Children sap your will to live — but it’s totally worth it! (article)
- That kind of dadfail is one of the reasons babies are the source of so much misery and marital stress, but Jennifer Senior talks about lots of others in her chatty, generous and yet statistically grounded reverse-angle of the usual studies of what parents do to children. What about what children do to parents? A phrase from her friend provided the book’s dead-on title, “All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenting.”
To get an idea of how little fun it is to mind your average tiny psychotic, consider that in surveys moms ranked child care below even housework among favorite activities. That’s right: Doing the dishes or dusting the furniture is actually a step up.
… Drunk On Sleeplessness
Sleep deprivation is the most pressing problem: Polls vary but a 2004 study by the National Sleep Foundation said babies cost you an hour of sleep a night. Doesn’t sound so bad? The gap in reported well-being between those who log six hours a sleep a night and those who get seven is greater than the gap between those earning under $30,000 a year and those taking home $90,000. Parental sleep also tends to be fragmented, hence of lower quality, hence every mom’s jokey-but-not-really Mother’s Day wish: “For some sleep.”
… Deadbeat Dads
Then there’s the inability to hold back criticism of your partner. If you didn’t have one of those shouty marriages, you may have one when Junior arrives. Much of the tension comes from the division of labor.
Despite “second shift” cliches, it isn’t true that women work more hours than men overall. But the breakdown of work does favor men: Women get left to do the least enjoyable stuff more. (“Honey, I’ll go tune up the car while you clean up this vomit. Deal?”) Remember that almost any chore is more enjoyable than child care, and women spend nearly twice as much time on kid-related activities as men do. (Men with kids spend more time at the office — but is it to pay for those Chinese lessons or the escape? You make the call.)
In a UCLA video analysis of 32 middle-class families, “father in a room by himself” was the most frequently observed person-space configuration.
Men also overestimate how much they’re helping out: They claim they do about 42% of the baby drudgery, whereas the actual number observed is 35%. (And frustrated women credit dads with only 32% of the child care). Subdividing even further, men tend to devote what kid time they do spend on interactive, more enjoyable things with kids (tossing a ball around) while women are more likely to get stuck with non-fun chores like feeding and changing.
… Lonely Moms
A less intuitive reason moms are agitated is that the kids destroy their friendships. A survey of some 1,300 mothers found that 80% reported they didn’t have enough friends and 58% were lonely.
Many of these women were stay-at-home moms or had cut back on their working lives or worked more from home, which meant cutting back on the social aspect of work and the serendipitous friendships we all make there. (Stay-at-home dads, by the way, are even lonelier, feeling not only stuck with the kids but also left out of mom groups.)
Reading interviews with Senior’s moms at the stressed-out parent makes you realize how central home-life stresses are to so many women’s unhappiness, and yet this isn’t what we talk about as a culture.
Instead the media gush irrelevant stories about how few women are senators or Fortune 500 CEOs. These are abstractions.
No woman is going to wake up happier tomorrow morning if news breaks that there are suddenly 100 female CEOs of top companies instead of 20.
And a key source of stress for moms (more than dads) is guilt about falling short as a parent.