We all know people who try to warn us away from having children, especially when infertility rears its ugly head. We all know that they really do not understand. They don’t understand how, what is a powerful urge in the beginning, it then becomes so all consuming. They don’t understand how, faced with not having children and a family, your choices feel so limited and narrow. They don’t understand the pain and loss of this particular dream, which is so different than other dreams, so much more basic and primal. They don’t understand, if they have not experienced, not having a choice about having their children.
The cover article in the New York Magazine is not telling us not to have children. It is speaking to how many parents feel about parenting. Scary it is. Definitely upsetting and scary. Especially for those of us spending so many precious resources to have our children. We’d like to feel that we would be exempt from what is being reported, how these other parents feel, since we’ve tried so hard to bring our families into being. Funny thing is (funny, odd, not funny, ha ha) that once you become a parent, you are a parent. You are not in a special category because it took an IUI or IVF cycle or 3 years to get there. You are not exempt from the frustration, confusion and despair that parents feel as they raise their children.
Here’s what the author (Jennifer Senior) says early on in the article:
Yet a wide variety of academic research shows that parents are not happier than their childless peers, and in many cases are less so. This finding is surprisingly consistent, showing up across a range of disciplines.
And here’s a quote from the first page:
The economist Andrew Oswald, who’s compared tens of thousands of Britons with children to those without, is at least inclined to view his data in a more positive light: “The broad message is not that children make you less happy; it’s just that children don’t make you more happy.” That is, he tells me, unless you have more than one. “Then the studies show a more negative impact.”
The article goes on…
It wouldn’t be a particularly bold inference to say that the longer we put off having kids, the greater our expectations. “There’s all this buildup—as soon as I get this done, I’m going to have a baby, and it’s going to be a great reward!” says Ada Calhoun, the author of Instinctive Parenting and founding editor-in-chief of Babble, the online parenting site. “And then you’re like, ‘Wait, this is my reward? This nineteen-year grind?’ ”
Annette Lareau, the sociologist who coined the term “concerted cultivation” to describe the aggressive nurturing of economically advantaged children, puts it this way: “Middle-class parents spend much more time talking to children, answering questions with questions, and treating each child’s thought as a special contribution. And this is very tiring work.” Yet its work few parents feel that they can in good conscience neglect, says Lareau, “lest they put their children at risk by not giving them every advantage.”
What does all this mean? Probably different things to each person who reads it. Some of you may be annoyed by my even blogging about it today. I do know that our focus can become more and more narrow when we are trying to conceive, that other choices feel almost impossible. And while we do not appreciate being told how tough it is to have children by our friends, maybe reading this article and seeing the research can allow you to consider things that you have not been able to otherwise.
I am not advising you to give up your quest to have children. I am encouraging you to take a good, hard look at what your motivation is, what you think the payback will be. Each step of this path is challenging. Conceiving and giving birth to our children is still only the first step, however long it takes, however much work it is. Then we have these children and evidently, according to this article, many of us may not be the happier for it.