Parents Hate Parenting Because They're Doing it Wrong

Filed under: Opinions

Jennifer Senior's recent and much commented on New York Magazine article, "All Joy and No Fun", about why parents hate parenting, caught my attention -- especially since I wrote a book on how to be a happy parent.

According to Senior, the day-to-day grind of parenting sucks and there's plenty of stats to prove it. So why do modern day adults, who have a choice in the matter, put themselves through it? She concludes that it's fear that we might regret not having the parenting experience.

And how does she explain the fact, that despite the dour results of the studies she cites, when asked, parents are decidedly more upbeat about the experience? The mind, she says, plays a "lovely magic trick of the memory," gilding hard times that later provides "intense gratification, nostalgia, delight."

I've been through natural childbirth and there is nothing gilded or lovely about that memory. Unlike natural child birth, parenting and nurturing can be a very pleasurable experience. That too many parents have turned it into a joyless, angst-ridden achievement and an exhaustive competition should not be an indictment on the pleasures of parenting.

Sadly, it's become fashionable to bash parenting and portray those who enjoy it and gain real-time satisfaction from it as intellectually inferior, uninteresting or unsophisticated. To say without irony that you love being a mom, that you think it's fun, is to open yourself up to criticism and suspicion. People quietly wonder whether you're a Stepford wife or worse, they take your maternal contentment as a judgment on them.

Year after year academics roll out study after study telling us how mind numbing and hard (not to mention environmentally detrimental) it is to raise kids. The truth is, parenting is hard. These days, there's less support from extended family, plenty of pitfalls and long hours.

But so what?

What successful CEO, entrepreneur or entertainer hasn't toiled very long, hard hours doing what they love and have passion for? Who among them would tell you that every bit of it was joyous?

For me, the diapers, meals and clean up is the price I pay to do what I want and love to do – be around and enjoy my kids for this fleeting season of my life. In fact, with each added child to our tribe, I've become a happier and more relaxed parent.
Yet with six kids around, I feel no pressure to be their playmate and I certainly have no time for helicopter parenting. Do I occasionally play Barbies? Sure. But I have no problem saying, "No, go play with your sister. I'm reading a book."

Ditto for my guilt-free nights out with my husband. Moreover, with so many kids, I've had no choice but to limit the enrichment activities and I believe we are all happier for it. I'm a firm believer in giving kids the "gift of boredom." Bored kids climb trees, rediscover toys, read books and give Mom and Dad a break.

Studies indicate that today's parents actually spend more time interacting with their kids, so then why do parents report feeling more guilty? Probably because we've redefined "good parenting" and substantially altered the rhythms of family life to include enrichment and sporting activities that end up making us feel rushed and ironically, more disconnected as a family.

What's more bonding? A lazy afternoon at the house with a family meal or driving to hockey tournaments, watching our kids from the bleachers and topping it all off with a drive-through Happy Meal on the way home? Perhaps there would be more time to let those precious childhood moments unfold if we weren't cramming so much "quality time" into our days.

Senior's article begins with a poignant personal story of coming home from work and looking forward to a happy reunion with her young son. Instead, her evening devolves into a tedious battle with her 2-year-old and a wooden toy that needs re-assembling. Like so many other things in life, Senior is facing the gulf between expectations and reality and nothing can be as unpredictable as a toddler at the end of a long day, or more disappointing for a mom who's been craving the peaceful company of her child.

In this case, Senior has fallen prey to the guilt and the pressure to create a certain kind of family experience. It just doesn't work that way and it's not fair on the child either.

It's time for parents to take a page out of our parent's playbook and stop over-thinking this parenting thing. Free up the family calendar. Simplify. Have a family meal. Our parents weren't our playmates, social directors, coaches or chauffeurs. They also did not bring unrealistic notions of "fun" to parenting. Heck, the term "parenting" wasn't even part of the nomenclature back then.

If today's parents hate parenting maybe it's because they're doing it wrong.

Related:
More from the homefront with Rachel Campos-Duffy

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.