stay at home moms who used to be teachers.
They seem to have it down and I feel so bad that I'm not smart enough to do fun little activities. (I do find them on pinterest though!)
Most of the time for me (2 under 2 here its about basic survival.)
Are my kids fed? Clothed? Not screaming all the time? Then thats about as good as it gets for me!
And hang in there with the sleep! I think lack of sleep makes everything seem so much worse because we are tired and cranky ourselves!

Uncork and Unwined said...

First of all, dont feel guilty. I think as parents we all feel that way. It's impossible to be happy 24/7 especially when you're sleep deprived. Your life sounds exhausting. Just when I think I cant take anymore, I think about you having two, one being a very strong willed 2 year old and I realize that I will be challenged even more in the future when we have another baby. M sounds like she's going to be a lot like your Abbie. =) I think you're doing a great job!

Im so happy to hear that Ben is doing better and gaining weight. I havent had time to comment on blogs lately and when I read that he was having dehydration symptoms and the doc wasnt worried, I was so upset for you! Im so glad it's all worked out now. He's such a cutie!

I went to AL with J for a bit of his SOS and the area certainly isnt glamorous, but it is in the States, close to Florida and so nice when you've been away for awhile. They have a TON of free time too! Im so glad you guys are getting to go with him.

Em said...

I've heard of this thing you speak of called "sleep." I think I used to have some before I realized just how much I would miss it. I anticipate that someday I will find it again. Didn't you mention once that Ben will sleep if he sleeps with you? Why not just do that? I mean, he will be rested, you will be rested, and as a result, feel better during the day, yes?

Have you read this one as well:

It's a good perspective.