The Baby Bummer

Kids100705_1_560 New York Magazine's article on declining happiness levels and children has been much discussed in the blogosphere. We've talked a bit about the research before on this blog. In a nutshell, we're spending more time with our kids than ever before, but it's a lot of work, and it's not all that much fun. Hell, lots of women report that housework gives them more satisfaction than parenting. Having spent too much time on the edge of a soccer field, I will be the first to say that, at times, toilet bowl cleaning is a preferable activity.

However, there may be more to life than the instant gratification of sharing a pitcher of beer with friends at a pub. The author of the article rightly points out the limitations to the happiness studies. They don't measure concepts such as long-term satisfaction and nostalgia. They can't measure whether children provide parents with a feeling of purpose or even a life narrative.

Sometimes I feel that my life began when my children were born; everything else is a blurred jumble of discarded photographs in a box in an attic.

11 thoughts on “The Baby Bummer

  1. Understanding that I couldn’t read past the “copy editor says you can’t start a sentence with a numeral” atrocity of “Two hundred and 40 seconds earlier . . .” I am also coming to the conclusion of “who freakin’ said that the goal of life is happiness”?
    Did Socrates say “The happy life is not worth living”? Does the Declaration of Independence say we’re entitled to “Life, Liberty, and Happiness”? No, you get satisfaction from solving problems and learning new things and challenging yourself to complete tasks.
    When all eyes are on the baseball player in Game 7 of the World Series, and the game is on the line, is the correct question for the interviewer to ask, “Are you happy now?” No, he’s not happy. I’m probably happier sitting on my couch watching. But he’s exactly where he always wanted to be.
    It is the rare thing that I do following a thought process of, “Will doing this make me happier?” Maybe when I decided to shut the windows and turn on the air conditioner. That made me happier.

  2. “Who could be unhappy with such a big, tiled bathroom?”
    And wavy pre-Raphaelite hair? (Although now that I think of it, pre-Raphaelite maidens never look that happy.)

  3. I sort of blogged about this topic today. I attribute the unhappiness levels to people wrapping their lives up in their children and neglecting the rest of themselves. Personal relationships, hobbies, fitness, etc..it all takes a backseat. I don’t know how much of it is attributed to elevated parenthood to some mythical status and how much of it is that we worry our kids will reflect poorly on us if they don’t have robust lives.

  4. Today has been a bad day (the temp in our apartment up to something like 1,000°F, broken glass in the sink, yet MORE water leaking from our upstairs neighbors’ apartment into ours) not made any better by keeping company with a super cranky 22-mo boy. But. I have a weird way of knowing that I’m happier now with said super cranky boy than I was without: I write poetry, and since I first learned that I was pregnant, I’ve been able to access a much deeper level of emotion than I was able to before.

  5. “I attribute the unhappiness levels to people wrapping their lives up in their children and neglecting the rest of themselves.”
    In the early years, this has got to be somewhat biological and unavoidable and in some ways desirable. Mothers of infants and young toddlers tend to have tunnel vision (hence all those white hot discussions of things like breastfeeding and vaccines). On the whole, that focus is probably a good thing for babies, because it means that mothers of small children tend to be very alert to danger and very committed. However, being focused and alert round-the-clock is not really consistent with a well-rounded, happy life. Plus, it’s hard for people who are there to understand people who are not there, and vice versa, which contributes to the decay of friendships between parents and non-parents.

  6. I am really not happy about dealing with my youngest two fighting or the tantrums of the youngest, BUT other than that I find parenting immensely satisfying and fulfilling. I don’t just love my kids, I like them. They are completely interesting people and I feel so lucky to have them in my life.
    There are times during parenting that are exhausting (lack of sleep, potty training, mostly the early years) but it’s worth enduring to get to here. My daughters are fabulous, and if he follows his sister’s example, my son will be too in a year or so.
    There is no situation in life that doesn’t have a downside, parenting is no different.

  7. all those drinking nights in grad school were great. They just all blur together. After kids, I can keep track of time better. Of course that might be because I’m not drinking as much.

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