Friday, July 23, 2010

I Love My Kid. I Love My Life.

According to the cover story of the July 12 issue of New York magazine, I am one of the few. According to numerous studies, having kids makes people less happy. What? Did I miss that memo?

Before I could read the article, a friend of mine sent an email out to a wonderful group of moms I have recently started to become friends with. In the email she included a link to the article, titled “All Joy and No Fun.” She’d had a very strong response to the article and had reached out to us for support, needing to process the feelings she was having and wanting to know how others felt. The article, written by a young mother of twins who was raising them with her boyfriend, asked the question “why do people continue to believe that having children will make them happy, when hard data actually shows the opposite to be true?” It appears that, contrary to what everyone believes, having children makes people miserably unhappy.

At first, I found myself agreeing with the writer—after all, it did seem that a lot of people with kids were miserable, particularly the people you see at big chain superstores on the weekends, two kids in tow, snapping at each other and barely acknowledging their kids’ needs. “But I hafta go potty!” one boy whines, as his mother drags him down an aisle full of infant feeding accessories.

I considered my own situation: my husband and I, married for seven years and together for fourteen before we decided to have a child, have always had our share of ups and downs. Because we’d essentially “grown up” together, while in a relationship, there were always a lot of adjustments we were making to the dynamic of our relationship. Having a child made these adjustments seem a lot more…pronounced, perhaps, and difficult. Suddenly, we couldn’t just be having a bad month, or allow ourselves to fall apart and then pick up the pieces when we felt like it. We had to be on the same page, more or less, all the time. This made us a bit more stressed out. The $1200 a month we were now spending on daycare stressed us out financially. The hardship of juggling two full-time jobs, grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, and child care stressed us out physically and emotionally. We were being attacked on all sides. But did this mean we were unhappy? 

The way the article measured happiness, yes. We were unhappy. Miserable, in fact. Our friends who had chosen not to have kids were able to stay out late and sleep in the next day if they wanted to. They could drink too much and spend the next day on the couch. They could take vacations, have a crappy month at work and hole up by themselves or drown their sorrows in friends and food. They had money to spare, most of them, and time to kill. They were, by this writer’s definition, happier than we were.

By the time I’d finished reading the article, I was livid. No way in hell I was happier before I had my daughter. Less stressed out? For sure. Less exhausted? You bet. But happier? Not for a second. Until the minute I decided it was time to have a child with my husband, I never thought having kids was necessary for my happiness. And even when we did decide to have a kid, I didn’t feel like I was doing it because I thought it would make me happier. I did it because I wanted to contribute to the world a little bit more of myself, because I wanted to navigate the uncharted territory of parenting with my spouse, because I had already started to feel a sense of love for someone who wasn’t in our lives yet, and because making love to my husband knowing we were going to create life is the sexiest thing I know.

We may be less happy than our childless counterparts in the sense that loving our life means constantly redefining our expectations. It may be harder to find a balance between what I need, what my husband needs, and what our kid needs. We may not have the money for expensive dinners out and annual vacations and all the latest toys and gadgets...but we love our kid. And we love our life. I can't imagine how we could have been happier without her in it.


Anonymous said...

I love my kid and her kid too!!!!!!!!!!!


Summer said...

I'm reading that article right now and am happy to hear you say that. In fact, I haven't finished it in two days because I keep picking it up at bedtime and then falling asleep. I'll finish it eventually.

Anyway, it's a good article. And it's been making me think. But I do believe that it's focused on a different demographic than the people that we know and have in our lives. The supermarket people that you touch on in your post. The people I call "normal Americans" who go through life believing what they do because someone else tells them it's true, never questioning their surroundings or their circumstances or making up their minds for themselves. Most parents I know are not that way. Their kids are a welcome addition to their lives and an extension of who they are as people.

I love my life now and I'm sure that having a kid one day will only add to all of the excitement and adventure that we experience as individuals and as a couple every day. So, thanks for backing up my gut instinct on that article with your post.

Brenna said...

I felt the same way about this article. And maybe it was because I became a mom by surprise, but I never hinged my own happiness on having a kid. I'd love to see the questionnaires used for the studies.