Parenting's Displeasures and Rewards
When I saw the cover line — “All Joy and No Fun: Why Parents Hate Parenting” — on this week’s New York magazine, I thought “Yes! That sums it up exactly.”
Let’s face it: parenting is demanding, stressful and often unpleasant. But it still feels dangerous to talk about that aspect of things. Even in the age of confessional mommy blogs, it still feels necessary to frame these feelings in humorous ways rich with maternal wisdom.
Sometimes, though, you just want to scream. (Of course, I write this coming off of two recent weeks of full-time mommy duty between the end of school and start of daycamp).
Day to day, moderating bickerfests between my children and trying to give them all the individual attention they want feels exhausting, and more like something to get through than enjoyment. That’s on top of my own internal stress rooted in the feeling that I never have quite enough time to do the writing I want to, and then feeling conflicted about the conflict.
When my patience runs out it can get ugly. No question that mothering has increased my ability to be patient, but even still, I’m no Mother Theresa (who was Mother Theresa only because she had no children to distract from her work).
And yet, when reflecting back on my time with my children, the 80 percent of it that is basic drudgery (when they were in diapers that category was probably 95 percent) just disappears from memory. Kind of like childbirth. Pushing babies out is excruciating, but then look what you get. A new person. And it feels totally worth it.
Take our camping trip this past weekend. My kids recently described me as someone who doesn’t camp, since they don’t remember all those years of their early childhood when I did go camping (with infants!) and, since Boychik was about to leave for a summer program in Israel, I wanted to have some nice close contact with them away from the hamster wheel that is our daily life.
Was it fun? Let’s be honest. I hate camping. Watching huge bugs in the corner of the bathroom while trying to use the facilities? Not enjoyable. But how can I complain? My husband insists on taking care of all the cooking and setting-up. And we were there with his sister and her family, and it was lovely to both hold her 2-month-old son and to watch my kids being wonderful cousins to her other children. But my children? Near-constant bickering between them. Boychik took out stress over his impending big trip on Girlchik and Rockerchik, and it wasn’t pretty. At one point I repaired to another camp site we’d rented, in a different part of the park, just to take a vacation from our vacation (and read in peace and quiet).
Yet I’m glad I went. Even the difficult times feel bonding. And as time goes on I know the aggravation will dissipate like the morning fog over the lake, and leave us all with the rose-tinted, selective memories.
In her piece, Senior correctly highlights the distinction between pleasurable experiences and rewarding ones. Parenting definitely falls into the latter category.
And as she writes, at the end of her story:
The very things that in the moment dampen our moods can later be sources of intense gratification, nostalgia, delight. It’s a lovely magic trick of the memory, this gilding of hard times. Perhaps it’s just the necessary alchemy we need to keep the species going. But for parents, this sleight of the mind and spell on the heart is the very definition of enchantment.
Her prose here is a bit flowery, perhaps, but right on nonetheless.