Monday, March 16, 2015

All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood

I was fortunate to be able to attend the American Montessori Conference last weekend in Philadelphia. It was exciting to connect with friends from around the nation (hi, Megan!).

I also had the opportunity to listen to a keynote lecture from Jennifer Senior, the author of All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood. Her entire talk resonated with me deeply and left tears in my eyes.

She started by talking about the conflicting advice we receive as parents. I definitely felt the push and pull of conflicting advice when I had my first son in 2011. I knew that I wanted to try for a homebirth because I wanted a more gentle, simple, and relaxed welcome for my son. Although I ended up transferring to the hospital and requiring Pitocin, I was still part of the homebirth community, which tends to lean toward Attachment Parenting.

There are parts of Attachment Parenting that resonate with me. Our first son slept in our bed with us for the first two months or so of his life, while our second son slept in a Moses basket right next to our bed for the first two months. I was also very committed to breastfeeding and babywearing.

But I also felt compelled to move my children into their own rooms around the two-month mark in order to preserve my sanity and my marriage. And I felt compelled to follow my pediatrician’s advice about sleep training between four and six months. I also stopped wearing my babies as much as soon as they were capable of independent movement, and I wanted to wean them between Year 1 and 2 in order to reclaim my body.

In other words, I had to find my own way as a parent. And it wasn’t easy amidst all the conflicting advice and all the judgment, especially because I was so desperate to get it right.

The author also spoke of what happens when we wait later and later to have children. She said it can make the transition to parenthood more difficult because we are more acutely aware of the “before” and “after.” This was definitely the case with me. My transition into motherhood was fraught with mourning for the independence and freedom I had to forfeit in order to meet my child’s needs.  

She added that sticking with our children is the one binding commitment that our culture asks of us. We’re allowed to leave our jobs, our homes, our spouses, our parents—but we can’t leave our children. There’s a weight to that responsibility—a burden—that can make the transition to parenthood overwhelming.

She went on to explain that social scientists have research to substantiate the idea that having children actually compromises our happiness. One of the first studies on the subject in 1957 argued that children don’t strengthen marriages; they weaken them.

She explained that it’s more complicated than it seems. Yes, on the surface, our moment-to-moment affect is compromised when we have children. There are many, many hard parts. But children also bring transcendent joy and meaning to our lives. She described the concept of our “experiencing selves” versus our “remembering selves.” Our “experiencing selves” are challenged by the day-to-day grind of parenting, while our “remembering selves” look back and love the big picture of parenting.

It was exactly the same conclusion I reached when I watched “The Days Are Long; The Years Are Short.”  This parenting gig can be so, so hard, but it’s definitely worth it.

Another point that truly resonated with me was the research that shows that children rarely say they wish they saw their mothers more. Instead, they are more likely to say that they wish their mothers were less stressed out. Personally, I have a lot of work to do in this area. I work really hard to spend quality time with my children, but I need to work harder to make sure it is more stress-free time.

It’s also worth pointing out that the author chose to send her own son to Montessori school because she considers the method to be “utterly invaluable.” She said it’s “one of the few things that can serve as a cultural counterweight” to the madness of modern parenting. 

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Beth said...

I know what a relief it is to know you're not alone.
I wish first time parents knew just how large the window of 'good parenting' is. However, I think it's also important to know yourself and your motivations for having children.
In this era of over-population, keeping up with the Jones's or passing on the family name, or checking off a number on The List aren't good reasons.
It's perfectly acceptable to NOT reproduce. I hope our culture grows to be more supportive of those who are childless (by choice or otherwise).

Cali Cole said...

grrrrreat post! thanks for sharing. i love you candidness on motherhood. i pray for more conversations like this. no one told me half of what i have experienced in my son's first year.

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