In my "humble" opinion

I have a habit of making quick judgments about people.  I put too much stock in first impressions.  I tend to make assumptions based on what might be insignificant snapshots of a person's life from brief encounters with them.  These are flaws and I'm working on them.  Admitting it is the first step.

Because these faults are part of who I am, I assume that everyone else suffers from the same afflictions and, consequently, spend too much time wondering what people must think about me.  Am I arrogant or humble?  Do I look as, umm, "solid" in person as I do in the mirror?  Am I funny or do I just laugh (way too much) at my own jokesAnd what is with that obnoxious laugh anyway?  Geez.  

To offset the faults, I do have one or two good qualities.  One of these self-proclaimed good qualities is that I genuinely care about other people's opinions.  I want to know about and hear from people who share or absolutely do not share my beliefs, feelings, opinions, etc.

And, of course, I assume the opposite - that you want to hear my opinion.

Hence, this blog.

Well you are in luck, my friends who-may-or-may-not-be-dying-to-hear-my-opinion, because I read quite a doozy of an article the other day that was pointed out to me by a good mom friend.  The title is All Joy and No Fun:  Why parents hate parenting.  Before I dive head first into those opinions of mine, I highly recommend reading the piece.  It's slightly lengthy, but whether you are a parent or not, I think it makes for interesting reading.  I'll wait while you go do that right now...otherwise you'll be relying only on excerpts and my opinions from here on out.  That might not be so bad.  The choice is yours.

The theme of the article is the undisputed research which states as fact that having children makes people less happy.
Most people assume that having children will make them happier. Yet a wide variety of academic research shows that parents are not happier than their childless peers, and in many cases are less so. [Studies] found that child care ranked sixteenth in pleasurability out of nineteen activities [by moms]. (Among the endeavors they preferred: preparing food, watching TV, exercising, talking on the phone, napping, shopping, housework.)
Great.  This is the perfect ammunition for my childless-by-choice office manager.  Remind me never to show this article to her.  (Ten seconds after I typed that, I emailed it to her.  Couldn't help myself.  Because, like I said, "I genuinely care about other people's opinions.")

As I read it, I found myself not wanting to relate to it, because I love being a mom...don't I?  Does it make me a horrible mom if I am not 100% happy all of the time, and not elated that my kids do things like touch the walls with their greasy hands, spill toothpaste in the sink every single night, and whine when I don't let them stay up past their bedtime?  Am I less happy to come home to my children who greet me with a smile and a hug before I even have a chance to get out of the car than someone who comes home to an empty house? 
Children may provide unrivaled moments of joy. But they also provide unrivaled moments of frustration, tedium, anxiety, heartbreak. This scene [see article for more details], which isn’t even all that awful or uncommon, makes it perfectly clear why parenting may be regarded as less fun than having dinner with friends or baking a cake. Loving one’s children and loving the act of parenting are not the same thing.
And I'm sure it's a matter of perspective, but happiness rests very much on how we view these little critters with whom we share our home and lives.  It is very easy to look at them as chores.  They do generate messes at a break-neck pace.  They require food, shelter, clothing, discipline, and for whatever reason, an ungodly amount of band-aids for non-bleeding injuries.  The article mentions this very fact, "The problem is, 95 percent of the time, you’re not thinking about what they mean to you. You’re thinking that you have to take them to piano lessons."  We think about them in terms of the amount of work they create for us.  And all it takes is a perspective change, a paradigm shift, a simple reminder to ourselves that the ultimate reward in parenting is not a function of how many extra-cirriculars they're a part of or even how few temper tantrums they have.  It's experiencing unconditional love.  It's the opportunity to make the world a better place by the labor of your very own hands. It's being able to mold these tiny minds by helping them reach their full potentials so they can be the very best they can be.

Here's where I go out on a limb.

Obviously there are people who should not and cannot be parents.  If there weren't, we wouldn't have foster care and adoption.  The fact that these institutions exist indicates that there are unfit parents in this world.  Then there are the couples who have tried and tried and lost and who are unable to have children.  I cannot begrudge them for not having kids.  It is simply not their choice and not their option.

But for the men and women who consciously decide not to have children, while I want so very much to support that decision, I can't help but wonder if they ever wonder what they're missing.  To the reason "I wouldn't be a good mom/dad.  I just know", I say "Phooey" (for lack of any other word to come to my brain).

