The Parenting Paradox: All Joy, No Fun!

Ready for the Chicken Dance!

Me and my little chicks!

I had just dropped off MJ at school on a Friday morning, barely making it before the 8:00 tardy bell, heart rate and blood pressure still up from the stress of the morning routine…the screaming 4-year-old in the tub who refused to take a bath (because there was a speck of dirt in the water which she claimed was a fly)….the 6-year-old who kept finding everything else to do but put his shoes on to get out the door on time (including sending me love notes via paper airplanes). Once again, I was becoming drill sergeant Mommy – barking out orders – “finish your milk, take your dishes to the counter, stop bothering your sister, go back and rinse, no more whining, because I said so” –  a role which none of us much enjoy. I spent the half-mile drive to and from school breathing in through my nose and out through my mouth, trying to think calm and loving thoughts…

Back at home, I turned on the radio to hear author Jennifer Senior being interviewed about her new book, a New York Time’s Best Seller, “All Joy No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenting.” * I was just in time to hear the 1st question posed, “Does raising children detract from happiness?” Duh…YES, the answer was obvious to me in the moment. Though it might sound counter-intuitive, research actually proves that people without children are happier. “What? That’s ridiculous! I can’t imagine my life without my kids!“, you say. First of all, fess up – you have imagined your life without kids just recently, right? You’ve imagined what it would be like to sit on the potty or take a shower in complete privacy again. You’ve day-dreamed about what it would be like to sleep in on a peaceful Saturday morning, to rise at your leisure and enjoy a quiet cup of coffee without the barrage of “Mommy, I need you” requests that are now your “Morning Mozart”. Secondly, the research makes perfect sense when you think of it like this: People without whining, snotty children, diaper bags, and mini-vans packed with booster seats are happier on a daily minute-to-minute basis. We may have day-dreamed about the happiness our children would bring to our lives in the doe-eyed days of delusion that is pregnancy. We may have even become pregnant or adopted in an effort to increase the happiness in our lives, in our marriage. But the harsh truth is that stuck in the drudgery of the daily mess – the  conflicts and battles over hygiene, nutrition, homework, chores, bedtimes and beyond – happiness can be elusive.

Mothers in a survey rated their parenting moments lower on an “enjoyment” scale than nearly everything else they did throughout the day, including housework. (Housework, what’s that?) But, as the author points out, the research doesn’t convey the whole story. We parents know that there is a difference between loving your children and loving the act of parenting them. There are lots of little “no fun” moments ALL….DAY….LONG, ranging from changing dirty diapers and bouncing colicky babies in the middle of the night to arguing with teenagers about curfews and cell phones.  But the truth is that none of these moments take away the indescribable JOY that the occasional transcendent parenting moment with a child can bring us…. the coo of recognition as your baby looks up at you in the rocking chair by the light of the moon, the gentle squeeze of a little hand in yours, the first time you hear your child say “I love you, Mommy.” The JOY of these parenting moments is really unquantifiable. Yes, we might rank a night out with girlfriends and margaritas as a “5” on the 1-5 happiness scale, but these moments of authentic connection with the little soul that we’ve brought into the universe? These are really “off the charts”. People without children may be happier, but they don’t have nearly as many of these moments of transcendence. For parents, the highs are higher, and the lows are lower…Little did I know that I was gonna have one of my own all-time lowest lows later that afternoon with Ellie (nearly 5).

