A couple of months ago, the Washington Post published an article with the not-at-all-click-baiting-title “It turns out parenthood is worse than divorce, unemployment – even the death of a partner.” This is only one of many pieces I’ve read recently indicating, basically, that parenting makes you miserable.
But here’s the thing about the study on which the article was based. Aside from the fact that it was conducted in Germany (no comment), the measurement of happiness was based on participants’ numerical rating of their overall happiness/satisfaction on a scale of 0-10, from the period of time prior to having a baby through at least 2 years after having one. Can a single question about happiness really tell the story of what it means to become a parent? When you just got peed on during a diaper change, are you going to rate your happiness at that moment as a 10? Probably not. When your toddler starts testing boundaries, and laughs in your face as she drops her bowl of spaghetti on your freshly steam-mopped floors? Not the most joyful of moments.
But what about the flip side? When you watch your newborn baby fall asleep in your arms, and imagine what he might be dreaming about as his eyelids flutter and a contented smile flashes across his face? When he grips your finger, a gesture so small and yet so imbued with meaning, reaching out instinctively to hold onto his mama? Can the “10” happiness rating you gave when you were hanging out at a party in your pre-baby days really compare to the emotional depth of that moment with your baby? Becoming a parent changes everything so fundamentally that to compare the type of happiness you feel as a parent and during the kid-free part of your life really seems like comparing apples and oranges.
Now to my kid-free friends: I’m NOT saying these things as some kind of condemnation of your life choices, or an implication that your lives are empty and meaningless. Whether to have children is a deeply personal choice, and I respect completely that some couples choose not to. But part of what bothered me so much was not just the article itself, but how many of my Facebook friends gleefully shared the link with snarky commentary, as if to say HA, we knew we were right all along. All you parents out there are miserable suckers!
My rational brain understands that that’s probably not what anyone actually meant. I’m guessing that my married/partnered friends who have not yet procreated are so. freaking. tired. of Great-Aunt Sally pestering them about when they’re going to start having kids. For those who are child-free by choice, I’m sure it’s validating to hear that their life choices are actually just fine, and they will not go into their later years haunted by regret.
So can we all just make a deal, here and now? People with kids, stop bugging and peer-pressuring those who don’t have any! Besides the fact that we have no idea what the truth of their situation really is – they may be struggling with infertility issues, not feel ready for kids yet, or just have no desire for children – it’s frankly none of our damn business. It’s no one’s obligation to either justify their decision or reveal their personal struggles to the world. And in return? Please, no more articles about how miserable parenthood makes us. We get it, all of it. We know that the day-to-day can feel like drudgery at times (omg, is my kid seriously out of clean pants already?? Oh goody, more laundry!) We know our lives are not filled with tipsy happy hours that spill late into the night, or lazy days where we can just lie in bed all day and binge-watch Netflix shows. Sharing research that scientifically “proves” that we’re a bunch of sad sacks isn’t really helping anybody.
A few weeks ago I was singing “You are My Sunshine” to my 2-year-old son as I got him ready for bed. The conversation that followed went like this:
L: Why me not take your sunshine away?
Me: Because you love me!
L: Why me love you?
Me: You tell me buddy, why do you love me?
L: [Long pause]. Ummmmm….. when you not here me sad. When you home with me, me happy!
Aaaaand, I basically melted into a puddle on the floor. That’s why we do this. The deeper meaning that our children bring into our lives cannot be measured on a satisfaction scale. Despite all the spit-up, the messy floors, and the runny noses, having a child has made me feel a love the depths of which I never knew were possible. As parents we treasure beyond measure what it means to create a life, nurture our little one’s development, and watch as a piece of ourselves grows up right in front of our eyes. So take that, science!