I’d been a parent for close to 12 years by the time it occurred to me to ask myself if the whole thing really had to feel this hard.
As a journalist, I’d been writing about the cultural, societal, and political aspects of family life for a decade, and the one thing I knew, as I began to contemplate the question of why I wasn’t more satisfied with my life as a parent, was that I wasn’t alone. I interviewed hundreds of parents over the course of that decade. Most found happiness more elusive than they’d hoped.
At the same time, research was revealing a dismaying level of stress and dissatisfaction among my parenting peers, even those with a handle on the basics (food, shelter, health) and without any immediately obvious bonus challenges at any given moment. We tell researchers we’d rather make dinner than spend time with our children. We give up our own hobbies and pleasures in pursuit of our children’s betterment. We answer surveys about our satisfaction with our lives and families in ways that lead to headlines like “How Having Children Robs Parents of Their Happiness” and books like All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood, and then we devour the results as vindication of our overwhelming sense of being caught up in a race we can’t win. Parenting, writes Judith Warner in her book Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety, has become “poisoned” through “a choking cocktail of guilt and anxiety and resentment and regret.”