Kate Tuttle: The parenting blogosphere is in a frenzy over Jennifer Senior's cover story in the current issue of New York Magazine, wherein she tackles the shocking concept that, you know, parenting is hard. And parents often hate it, while still loving their children.
To be fair, it's a little deeper than that. But not much.
Actually, her article gets at some important stuff, delving into research in the relatively new field of positive psychology (otherwise known as happiness studies). It turns out that people with kids aren't generally as happy as those without. And when confronted with these statistics, most parents get very defensive and say that of course they're happy, why shouldn't they be happy ... after all, they get to do fun things like clean toddler vomit off carpeting while answering a 4-year-old's incessant questions about the workings of the universe and signing a 7-year-old's permission slip so the child can take custody of the classroom gerbil during holiday break. Why shouldn't they be happy, indeed?!
So yes, this is a good point. And Senior takes it further, probing into whether the studies of parental versus non-parental happiness are really accurate, or whether the two groups are just defining happiness differently, since (perhaps inevitably) having children causes one to redefine what happiness truly means. I think Senior's onto something with this, and I applaud her for pointing out that transient happiness, while important, can't necessarily stack up against overall satisfaction and the sense of having done the important work of raising happy, good little human beings.
That's all well and good. But what makes this article such insufferable reading at times (aside from the picture-perfect family in the illustrations, who all look like sad little J. Crew models, that is) is the tone. You know the one -- it's all too common among mom-type essays in our current generation. It's the one that whines that we are the very first people on earth to be facing this conundrum. That no mothers before us ever suffered quite the same way, or yearned for there to be (as Senior writes) a bar in the Children's Museum.
To which I would say, "Take a little field trip to the library, ladies. Get out of your well-appointed Park Slope apartment and read up on Erma Bombeck, who was mining this territory before most of us were born. Or check out Jean Kerr's 'Please Don't Eat the Daisies,' a 1957 masterpiece of motherly dissatisfactions."
Because one thing that always increases happiness, I've found, is to shed the childish belief that nobody has it as bad as you do, and instead choose to join forces with others in the same boat. And if you're really lucky, they'll be serving cocktails on that boat.