The headline of latest New York Magazine made me cringe. ” I Love My Children. I Hate My Life,” it baldly stated in white print over a photo of a stressed-looking mother and baby. I hid it under a pile of other, happier magazines. It hit a nerve. One so raw that I physically reacted with shivers.
I immediately went into defense mode. Of course I don’t hate my life. Parenting has not made me less happy. The studies they cite in the article probably speak mostly to full-time working mothers, not moms who get to stay at home with their kids, like me. It’s not possible that I, who am lucky enough to be with my wonderful child every day, look at my day-to-day living and want to bang my head against the wall. Is it?
Well, sometimes. Like when I clean the floor of the kitchen/dining area for the umpteenth time only to find my daughter is busy dumping out her snack cup in the other corner. Or when I say “Please sit down with the crayons” and she stands again, which means the crayons go “bye-bye” and she cries for 10 minutes. Or when I look at my day of wiping bottoms, cleaning dishes, doing laundry, and realize that this is my life, this never-ending set of menial chores that I can’t even listen to NPR while doing, because I can’t vet the stories and don’t want my baby learning about war, drugs and violence at the tender age of 17 months.
Those are the moments when I can feel the deep blue vortex of unhappiness calling to me. When I miss my old life, full of achievable work tasks, free time and occasional pats on the back. When the thought of what life used to be like pre-kid sends my emotions spiraling.
Not wanting to be a coward, I unearthed the magazine and read the article by Jennifer Senior. The story brings forth the latest research about how children affect their parents, research that often seems to show that on the surface parents are less happy than their childless peers. It also, however, points out that happiness can be measured many ways, with the day-to-day highs being only one aspect.
A study by sociologists Kei Nomaguchi and Melissa A. Milkie, following a group of couples for 5 to 7 years, showed that parents did more housework and quarreled more than their childless peers, but the women who were mothers were less depressed. The ending of the article cites a study that showed people in general are more apt to regret things they haven’t done instead of things they did. And no one in the study regretted having children.
Happiness is such an odd thing. If you had asked me pre-kid if I was happy, I would have said “Sometimes.” Now, I would still say “Sometimes,” but what makes me happy has changed. Hearing my baby say “Mama” cuts through the deepest of funks. A garden hose and a wet, muddy, laughing child can bring a smile that lasts for days. It isn’t always fun, but when parenting is, it’s better than so much else. It’s the laugh that powers the world in Monsters Inc.
Maybe the studies should be reconfigured. Or maybe we should lighten up on our expectations. I’ve never met anyone who is happy all of the time — whether they have a child or not. Life with child isn’t an easy life, but it’s one that Iove. Hmm. “I Love My Children. I Love My Life.” Warts and all.