Here's why I feel qualified to Phooey that.  Before my surprise blessing that was and is my oldest child, I might have fallen into the childless-by-choice category.  I didn't know if I wanted kids.  I felt that there were other things to do in my life that seemed equally important, like having a career and being "successful".  I felt awkward around other people's kids.  I was never the girl people called on when they needed a sitter.

Then I had Ben.  

I suffered with some blues straight off the bat, but ultimately, he became my world.  He helped me grow in ways that I don't think would be possible without having stepped into the role of "mom".  Like it or not, kids reprioritize your life.  For me, it helped.  Tremendously.

And even though I'm still learning and it's not nice to brag, I'm a darn good mom.  Shoot, it still surprises me.

I didn't have more kids for their economic benefit.  I don't live on a farm and don't expect them to milk cows for me at 5:30am like families of yesteryear.  I had more kids because I wanted them.  I wanted them before they even existed.  I can't explain that change of heart, but that's what it was.  Maybe some people have children because "that's just the way it's always been".  Maybe if you go into it with that attitude, it's not going to be fun.  (But in the words of my mother, you need an attitude adjustment.)

For me, though I wholeheartedly admit it that it is A LOT of work, it's worth it.  On the good days and on the bad days.  I am not going to be happy all of the time, but who is?  I might raise my voice.  I might feel like things just aren't working.  I might feel like a complete failure from time to time.  But all it takes is a spontaneous hug, or a goofy smile, or a toothless dance to the tune of a commercial jingle to melt my heart.  And that's a joy that only a parent can understand.   And there is something so freeing about being completely filled with love by something so simple as a three year old's chuckle.

It is very simply, the beauty of parenthood.  In all of it's goodness, badness, ugliness.
I think this boils down to a philosophical question, rather than a psychological one,” says Gilovich. “Should you value moment-to-moment happiness more than retrospective evaluations of your life?” He says he has no answer for this, but the example he offers suggests a bias. He recalls watching TV with his children at three in the morning when they were sick. “I wouldn’t have said it was too fun at the time,” he says. “But now I look back on it and say, ‘Ah, remember the time we used to wake up and watch cartoons?’ ” The very things that in the moment dampen our moods can later be sources of intense gratification, nostalgia, delight.
It's magic, I tell you.

Like when I took this picture, I was in the middle of a week+ stint as a "single mother" while my husband was away on business in Oklahoma City.   We went to Publix for the mid-week penny item after a dining out experience with me and the three kids all by my lonesome and after having dropped off and picked up Ben from his Wednesday church activities.  The kids weren't exactly on their best behavior at the grocery store, it was stressful, and by the time we got to the checkout they were about to burst at the seams.  Yet, when I got home, I decided to document the evening with a picture.  When I look at it, I remember losing control of my kids at the register, but what I feel is a full heart.  Because these are my three babies.  And they are an extension of my soul.  And that is happiness.

Here's to the moments as well as the memories.

Plenty of people miss their share of happiness, not because they never found it, but because they didn't stop to enjoy it. 
~William Feather


Diane said...

I think I needed this right now. Thanks, Jennie! In the middle of this crazy, feverish, horse-camp-ish, fencing-camp-ish, musical, and insane week, I appreciate this blog!

Debbie said...

I need to do as I was instructed and go read the entire article.

I couldn't agree with you or (Gilovich) more about those moments. I wouldn't trade them for anything in the world. You're right. It's magic. (loved that)

I just wrote a little novel and deleted it. Let's just say that in my opinion (humble one at that) it's not surprising that some would find the day to day routine of parenting less than satisfying. We live in a very self-centered culture, and parenting requires a willing suspension of self interest.

But again, I didn't follow the directions and read the article before responding.

Crystal said...

Yep, it's the memories that come from those insane moments. So hard to see in the moment, but if we could just try a little harder we may not lose our minds as easily. Like when my son threw his sandal in the lobster tank at the grocery store. So, so, so very precious and funny (not really), but what a great story one day!

Your kids are gorgeous.

Lauren said...

Jennie, You are always able to put the words the feelings in my heart.

The Ritchies said...

Wow. You are amazing Jenny. I needed that today too--so thank you.

Christina said...

I'm not sure where to begin girlie! This article and blog post is what I needed to read so badly. Parenting, on a good day, sucks the life out of you. I am unshowered, unshaven, and disheveled on a good day but I LOVE it! My boys are amazing no matter how much work they are! Thanks again for always knowing what to say, whether you know it or not.

PS--in my mind you are still this little girl that peered around corners and peeked in on our daily activities when I was at the Clisham house :) So for being 12 in my mind, you are very wise!

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