I picked her up from a play-date to take her for a special “Mommy and Me” treat. Chocolate cake at our neighborhood cafe. I should have taken her whininess as a cue to skip the outing, and get her on home for rest-time. But I knew I was gonna be out of town for the weekend, and wanted a little special time with my girl, so I ignored by best mothering instincts (plus I’d had my heart set on the chocolate cake all morning.) After we’d licked the plate, her fussiness resumed and she refused to get into her car seat. Please tell me you’ve been there, too! Forcing, pushing your child’s tightened body to bend, as they protest with all their might. As soon as I got her buckled into the 5-point-harness and took my place in the driver’s seat, she unbuckled. This back-and-forth from the driver’s seat continued for about 10 minutes there in the parking lot. I would back the car out a whole foot, then have to stop, and repeat the unpleasant process all over again. I swear an older couple stayed in their car to watch the antics and ensure that no abuse was taking place as Ellie screamed, “You’re hurting me!” Finally I got it tight enough that it at least hindered the un-buckling process, and I was determined to make the 2-minute drive home. As soon as I’d turned right onto the street, I heard the whoosh of air. I looked back, and Ellie had unlocked and opened her car door wide into the next lane. I immediately pulled over, and used my stern and scary voice to tell her what the real consequences of such a serious misbehavior could have been. “You could fall out of the car, another car could hit you, and you could die.” Instead of being frightened into tears and regret, my little strong-willed Ellie remained defiant. “Well, I want to be dead because I don’t want to be in this family anymore!” Oh my…definitely a dramatic “no fun” parenting moment all around. When we got home, I had to drag her into her room for a time out, where she eventually fell asleep naked in her pink fuzzy chair. (Apparently, she’d stripped all of her clothes off as one of many acts of defiance in her arsenal.) I escaped for a nap in my own room, falling asleep worrying about how all of this defiance will play out when she is 13, 15, 17….and congratulating myself for not slapping the little terror.

In a society where we are bombarded by books and advice on how our parenting affects our children, Jennifer Senior, a mother herself, has written this book to address the way that parenting affects, well… parents. Using research and real-life anecdotes, she examines how parenting changes our marriages, our self-identitties, our careers, our friendships, our focus, our sex lives, our daily happiness…While we could never have imagined the challenges of parenting before our children actually arrived in all their gooey glory, we neither could have imagined the absolutely heart and gut-wrenching sense of love-filled connection that we feel for these little creatures. We parents may be miserable, but we sure wouldn’t have it any other way! As the author’s acknowledgment to her 6-year-old son state: “Without this kid, the world wouldn’t be half so beautiful, or half so meaningful, or half so large. How I love you, darling boy.  You’ll never know the half of it, and that’s just fine.

*You’re invited to join me for a discussion on this great new book, whether you’ve read it or not…We’ll discuss ways to increase the JOY and at least keep some perspective during the inevitable and incessant “NO FUN” moments!

Monday, March 24th, 7:30pm, Panera on Park, Sign Up…

OR

Friday, March 28th, 10:30am, Highlands Christian Church, childcare offered, Sign Up…

Listen to the author interview

Comments

  1. Melanie says:

    Great article Lowry! I can’t imagine how frustrated and scary and angry you must have felt that day. The temptation to throttle Ellie in that moment must have been strong! My mom told me once that she used to put herself in time-out, locking herself in a closet until she calmed down enough to not want to kill us. LOL!!! This just makes me want to put off having children even longer! At the same time, Mark and I love reading the “good times” stories with your children as well. We often remark, “Our kids will be cool like Lowry’s.” :)

    • Oh, sweet Melanie…thanks for the affirmation. Glad you’re reading the “good moments”, too, or you might be scared out of it! Hopefully you’re kiddos will be just a tad easier. A lot of them are, but they all have their imperfections, just like us. Thanks for reading!

  2. Zehra says:

    Ha! Parenting sure is hard. What seems like it should be an easy job, after all you don’t need a license or degree to do it, is filled with so many challenges. After a particularly rough day, i found myself googling “i love my kids but i hate being a mom.”. And with all the different blogs and BabyCenter or Bump.com or UrbanBaby etc. message board postings, i stumbled upon Senior’s 2010 article written for New York magazine ( http://nymag.com/news/features/67024/ ). The article starts off so bleak and i found myself thinking hindsight is 20/20 and why couldn’t I have learned this information years ago. The article changes it’s tune at the very end (thank goodness!). With two LOs so close in age, I have found myself looking at your “Let it Go” song (posted up on the side of our fridge so I can reference it at a moments notice). The terrible twos and the constant sleep interruptions from the baby, at times makes me question why anyone would do this. But then the older one does something sooo insanely cute or the little one coos and grabs my face and then it seems that all is right in the world again. Maybe the 2% of time of “awesomeness” exceeds the other 98% of misery. My mantra- Gam zeh ya’avor- (this too shall pass). And with that said, I endure the 98% because that 2% will pass and I want to keep my head up so I can truly enjoy it.

    • Zehra, thank you SO much for sharing…that was so helpful and insightful. Hang in there and enjoy the 2%. I promise it DOES get easier as they get a little older.