Monday, July 12, 2010

All Joy and No Fun

An article in New York Magazine from July 12 contains a cover story by Jennifer Senior on why a lot of parents today seem to hate parenting. People often think, before they have children, that having them will make them happier. Instead, they find that taking care of them is a pain in the ass. A study by Dale Kahneman, a behavioral economist, was quoted in the article as saying that on a survey of 909 working Texas mothers, child care ranked 16th out of a list of 19 as a pleasureable activity. Housework was rated higher.

There are some interesting statistics given in the article. In spite of the rush of women into the American workforce, both parents actually spend more time with their kids today than they did in 1975. Today's parents have less leisure time. In one survey, 71% of married mothers and 57% of married fathers crave more time for themselves. Nonetheless, 85% thought they still didn't spend enough time with their children!

The amount of time married couples spend alone with each other each week has also decreased - from 12 hours a week in 1975 to 9 hours per week today. (Parenting columnist John Rosemond points out that parents neglecting the marital relationship is bad for the children).

All of this time spent with kids led one psychologist quoted in the article to exclaim, "[children] are a huge source of joy, but they turn every other source of joy to shit!"

The author of the article suggests that cultural changes may have fundamentally changed the nature of raising children for the worse. Two career families, the view that children need to be groomed, the idea that you have to spend an inordinate amount of time talking to children, etc. Or maybe we should be more like Scandinavia, where affordable child care, once you go back to work, is free with state subsidies, and where people are no longer "wondering how to pay for your children's education and health care (because they're free)."

On another blog called The Last Psychiatrist (, the blogger has a different explanation. He points out that "... you know, no Scandinavian women ever kill themselves at double the rate of Americans."

He thinks the issue is parental narcissism. Parents are upset because they see their children as mere extensions of themselves instead of as separate people. If the kids don't act the way the parents think they should, the parents go bananas. Another comment: "The author of a parenting book still cannot help but see children as a reward, as a cherry on top of a cake, not because she is brain damaged but because for 40 years she has been told by people, like herself, like New York Magazine, that they were."

His advice is simple: "Your kid doesn't want to be around you that much. No one does. This isn't because you're a bad person but because you're an ordinary person. You are not such a unique, creative, intelligent or even interesting person that the kid benefits from constant exposure to you. When you have something to offer, maximize and concentrate that time, and then get the hell out of the way."

I don't remember wanting to hang with my parents all the time when I was a kid, so I think I know what he means. This doesn't mean, of course, that parents should completely ignore their children, either.

I have my own ideas about what maybe going on here that I go into detail about in my new book. The summary I give here may come across as more simplistic than it is because I'm being very brief, but I think the bigger picture is an explosion of parental guilt. Among the sources of guilt, and there are many more: The Phylis Shafley's of the world (a career woman who made a career out of attacking career women) and their ilk constantly bemoaning the loss of the stay-at-home mother. Studies that purport to show that children of two-career families tend to do worse in some respects on average than children where one parent stays home. Old school grandparents who feel that their grandchildren are being neglected and then criticize their working daughters - while simultaneously envying the hell out of their careers.

The parents come home tired from work and guilty and try to make up for lost time by giving their kids everything the kids want and giving into their every whim. Then they wonder why the kids throw temper tantrums when they don't get their way. So their kids are out of control and never do what they're told, and the parents' guilt starts to get mixed in with rage at their kids. The rage then makes the parents feel even more guilty as well as inadequate, so they give the child even more of themselves, if that's even possible, and a vicious cycle goes on and on.

1 comment:

  1. I am glad that my kids have other adult figures they draw from - invested aunts and uncles, grandparents and also invaluable teachers and guardians at the kids daycare. Parents do have a tendency to try and be "all things" to their children. What is difficult is when parenting gets tough and work gets tough and life boils down to "tough work and tough parenting". Think long and hard before you sign up for parenting - it's a job-and-a-half on top of your day job and the rewards don't come in cold hard cash but more subjective things like "joy" and "gratification".