Wednesday, July 14, 2010

why parents hate parenting

This article in the New York Magazine, All Joy and No fun, about why parents hate parenting, reports some pretty interesting statistics on how parents in the US feel overwhelmed by the task of parenting. We're exhausted, moms in particular miss their former lives of intellectual stimulation, we feel we fall short, and marriages suffer.

(Photo: Jennifer Todd Harper. Pictured is Harper when one of her twin babies.)

In countries where the social support system is in place to relieve parents, on the other hand, the numbers are different:

"One hates to invoke Scandinavia in stories about child-rearing, but it can’t be an accident that the one superbly designed study that said, unambiguously, that having kids makes you happier was done with Danish subjects." In short, "countries with stronger welfare systems produce more children—and happier parents.

Of course, this should not be a surprise. If you are no longer fretting about spending too little time with your children after they’re born (because you have a year of paid maternity leave), if you’re no longer anxious about finding affordable child care once you go back to work (because the state subsidizes it), if you’re no longer wondering how to pay for your children’s education and health care (because they’re free)—well, it stands to reason that your own mental health would improve."

“We’ve put all this energy into being perfect parents,” says Judith Warner, author of Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety, “instead of political change that would make family life better.”

I can't agree more. Even if we could afford it, I wouldn't want to leave my child in daycare. So I have a Ph.D. but I leave my position as associate professor to be with my daughter. However, this does not make me an advocate of moms forsaking higher education or pursing a career to be stay-at-home moms.

What I want is political change towards increased flexibility along the lines of what Susan Maushart recommends in The Mask of Motherhood where moms and dads both get to pursue their own careers part time while also taking turns being with their children, sharing the child care. Of course this means employers would have to rethink the delegation of tasks and salaries, and the way health care is structured. But there's so much to gain from it. Greater gender equality and mutual respect and understanding for the task of parenting. Employers and children alike would benefit from a greater pool of individual skills. Moms and dads alike would get to flex their brains outside of child care. I think we'd all be happier for it.

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