Parents Trapped

Friday, July 09, 2010

Jennifer Senior, contributing editor of New York Magazine, writes about the unexpected unhappiness of parenthood in her article "All Joy and No Fun." 


Jennifer Senior

Comments [39]

June from Brooklyn, NY

I wish people would do more research about good parenting before deciding to have children. Too many people have children reflexively and for the wrong reasons, such as to reproduce themselves in a futile attempt to create a "mini-me" or to carry on a family blood line. They don't realize in advance how much hard work and dedication children need from them. It isn't fair to children (who did not ask to be born) to have undedicated, unhappy or disappointed parents. If parents-to-be did their due diligence (by taking a parenting class, spending time with real kids, etc.) before deciding to become parents, they could minimize the regrets, disappointments and anger that sometimes occur in families.

Aug. 04 2010 09:26 PM

god forbid if these self-centered selfish whiners aka "unhappy" parents ever entertained the thought that they aren't exactly a picnic in their children's eyes maybe they would rethink the idea of having more children and seek their happiness through other means...

Jul. 09 2010 04:00 PM

@ Peg:

KUDOS, I've often wondered the same. I hate when I see parents use their children as "unpaid hired help" so they can have a life, under the guise of "teaching responsibility" I think it breeds resentment. The lesson in responsibility I witness in large and some small families is: the irresponsibility demonstrated by the parent's decision to have more children than they have resources/time/patience/ability to care for. I never have cause to quote Dr. Phil, but now seems appropriate: "children shouldn't be born with a job" i.e. make you happy, built in babysitter/maid etc...

Jul. 09 2010 03:51 PM
Leah from Brooklyn

This sort of seems like a bourgeois self-absorbed whinefest. My husband and I are currently childless, hoping to have kids one day, and we are both extremely conscientious about tending to our marriage and building our communication skills. We recognize that a child will add new stresses to our marriage, but so will having a mortgage, starting a new job, contracting an illness, and any number of scenarios that can characterize the trajectory of a life. Any one of these developments can seriously diminish "happiness," but I think it's a fool's errand to chance that elusive state.

I'm not sure what the expectations were for the subjects in these studies: did they expect that children were going to make them HAPPY? That seems ridiculous. I rarely expect happiness on a daily basis - I'm much more interested in purpose, meaning, and emotionally significant connections. I find it striking and irritating the that folks featured in Ms. Senior's article are an upper middle class white couple in a resource-rich environment. What the hell do they have to be so depressed about? Honestly? How about women in the developing world who develop fistulae because they give birth in a field 6 hours (by foot) from the nearest obstetrician? Perhaps these people generally lack a sense of purpose and were hopeful that having a child would provide that. A general lack of meaning and connection in our materially fixated world is a much more likely explanation of parental malaise to me.

Also, I find Ms. Senior (as your guests sometimes tend to be, Brian) half informed on many of these issues: she has a surface knowledge of much of the literature but no real deep comprehension. I'm shocked that she didn't cite the single salient predictor of later childbearing for women: education plus employment. As these two indicators increase (and this is true globally) the age of childbearing also increases. Had she known of this correlation, Ms. Senior may have been able to suggest some possible causes or what the role childbearing may have in women's lives - and therefore what their emotional lives may look like as they rear children.

Jul. 09 2010 11:45 AM

Interesting that parents claim that the more children they have the less happy they are. Has anyone interviewed the children about how they feel about family size? I grew up in a family of 8 kids. I hated it. My parents made us older children their substitutes far too much. I feel like I was forced to be a teen parent. Ii had way too much responsibility, little free time and very little personal attention from my parents.

I had one child myself and I can assure you that it was a pleasure compared to the mayhem I survived as one of eight.

Jul. 09 2010 11:36 AM

@ 50 got married - we'd agreed if no children fine.
My wife, 42, changed her mind - I showed her Gilbert's book - to no avail - and we agreed - no medical intervention - and no prevention - if it happens it happens - if not - not. I thought the odds were in my favor. The black swan took the place of the stork and now - she is pregnant. If I live long enough, and can remember who and where I am, and remember my child's name, perhaps we'll be able to look back and laugh about it all together.

Jul. 09 2010 11:34 AM
The Truth from Becky

It's an age old story - our parents probably felt the same way about us. Don't have kids if you can't hack it because the story line never changes. You and your happiness lose in this deal.

Jul. 09 2010 11:32 AM

It is funny we talk intensely about of individual emotions about parenthood but not the moral implications of it.
Is it our culture that everything has to analyzed through self-indulgent notions of individualized actualization but not a sense of responsibility.
Everything has to be about me! Everything you do in life will have good and bad moments. Self-actualization taken to the extreme will only lead to a loss of self.

Jul. 09 2010 11:30 AM
Marielle from Brooklyn

Struggling through the first few weeks with my newborn and wondering why I wasn't happier now that I'd finally gotten what I had wanted for so long, I got visit form a cousin (who had three kids) who said "I hate this part." I can't tell you what a relief that was!

