If You’re Happy and You Know it…You Probably Don’t Have Children??

I have always been one for peer pressure.  As in, I give it, not give in to it.   And I have caught myself (Okay, have been reprimanded by friends) committing a very serious form of peer pressure in the past 3 years:  baby making.

Come on in, guys, the water’s fine!  This is just so easy peasy!  Look how adorable this baby is.  Don’t you want one?  Wedding first, shmedding first.  Cries? No, of course he never cries.  Just smiles, and giggles, and has a freakishly delicious smelling head and oozes love and rainbows and unicorns and jellybeans.  Oops, I channeled Kelly Bensimon for a second there.  In any event, yes, this child-rearing thing is the cat’s meow and you should try it.  NOW.

Oh, those dark circles?  No, I swear I always had those.  Yup, even when you first met me ten years ago.  That fight you saw me have with my husband?  So rare.  Never happens.  That smell?  No, that’s not poop…on my shirt.  You’re so silly.  You don’t even know what baby poop smells like.  Because they don’t poop.  Or cry.  Or vomit.  Or affect date night.  Or make you want to punch a wall at 4 am because they Will. Not. Sleep.  Or lessen your ability to party with adult beverages and after 9 pm.

Honest.

So, here we are, with an almost 3-year-old and an almost 3-month-old and still, our core group of college friends has not yet succumbed to parenthood.  Shoot, none of them are even married.  And several of them do not ever want to get married and/or do not ever want to have kids.   My peer-pressure skills have clearly diminished since 8th grade.

I tell myself I want them to have kids because I fantasize about vacations where we all have kids the same age and can sit around at 5pm and do some tequila shots sip some wine while the kids play Kick the Can and Wiffle Ball.  But really I know that a large part of it is wanting to be in the trenches together.   Yes, I am referencing war.   And no, I don’t think that is taking it too far.

Listen, I have made some ‘mommy friends’ since moving to New York and I really, really like them and am so happy I found a few good ones already.  But there is something about those people who have seen you wearing a club outfit that actually bared your midriff or held your hair back over the toilet, or even who listened to you cry about break ups…with your current husband.  We have already been through so much together and I guess I always thought we would go through this together, too.    But, we aren’t.  So, I have become friends with some women who have children the same age as Carlitos.  Honestly though, you spend so much time in the beginning making sure the kids can play okay together and figuring out whether your basic parenting strategies are similar enough to not cause any huge blow outs, that you forget that you are two adults interacting.  And personally, I immediately assume that all adults that I meet post-college are complete prudes.  It has taken me 11 months of play dates with the first ‘mommy friend’ I met in New York to ask her to get a glass of wine sometime.  In short, it feels a lot harder to build new friendships with people I meet who already have kids than I imagine it would have been to have kids at the same time as friends I have known forever.   Plus, I really do fantasize about those ‘group family vacations.’

So, where am I going with this already very long post?

I read an article called, “All Joy And No Fun” that discusses why moms drink wine and dads try to golf their weekends way.  I’m kidding.  Sort of.

Basically, the article references many studies that all say the same thing:  people with children are less happy than their childless peers.

Okay, in all seriousness, when I read this article I found myself getting very defensive.  Because complain as I might sometimes, I actually LOVE being a mom and I adore both of my boys so ferociously that I sometimes just want to take a big, honkin’ bite out of them.  Crazy Love, I believe Van Morrison calls it.  How could all of these studies find that we are all way less happy once we bring children into the equation?  And more importantly, how am I ever going to get my friends to have kids now?!?  They all totally read New York Magazine.  I am screwed.

The article gives several possible explanations for these findings:

1.  Parenting has changed.  The child has gone from the employee to the boss.  It sucks to have a boss that is younger than you.

2.  We now feel the need to ‘groom’ our children.  This is stressful and time consuming.  (This explanation fits nicely with the additional statistics that measure middle and upper-class unhappiness as greater than working-class unhappiness.  Apparently, those with more money tend to fret about ‘grooming’ more and therefore actually enjoy the experience of having a child less.)

3.  Many people are waiting until they are much older to have children (especially in large cities), which only exacerbates the awareness of diminished freedom and control.  If you are 40 and have had 22 years of life lived on your own – following no one’s rules and demands – it is probably pretty hard to suddenly be completely controlled by a tiny fascist tyrant uh, baby.

4.  They steal your identity faster than, well, an identity thief.  I have personally written about his concept here, here and here.  It is definitely true that your previous identity can be compromised, if not destroyed, after having kids.

5.  Our country does not offer enough support.  If we had longer paid maternity (and paternity) leave,  free childcare and pre-school, and free health care, parents would not be so stressed out and would therefore be able to enjoy parenting more.

Alright, all of these explanations hold some water.  And number 5 definitely has me considering moving somewhere in Scandinavia.  But I actually think there is another factor here.  It is something they touch upon in the article, but not really as a whole-hearted explanation of the research findings.

