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If we hate being parents so much, why do we do it?

Categories: Wanna Fight About It?


Things were fine until I read the New York Magazine piece called “All Joy and No Fun” that has people like my friend and fellow writer Madeline Holler talking about it over at But I read this piece (synopsis: Parenting is work! Unless you live in Denmark! Which you don’t so boo hoo! But all these statistics — statistics! —tell us how unhappy we parents are! So hello, why would you even be one??) and everything got quiet.

They were talking about my life.

Examination of the Road Not Taken. Life Before or (God/Goddess/Whatever forbid) Without Kids. Oh, c’mon. We’ve all had those what-if thoughts. Like, What if we could just jump on a plane tonight and go to Paris! (Without worrying about passports, diaper bags, babysitters, or whether Paris has the ONE brand of yogurt that is the only thing your two-year-old will consume besides bananas and bread, which you are pretty sure Paris has.)

Some recent encounters:

1. High school boyfriend (who inexplicably also lives in MY TOWN, nearly 2.5 states and 1000 miles away from the town where he gave me his high school class ring to wear), to me, at a first-time-after-all-these-years reunion lunch, as I am attempting to hand him aforementioned class ring that I have retained all these years and which, judging by his reaction, is now either ON FIRE or has grown several heads: Kids? Me?? No way! Not after working at a preschool one summer.

2. Neighbor, sitting al fresco on the sidewalk at the coffee house across the street, to me, after hearing for the first time that I have FOUR CHILDREN: Four children?? You’re so lucky!

Why these two seemingly polar opposite viewpoints?

I have no idea.

Except that parenting is messy. Once I thought that my experience with parenting was stamped out a millionfold, every parent/family living MY life, having MY experiences, playing MY games and singing MY songs. Together we rocked the parenting universe: co-sleeping, sling-wearing, breast-feeding, blah blah blah. Then I wrote for two years at and found out I was what other people called an attachment parenting Sanctimommy. Oops.

Last week I watched Babies. Amazing film. Highly recommended. I loved that I sat in a theater containing a rather high number of college students, and they laughed. They got it. These were universal human experiences we were watching. Babies being, well, babies. Yes, it made me long for mine. The way they melt into you on your lap, immediately and wholly trusting because you are their world. The smell of babies’ heads. The way their eyes light up when you come in the room, for you and only you. Parenting rocks.

Yesterday I talked to my younger three via Skype and webcam. I hadn’t seen their faces in a while, especially Eric’s. I was immediately transported back in time. While I marveled at Eric’s new-found linguistic skills as he showed me the owie on his elbow eight times, I also remembered what it was like to be with all three simultaneously, nobody on the receiving end of 100% of my attention or even 30% in a given moment, so inundated I was by thoughts like 1) What am I making for dinner? 2) Serena has grown out of her pants; can we swing by Target after school? 3) Eric hasn’t had a bath in two days. THOSE EARS. 4) Nathaniel? Track team? You need a physical? What? By Monday? 5) Writing? Ha. Ha. Ha. 6) Thanks, Mr. Ex, for changing the schedule AGAIN. Parenting sucks.

I am convinced that some people make natural parents, and the rest of us make a good stab at it. I would love to say something like, If you don’t love the idea of being a parent, why bother? but I am afraid that would make me a hypocrite. Oh hell, I AM one. When I was 15, I swore I would NEVER have kids, yet four short years later I was tearing up watching Lucy tell Ricky she was pregnant. And here I am again, doing the best I can with what I have.

In the end, isn’t that all any of us can do?

[photo: coscurro, SXC]

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4 comments so far...

  • Interesting thought. I was just thinking yesterday - our culture is making parenting harder and harder, what with the never-ending judgment of every micro-decision parents make. I thought, at this rate, anyone who reads this stuff will be afraid to have kids. Could we wipe our species out by trying too hard to perfect it?

    Kids are fun, except for a few phases when they are only fun part of the time. Even when they are not fun, they are motivating. I hope most parents don’t “hate” parenting, any more than we “hate” other things we bitch about (driving, traveling, visiting relatives . . . ). But it would be nice if more people reacted like your neighbor to the idea of children - “how lucky!” instead of glass-half-empty comments like “you have your hands full” (or worse).

    SKL  |  July 7th, 2010 at 8:38 pm

  • Agreed, SKL. And imagine the positive effect on today’s children if they knew innately that they were truly a gift rather than a burden — and felt this from a social perspective. I see far too many adults now who felt they weren’t all that wanted as children, and that was deeply damaging for them. Not to suggest that we should get our feelings of self-worth from external sources, but I can’t help but wonder when the scales are going to tip the other way and we will begin to truly appreciate our children again as a culture. Your suggestion that our species could be wiped out from our trying too hard to be perfect is a real potential, sadly.

    Karen Murphy  |  July 8th, 2010 at 8:24 am

  • Like I always say, parenting has its ‘moments’. As do all things in life worth doing. We do the best we can, but we know one day we will look back at it and have a huge sense of pride and accomplishment when those kids become parents themselves. And then we’ll turn around and say to them ‘gotcha!’.

    Trish Cardona  |  July 11th, 2010 at 9:27 pm

  • Because now that you have your kid, you have one choice: do it or go to jail. Lol! The problem is not that society doesn’t treat every child like a gift (which they are not, they are the same as everyone else), it’s because people don’t think before they have them. All anyone hears is “mommy hood is soooooooooooooo selfless and will make you a better person!”… Yeah no. If it didnt work for Andrea Yates, then it doesn’t work for everyone. If everyone would be honest about how much being a parent actually sucks, then there would be less delusional women and men and happier, wanted babies. People lie, that’s the problem.

    Crimsoncupjunkie  |  February 14th, 2012 at 9:26 am