Jul. 09 2010 11:29 AM
Paul from Brooklyn

I haven't heard so much whining and complaining from a group of entitled people. Blah blah blah what were you all thinking before parenthood? You sound worse then the children you bring into this overpopulated world. How many of these whiners adopted?

Jul. 09 2010 11:28 AM
Renate from Millstone, NJ

I love having kids!!!
It is so much fun to see them grow. My children are 10 and 13 now, they have friends over all the time and I just love to see them grow up, and be part of it.
I think it has a lot to do with the mental state and the way parents think about being a parent.
Other people tend to put a lot of pressure on parents, "you have to do this, don't do that".
Just listen to your self and enjoy your kids!!!

Jul. 09 2010 11:27 AM
Mara from Upper West Side

I would be interested to know what the academic literature says about the satisfaction levels of parents once their children are grown. I know surprisingly many people who were committed parents who now feel disappointed by their relationships with their grown children, many of whom are largely out of contact with their parents and not as warm or grateful towards them as one would expect.

Jul. 09 2010 11:27 AM

It is funny we talk intensely about of individual emotions about parenthood but not the moral implications of it.
Is it our culture that everything has to analyzed through self-indulgent notions of individualized actualization but not a sense of responsibility.
Everything has to be about me! Everything you do in life will have good and bad moments. Self-actualization taken to the extreme will only lead to a loss of self.

Jul. 09 2010 11:27 AM
Tom from Williamsburg

My daughter is now 20 yo. She was always the prefect child. No terrible 2's, no teenage drama, nothing! Still, raising her was one of the toughest things I've ever gone through. Maybe partially because we're both immigrants and didn't have any natural support system in place, maybe because our partnership was ill defined. I don't recommend it to anyone, but I still call my daughter My Only True Love.

Jul. 09 2010 11:26 AM
Daphna from The Upper West Side

I've seen the pyramids of Egypt, been to the Taj Mahal, hiked Machu Pichu and stood at the rim of the Grand Canyon. But nothing is as exhilarating, challenging, satisfying and awesome as raising my four kids. My only regret is not starting our family sooner and having more children.

Jul. 09 2010 11:26 AM
Paul from Ridgewood, NJ

I am 57, and not wealthy. My ex convinced me that it was OK to have kids, for which I am eternally grateful. We left Manhattan for NJ when our daughter was 3, in 1986 (she's now 27). We also have a son who's 20. Many sleepless nights, fights, sicknesses, and the like later, and a breakup a few years ago, along with lots of joy and satisfaction, I would do it all over again.

And I said this same thing before the first of my 3 grandchildren was born. The grandkids are icing on the "joy cake", for sure.

There are still lots of problems, and I am not the world's best father, but I can say without question that loving your kids a lot makes up for a good deal of questionable parenting.

Jul. 09 2010 11:26 AM
Marielle from Brooklyn

This morning my son picked a flower and insisted that I wear it in my hat - he pretended to take a picture of me and told me, "You look #1." What could possibly make you happier than that?

Jul. 09 2010 11:25 AM
ash idnani from park ridge, nj

we were childless and became parents of twin boys and these are our only kids (they are almost 4). We are late bloomers and are convinced we'll do it again. My wife is speech therapist works with children 0-5. We agree that everyone working with young children in any capacity should be parents. You get a different perspective of life. The kids are a challenge and fun. It all depends on one's attitude toward life.

Jul. 09 2010 11:25 AM

It is funny we talk intensely about of individual emotions about parenthood but not the moral implications of it.
Is it our culture that everything has to analyzed through self-indulgent notions of individualized actualization but not a sense of responsibility.
Everything has to be about me!

Jul. 09 2010 11:23 AM
Bobby G from East Village

Here's what I know about children: The more you feed them the more they grow.

Jul. 09 2010 11:23 AM
Izhar Groner from Fair Lawn, NJ

I have 4 kids, and I have never felt as much happiness as when I am around my kids.

The key to happiness is the realization that parenthood is a dictatorship, where the parent knows and dictates what's good for the kids.

Kids should have some say, but it has to be limited, so as not to cross the line of talking back.

In our house the kids are kids, but they also help. We teach them to be responsible and it makes a huge difference.

Jul. 09 2010 11:23 AM

Is there any difference in the *age* of the parents? In other words, do parents that had their children later in life feel any differently than those who had their children at a younger age?

Jul. 09 2010 11:23 AM
The Truth from Becky

I agree with that caller little kids - little problems, big kids - big problems, it never ever choose to have kids you choose the consequences as long as they live!

Jul. 09 2010 11:23 AM
Claire from Westchester

One thing that makes parenting so difficult is that it makes you confront your human flaws. You cannot be the perfect parent that you swore you would be to your own parents and to your infant child. If you are a reflective parent you are constantly reminded of your own struggles.

