Want to be a happy parent? THINK first.
One thing about the child-free community is pretty certain: most of us give a lot of thought to the child question. Even “early articulators” (people who know when they’re relatively young that they don’t want children) tend to give it a lot of thought throughout their lives as they encounter people/TV shows/books/movie characters/family members who express a certain expectation of children.
Several fairly recent articles cite studies showing that the child-free are generally happier about being child-free than parents are about being parents, and parents (mostly mothers, who shoulder a majority of the child-rearing burden) have started sharing their displeasure with parenthood online.
The first quote below is excerpted from a Cafemom.com post titled “I hate motherhood.” The others are excerpted from selected comments.
Why is it that we are conned into thinking that motherhood is a blissful, satisfying, and rewarding blessing? I attend a mothers group for young mothers and the other day one of the social workers asked…”Who hates being a mom?” Everyone looked at each other as if they were afraid of the question and that admitting to it is a mortal sin. My hand shot up. After a year of being a mother I can’t hate it more. It just prevents me being truly happy.
Me too. You are not alone.
I just told my screaming kids in the van I was going to work, hiring someone to take care of them, because I quit! Seriously, I want to quit being a mother, a parent and a wife. I think you feelings are normal. I don’t have any other answer than that for you.
There is not one aspect of motherhood I’ve enjoyed not even since pregnancy… I love my daughter, I just don’t want to be the one to raise her.
I am glad to find this post. I have not enjoyed motherhood at all and find it hard to connect with other moms who feel the same. Everyone seems to glow and adore motherhood and their children.
There’s a lot of back-and-forth online about who’s happier (parents, non-parents, parents of one, parents of many), and most of it is presented as a shallow, petty Happiness War: “Parents are happier because we have bundles of joy!” vs. “Child-free are happier because we’re unburdened!” (It goes further – see “The Happiness Wars: Who’s Winning?”)
Instead of the happiness factor having anything to do with parenthood vs. non-parenthood, isn’t it more likely that who’s happiest has most to do with who’s doing what they always wanted to be doing, what they gave serious thought to, what they considered and weighed carefully?
How many people really think about having kids before doing it? How many people think beyond pregnancy, or the momentous day of the birth when excitement and enthusiasm is high? How many parents thought beyond pregnancy glow, baby showers, the thrill of telling family members the news? How many people got beyond the romance of it?
How many gave it any thought at all?
“I have three children,” wrote a woman who sent me a Dear Sylvia confession. “I had them because my mom had kids, her mom had kids, her mom’s mom had kids… and basically, I never really gave it much thought. You got married, you had kids – end of story, right?” (Bold mine.)
She’s obviously not the only one to have had kids “just because.” A lot of people don’t give it more than a “squee!” (if that). In No Children, No Guilt, I recall a day with my ex when I actually said “Let’s just do it” to getting pregnant during a moment of embarrassing pressure-caving. Thank goodness we didn’t follow through.
From the “I hate motherhood” thread:
Needless to say my pregnancy was unplanned and unwanted. I was 21, unmarried, and still in college with hopes of attending medical school. I dreaded being pregnant and the permanent scars it would leave on my already flawed body.
…I got pregnant unexpectedly…
I discovered that I was pregnant at 35 when I went in for my blood work before my tubal ligation. I wanted the surgery when I was 22 but was told I would have to wait until 35.
I thought I had it all figured out and was not worried about becoming a mom, thinking it would only enrich my life even more and provide that little puzzle that was missing – beinn educated, having a loving husband, working and being a mom who adores her beautiful baby.
And then reality hit – I have not slept more than four hours straight for about a year and I am exhausted dealing with my son’s constant crying, neediness, desire to play, cuddle, eat, poop, sleep. Of course, I love and adore him. He is all I could ask for, but I am so tired of living my life for him.
That’s a random sample taken from 48 comments. One of the women above gave thought to having children, but not very much.
(My husband has argued that it’s probably a self-preservation measure that we procreate without thinking – otherwise, too many of us might not reproduce. But seeing as how there’s little danger of our society dying out any time soon, there’s little “danger” in that danger.)
Why so many unhappy parents? Well, according to The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy,
About one in two pregnancies in America are unplanned. That is, over three million of the 6.4 million pregnancies in the United States annually are unplanned.1 Moreover, about two-thirds of unplanned pregnancies—two million—are unwanted. In other words, about one in three pregnancies are unwanted.
Isn’t this a somewhat more logical, and simpler, explanation for the unhappy parent vs. happy child-free question? It’s just desire. Doctors who went into doctoring because their parents were doctors probably aren’t as happy and fulfilled as doctors who were fascinated with stethoscopes as children and knew they wanted to be doctors since they saw their first episode of House.
And this is actually something of a tragedy. Not only does this thoughtlessness affect the lives of the people caring for the offspring, but those poor offspring are growing up with unhappy, resentful parents – many of whom decide to divorce after the first child, according to Carol Delaney and Deborah Kaspin (Investigating Culture: An Experiential Introduction to Anthropology).
Even pregnancies that aren’t unplanned aren’t necessarily “planned.” There’s little consideration given to what it will be like when it’s not a leaf-playing, gurgling, tiny-socks moment. No one wants to think about cleaning up poo/vomit, devoting so much time (medical visits, shopping, cooking, watching), arguing with a partner over discipline methods, worrying, being exhausted, etc. That’s not “fun” to think about.
If you haven’t yet had a child, please, for the love of God, THINK about it. This isn’t bringing home a goldfish (which you should also research before bringing home for proper care) or a potted plant.
1. Can you afford it?
2. Do you want your life to change completely?
3. Are you done doing what you want to do for yourself?
4. Have you thought about more than what the “cute little baby” will look like and gone further into the future – 2 years old, 5 years old, 8 years old, 13 – 17, each with its own challenges and parental responsibilities and stresses?
5. Are you prepared for your marriage to change?
6. Do you give a shit about any of this, or are you ignoring it and thinking, “Whatevs. I want a baby, and I do what I want”?
Yeah. Why bother? It’s just a kid, right? It’ll all work itself out.
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by Sylvia D. Lucas
A desperately needed antidote to The Game and The Rules.
“A weird combo of really funny and really insightful.”