Friday, July 9, 2010

I don't hate it.

The New York Magazine this week made a lot of noise with its "All Joy and No Fun" article (conveniently subtitled "Why Parents Hate Parenting", just in case the hint in the title was lost on anyone).  The author, Jennifer Senior, did a very good job of presenting a anecdotal-yet-thoughtful account of modern American parenting and a review of all the happiness studies that seem to show parenting is a lousy job.

She comes to the same conclusion that I wrote about a few months ago in this post, which makes me feel that I'm not crazy: it's not about happiness, it's about fulfillment.  Happiness studies ask questions like "at any moment during any given day, how happy and content do you feel?"  I think that the way to get a max score on this question is to sit on your couch, eating chips and watching re-runs of Project Runway.  It would make every moment pretty enjoyable, but also pretty pointless.

Also (and un-surprisingly), the article also shows that parents in countries with more socialized services (longer parental leave, subsidized preschool and so on) are much happier.  May be, in addition to chilling out about daily annoyances, it would help us to put our money where our mouth is as we say "it takes a village to raise a child".  In America, it's definitely more like "everyone for themselves as you try to pay someone else to raise your child".  If it changed, we may find more happiness and more meaning in the not-so-happy moments of parenthood.

It made me sad that in the article, many parents would recount the things they find tough about raising kids (the chores, the activities, the irrational behavior, the whining, whatever) and then say that those annoyances had more impact on them than the great stuff about having kids.  Like hearing questions that you forgot you used to want to know answers to.  Like having permission to be silly.  Like (sort of) becoming a kid again yourself. 

The cost of having kids is so minor compared to the joy they bring, yet it seems many choose to focus on the cost much more.  I wonder why? We don't do it too many other places, if you think about it.  If someone went to see a movie, and when asked "how did you like it", the person said "oh my Gosh, the ticket was so expensive, 10 dollars, can you believe it, i hated the whole thing", you'd find that strange, right?  I mean, the ticket is just a price to pay to see a show - and a small price at that.  The ticket is not the point.

When we complain about these mundane annoyances of kids, I think it's kind of like complaining about the movie ticket cost above - and we should find it just as weird.  It's not about that little cost - it's about what you got to be part of.  It's not about what got broken while playing ball in the house, or how many times you had to say "now, please" to get your kid to clean something up.  It's a really small, not-worth-mentioning-it, movie-ticket kind of cost.  That's just the price of getting the awesome privilege of watching these people grow up and help them be the best of what they are.  

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