Your kids have an uncanny way of breaking your heart, like no one else in your life. Take tonight, for example. I had occasion to say no to my teen daughter who, in turn, has given me the silent treatment for the past few hours. I know that I made the right decision - that's not in question. Yet, I still feel pulled to run to her and say, "I've reconsidered. The answer is yes."
Why? Because it's way harder to be a good parent than a bad one. It takes effort. It would be way, way easier to say yes to my kid, be the hero and bask in the "you're the best" accolades that would surely ensue. Saying no is really hard. It means setting limits and exercising my judgment in what, I think, is her best interest. And weathering the fall-out.
Many years ago, before I had children, a friend said to me, "Sometimes I wake up and think 'I don't want to be a mom today'." I was horrified. How could she say such a thing? Having children was surely the most wonderful, gratifying and rewarding job ever!
Some years and two kids later, I hear her. Boy, do I hear her. Don't get me wrong: parenting is all those things I thought it was before I had kids. Some of my most cherished memories have to do with my girls: breastfeeding and rocking them during a quiet, still night, gazing at them sleeping peacefully like wee angels, or the look on their faces when they saw something incredible for the first time.
But, these moments are, understandably, punctuated by the everyday work of raising kids - hard, financially-draining, marriage-straining work that it is. Indeed, a plethora of academic studies demonstrate that parenting does not equal happiness.
Probably the most frequently cited research in this area is that of Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel-prize winning behaviour economist who studies the irrationality of how humans make decisions. Kahneman's 2004 survey of over 900 Texan women found that child care was ranked 16th out of 19 possible pleasurable activities. Interestingly, activities such as exercise, shopping, napping and watching t.v. were all ranked higher than child care.
So there you have it. You're not alone in preferring a good spin class to spending time with your kids.
I suspect this is because parenting is the most difficult, unrelenting and yet rewarding job most of us will ever do. Above all, it requires countless sacrifices. This is perhaps the most diabolical part of parenting: sometimes the decisions that are good - nay, even necessary - for us are entirely at odds with what might be in our children's best interest. And so our job as parents is to figure out this precarious balance. Sometimes we get it right. And sometimes not so much.
My advice? If you don't have kids, think long and hard about it before you do. And if it's not for you, then don't do it because you think you should. If you do have kids, talk about your experience with people who aren't afraid to be brutally honest about parenting. Book regular dates with trusted others who will both laugh and cry about their parenting challenges and triumphs. When someone tells you that parenting's a breeze, immediately place them in the same category as smarmy men who endeavour to sell you cheap real estate. Learn, as best you can, to live it the moment and remember that whatever's happening right now, it won't last. When you make a mistake, say you're sorry and mean it. Invest in an TSP (Therapy Savings Plan) for your kids. Because, despite your very best efforts, they'll probably need it.
I'll leave you with poet, Philip Larkin's cheeky take on parenting. For what it's worth.
This Be the Verse
By Philip Larkin
They fuck you up, your mom and dad
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.
But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another's throats.
Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don't have any kids yourself.