Big life-accomplishments take hard work and are not always enjoyable along the way.  I went to college.  If you asked me at the time why I was going to college, I am not sure I could have formulated a very thoughtful or introspective response other than that I would make more money down the line. (Turns out, this does not apply to French Language and Literature and Cultural Anthropology double majors.)  College was fun, but it was also hard and there were plenty of times when I wanted to punch a wall at 4 am because I was Just. Not. Going. To. Finish. My. Paper. By. 8 AM.  My best friend is getting her PhD and guess what?  In contrast to what you may have heard, they don’t actually just ‘give’ it to you.  You have to work really, really hard and read hundreds and hundreds of books – a month – and then write a book if you want those three letters to follow your name.

I could give plenty of examples, but the point is this:  most things in life that offer a reward of some sort require hard work and sacrifice.

Yes, the day-to-day life of a parent is tough and if you happened to ask me at 10:34 am today whether or not I was happy at that moment I would have looked at you like I wanted to rip your head off and said, “Obviously, not.  You try putting this 2-year-old down for a nap.”  However, if you asked me again at 10:34 pm (you know, once both kids are asleep for the night) I would have smiled and said, “Absolutely.  I have never been happier in my entire life.”   The nitty gritty is tough…and tough doesn’t always make you happy in the moment.  But, my general existence with kids, to me, feels so much more meaningful, worthwhile, purposeful, (Yes, I know those all mean almost the same thing, but I am trying to make a point.) and yes, happy.

*The teacher in me says “Here’s a link if you want to learn more!” I’m not the author of the article(s)  below, but it’s still decent writing, I guess… *

“Parental Bliss, or Lack Of” The Boston Globe

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7 Responses to If You’re Happy and You Know it…You Probably Don’t Have Children??

  1. Julie says:

    I wonder how they defined “happiness”. Yes, it is easy to see the hard work of parenting, esp.
    when you are looking from a single position, but it might be harder to feel the joy and satisfaction
    of parenting from that same single position. You cannot know it until you feel it. Most things in life involve a trade off and risk…. becoming a parent is also the opportunity to grow as a human and learn patience and thoughtfulness and love beyond oneself. Just ask any parent how they would feel if they lost their child? There is your answer.

  2. Penny says:

    My secret to parental happiness? Never reading New York articles about parenting!!

    And, as a voice from the Advanced Maternal Age set, the transition at 40 is not so tough if you’ve spent the intervening years in a client-service profession (extra time to toughen up the identity against tiny burglars helps too)…

  3. admin says:

    Julie – I completely agree. Sometimes I can tell that our friends are watching us and just thinking “There is no way I ever want to be doing all of that.” It IS a lot of work, but for me, and us, it feels right that we have kids. On the other hand, I actually completely understand when friends tell me they do not ever want kids or want to wait another 5-10 years.
    Penny – I know! I do not think I was analyzing parenthood this much before we moved here, that’s for sure. And you make some good points about waiting a little longer to have kids. I was actually just paraphrasing the article, so I am not sure I necessarily feel the same way they do, but I can see both sides. Not everyone who decides to have kids in their late 30′s or 40′s is as adaptable and giving as you. I have definitely seen those parents that look like they got side swiped and were not expecting their leisurely lives to change quite so much.
    Thank you both for the insightful comments! Always extremely appreciated.

  4. RH says:

    I came here as a result of your post on Lylah Alphonse’s blog on http://www.boston.com. Thanks for the link.

    The part of your post that I find most interesting is your desire to be “in the trenches” with your old friends. This is truly a fantasy…a “be careful what you wish for” sort of thing. What I have found almost 100% of the time is that my old friends are VERY different parents than my husband and I are – to the point of incompatibility. Socializing together with the kids is near impossible – this one’s kid bites, this one’s kids stay up until 11PM every night, that one packs a Lunchables from the grocery store and brings it with her EVERYWHERE.THEY.GO. Including lunch in a restaurant or at a birthday party. Another friend is nursing a 2.5 year old. As if Mommy is a water fountain at the park – he walks over, lifts up her shirt, and has a drink.

    Personally I have found that the friends garnered in my life AK (after kids) are much more up my alley in terms of the whole “sip wine while they play kick the can in the yard” fantasy than the ones I had BK (before kids).

    Anyone else feel that way?

  5. admin says:

    RH-Thanks for visiting!
    It is really interesting to hear you say that and I have to say it makes me feel much better that things aren’t playing out the way I had imagined. Maybe you are right and it is for the better this way. I have to admit, I love that my sons have such a special place in our friends’ lives since they don’t have children of their own (for the most part). It is like he has ten aunts and uncles!

    Actually, my husband and I have talked about how much it might hurt our friendships once more friends have kids because if your styles of parenting and general parenting philosophies are too different it is really hard to move past that. I guess we should count our blessings things are the way they are right now.

  6. admin says:

    ps. RH, just checked out your site – Plummelo. Looks really great and such fab photos! Plus, I am a girl from Boston’s south shore myself!

  7. RH says:

    (It’s not my site, personally, but I am a contributor to the blog.)

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