Jul. 09 2010 11:22 AM
Tom from DC

I have a teenager, a pre-teen, and an infant and I think that if you have the children in steps, a couple of years apart, and you're not one of those parents who feel they should do everything themselves and you live in a city, then it's not that bad. I send my kids out to get groceries, to pick up the baby from the sitter, etc. They really help out with household work and with errands. My oldest is starting to work in the summer, so now she's earning some money too.

Jul. 09 2010 11:22 AM
Kate from NJ

Was there a study measuring mothers' happiness based on whether they work outside of the home or not?

Jul. 09 2010 11:21 AM
A.W. from mid-town

I love parenthood (even the nappies part), while my wife describes herself as "waking up terrified every morning" since our son was born. I wish we could afford to switch positions and I could stay at home with our son- I think if she'd be able to focus more on the joyful parts than the less enjoyable parts. Unfortunately money seems to be trumping family.

Jul. 09 2010 11:21 AM
maria abeles from livingston, nj

parenthood is the hardest job i've ever had...a stay at home mom has it tough

Jul. 09 2010 11:20 AM
jp from Park Slope

Look, We grew a family in France and the stress for my wife was certainly mitigated by the medical security and the excellent schools starting from pre kindergarten to high school. I took care of the children just like all the other dads and everyone was supportive even though I did not know what I was doing :))). My wife worked after a year off.

The problem here is that we have a child unfriendly country and it's getting worse.

We love our kids they are looking for work and yes we'd do it again.:)

Jul. 09 2010 11:20 AM

Brian -- your infants are boring comment is old skool in my opinion. you oughta get some flack on this. plenty of dads are better at taking care of the little ones than moms.

Jul. 09 2010 11:19 AM
Jay from Hoboken

I'm a father of 2 (5 and 6 yo) and am so glad the kids are developing into people. I'm not a great fan of babies.

Jul. 09 2010 11:19 AM
Jan from Plainfield NJ

Unless those who have children have adopted at least one of them, they have no business accusing childless people of being selfish. Nothing is more selfish than bringing your own issue into the world when there are so many orphans needing to be adopted.

Jul. 09 2010 11:19 AM
Yan from Upper West Side

it should be mentioned that the US is one of the only 5 countries in the world that does not have paid maternity leave. lack of support systems make parenthood much more stressful.

Jul. 09 2010 11:17 AM
Patrick Batchelder from Newark

I was a single custodial father of a one year old and a 2 and a half year old. I loved every minute of it. I only wished I had six. They both grew up playing ice hockey, football, with Boy and Girl Scouts, piano, flute and cello lessons and went on to college in the USA as well as overseas. Both are engaged to be married now. It's all attitude: you can enjoy every minute or you can have a pity party, it's just a choice.

Jul. 09 2010 11:17 AM
Jennifer from Brooklyn

I think we should change the default in this country from having kids to not having kids. Most people just have children because its what you do, they don't seem to really think about what it means and what it entails. It would be better if most people assumed they should be childless, and only had children after long thought, preparation, financial security, and a stable marriage. People are unhappy when they randomly and accidentally have children without being prepared.

Jul. 09 2010 11:17 AM
Seth from Upper West Side

In spite of all the changes in society and the workforce, there seems to still be a need to follow social norms. It's like couples feel like this is what they're "supposed to do".

Just don't have kids! What's the big deal? And who said parenthood is supposed to be fun? So much depends on the individual and how she or he is able to cope.

By the way, this all seems anecdotal. I'd bet anything that it was mostly white, middle and upper-middle class, overeducated, self-obsessed, neurotic types. Who were the people interviewed? What economic class were they from?

Jul. 09 2010 11:16 AM

As I watched Othello for the third time last night (Shakespeare on the Sound), I had the story about parent unhappiness in my head. Desdemona's dad Brabantio says to her--after she runs off with Othello, "For your sake, jewel,
I am glad at soul I have no other child:
For thy escape would teach me tyranny,
To hang clogs on them."

And think of King Lear. Think of all that Greek tragedy. Think of the Bible! Seriously, this is not a new story! Thhis is life, kids! What were you expecting? It's okay by me.

Jul. 09 2010 11:14 AM

marriage w kids vs. marriage w/out kids is apples and oranges. 2 entirely different relationships.

Jul. 09 2010 11:13 AM

1. it's gets easier when they hit school! esp w older sibling (s) who play w them.

2. in 2000 we realized to have a decent life in park slope the household income needed to be 350k, preferably one earner, 50 hours per week max. this would afford a middle class lifestyle including a modest country house, and possibility of private school for 2 kids at some point. this was a clear line, we did the calculations at the time, a penny less would make life quite hate-able indeed.

3. saddest thing i ever heard: on my great/4 aunt (the career woman who also looked after her mom)'s 100th bday party, in all seriousness: "why don't i have kids to come visit me?" ie payoff at the back end...

Jul. 09 2010 10:49 AM

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