Dr. Michelle Golland: I am sitting here with a scowl on my face fighting with my 6-year-old because she is being annoying. She is hungry, she has already had dinner and, yes, two bowls of ice cream. I have offered her cheese, an apple and ven a fruit roll-up, which in some homes is considered dessert! She shoots me her perfecteed stink eye and is clearly not cooperating. I am tired. My husband is really tired and already asleep on the sofa with the Golf Channel on TV and his iPhone clamped in his hand. It is 8:30 on Friday night and I am so excited for my date with my husband tomorrow night I cant see straight (that could be from exhuastion). I just pray one of the last things he did on his iPhone before he crashed was make our dinner reservation!
Parenting is a challenge plain and simple. It is tedious, thankless, expensive (that one is from my husband) and never-ending. Really -- ask my mother who is dealing with her daughters (myself included) and some of our "issues." So is it really a surprise when we study parents and the acts that parenting requires that we come up behind the 8 ball?
Jennifer Senior's article in New York Magazine was a wonderful collection of data on parenting satisfaction -- well, more dissatisfaction I love my kids. They often teach me things and can be loving and funny -- but they can also be petulant, mean and manipulative. Okay, that is at their absolute worst -- but I don't deny they can be like that and, hey, I am sure my kids would say the same about me (if they knew what all those words meant).
We may be deluded in a way to continue the biological push for mankind, but it is also our expectations of what parenting will be that may at least early on be why we are so dissatisfied with the experience at times. Daniel Gilbert, a Harvard psychologist, says that he believes what children really do is offer moments of transcendence, not an overall improvement in well-being. I couldn't agree more. It is the moments of transcendence, peace and quiet connection that keep us bound in a deep unexplainable love with our children. It is also these moments that get us through the many, many, many (is that too many manys?) times of annoying and anxiety producing challenges as well.
I believe our complex lives add stress to parenting. Over-scheduling them (and you) makes life more hectic, more expensive and often less fun. So what is an unhappy parent to do?
For those of us with a partner, you must increase your happiness and understanding within your couplehood or I believe you will suffer long and hard as a parent and a person. It will become your literal undoing if your relationship is not on solid footing. It is what will hopefully help you survive being a parent. As my husband says, I help him remember the numerous moments of fleeting joy that our kids bring to our lives. It will help you survive when your children finally leave your home for good as well. If your kids go off to college and all your investment was in raising them, you will have a lonely and rude awakening when your roll over and have nothing to say to the person lying next to you.
In the end, your marriage should be the most important relationship and tended to as such. This will allow the experience of "team" within your parenting lives. Michael and I love our kids but we realize on our own we have our couple "stuff" figured out. (Years of therapy helped achieved that goal.) It is our kids and their natural and normal state of being children that adds so much stress and so much joy to our lives -- both of which are fleeting. Our deeply connected relationship is what makes us eventually laugh at the moments that made us cry.