Why Does Parenting Seem Like Such A Chore?
For some of you parenting may be a truly blissful experience and a true gift. But for some of us, we are finding it especially difficult to uncover those moments of bliss and gratitude. In a short article, I talk about what made parenting especially difficult for me, suggest some foundational blocks I'd wished I'd put into place before becoming a parent.
Is it that there is suddenly a preponderance of blogs willing to spill the beans on how hard parenting is or has there actually been a shift over the last two generations that makes raising children more difficult?
Reasons why parenting feels much harder
I remember growing up as a child of the outdoors running around with my sister at the age of 6 and 4 through our backwoods digging holes, building forts and playing imaginary games. We would check in with our stay-at-home mom for meals and snacks. For media we could watch tv or listen to the radio.
Modern parenting is so much more involved. Today's media is a powerful magnet pulling kids indoors. A few decades ago you could drive through a neighborhood on the weekends and find kids outdoors without a parent in sight. Now, in most of our communities, child services would be called if a couple of 6-year-olds were found wandering the neighborhood or playing at the park without supervision. Add to the lack of kids playing outside, the privatization of education means that a lot of the times kids in the neighborhood don’t have the opportunity to get to know one another at school.
This means your children spend most of their time with you. And, unless you find them playdates or a continual stream of activities that can compete with media you are fighting a losing battle. Either that or you are looking at the enormous cost of child care.
When they are older the time spent on driving to and from after school programs, play dates, summer camps and lessons is exhausting. Someone needs to start an Uber or Lyft specifically for chauffeuring kids around. I bet they’d make a buck or two.
Compare all that to sending your kids outdoors to play with their friends. Yeah, modern parenting is so hard. Damn hard. Your house might begin to feel a bit like a slow cooker with your kids turning into shut-ins.
Finding Jennifer Senior’s book All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood brought me so much relief from the feelings of guilt, self-doubt, and anxiety that I was feeling on a daily basis. I highly recommend it to anyone struggling with parental responsibility and hard days. All Joy and No Fun is not a parenting how to book but rather an observational one where the author takes reams of data from social science research, overlays the stories of real parents I could relate with and candidly discusses the state of middle class parenthood today. Knowing that your feelings of frustration, anger, and unhappiness are more common than you thought and have less to do with you and more to do with how we raise kids in the US helps to alleviate feelings of inadequacy.
Parents have lower levels of emotional well-being
Yup, it’s true. But, it’s not true across all countries. What?!
This article claims parental happiness is a fiction that parents create to reconcile the cognitive dissonance around the costs of parenthood. I see it in a very different light and using the mountain climber metaphor, I believe that ascension is hellish and filled with challenges but it also offers insights. It presents vantage points and moments of awe only viewable to those who climb. Do you believe the mountain climber creates a myth around the climb to manage their cognitive dissonance around the risks and costs inherent in an ascent?
My Mistakes That Led To My Personal Parental Hell
I had a beautiful mental picture of what parenthood would look like. Together, their father and I would create an environment where our children might thrive creatively. They would be generous spirits with tenacity and wit. There would be dancing, game playing, travel, laughter. Lots of laughter.
I have made so many mistakes but the largest one of all was the expectations I had around parenthood, of family life, and of my children (mostly fueled by Hollywood and social media). My biggest regret is not being able to have fun while parenting because I was always in the state of trying to figure out how to make things the way I thought they should be. I was not able to enjoy the journey with my children as I was continually looking at the destination.
I read book after book, took parenting classes, tried family counseling yet I always fell short of my concept of family. My children were demanding. They fought with one another. Their father did not contribute financially to the household yet household duties remained divided up in the traditional way (man=garden, garbage, car) (woman=cleaning, laundry, lice, children’s health.)
We had recently relocated to Portland and I had no friends or extended families in the area. And worst of all, instead of falling into a state of bliss when spending time around my babies, I felt mostly boredom and extreme physical and mental exhaustion. Add to that the thousands of potentially life-altering decisions that must be made around children every hour of every day and working full time, I felt like I’d been rubbed up and down the side of a cheese grater. After almost 2 years of continual breastfeeding, I reached a point where I didn’t want anyone to touch me because someone was always touching me. Feel guilty? Yes, I did. Did my marriage survive? No, it did not.
I had no idea the journey I was embarking upon when I became pregnant with my first child. But, I can tell you that yes, parenting is hard. Raising children is damn hard. It is the most difficult thing I have ever done. And, just as any mountain climber will tell you, it is when you begin to summit that you start to understand and value the journey you started all those many years ago. Either that or I am engaged in some deep denial in order to manage all that cognitive dissonance.
Foundational Building Blocks For Modern Parents
There is no way to adequately prepare for having a baby but there are a few of the foundational blocks I wished I'd put into place before bringing life into this world. These are not the usual 'buy this' and 'read that' but more about a complete mental shift into modern parenting.
- Number One. Accept the challenge of parenthood with the mindset of an Explorer who will be gone for many years and may never return. This expedition, should you accept it, will fundamentally change who you are.
- Number Two. Be prepared for the high cost of childcare and the complete lack of support for parental units in our society. If you live in the United States you are more likely to be less happy as a parent than in other countries that offer parental support. Out of 22 Western countries, the US showed the largest happiness gap between parents and non-parents! This means negotiating stay at home and outside the home time before you have a baby. It is also the recognition that if you are single, especially a single mom, your children are much more likely to live at the poverty level.
- Number 3. Understand that the cost of children is not only monetary. It is also measured against what you had before them and how much you value those things. You are trading in things like relaxing weekends, reading books cover to cover, solid sleep, nice furniture, a clean, organized household, adult conversations for a parent-child relationship that involves spit up and snotty kisses, half an hour sessions of peekaboo, entire days of tantrums, and hours of negotiations with illogical beings. So, make a list of the things you will miss the most and try to find a way to still get some of those in or be ready to say Auf Wiedersehen. If it’s a clean house and you can afford it, hire a maid. If it’s nice furniture, set aside a room in your house that your children aren’t allowed to go. Or do like my grandmother and buy these.
- Number 4. Hit delete on all expectations you have about family and parenting.
- Number 5. If you can’t live close to your extended family, build out a support network of some sort. Meet people who also need support and get to supporting one another. Mom groups. Meet-Up Groups. Hikers With Kids. Church.
- Number 6. Start practicing meditation. The skill of being able to move into a moment will bring you peace under the most stressful of situations. This is a good tool to have in your parental toolbox.
- Number 7. Recognize that you carry the garbage your parents dumped onto you and it will come out when you are parenting your own. If you can see it, you can stop it. If you find yourself angry, resentful, yelling, depressed, anxious or abusive get some outside help through therapy or parenting classes or online parenting websites. My favorite blog is Aha Parenting.
- Number 8. It may be too late for this one but if you haven’t picked your partner take some tips from mating rituals of the female Bowerbirds and make sure your baby’s partner is up to building a splendid home with you.