I have a “Facebook Friend” (who I’ve barely said 5 words to in real life, but that’s a topic for another day) and he and his spouse have made the decision to not reproduce. Totally cool, that’s their thing, I would never judge them. However, this has apparently become one of the factors that “defines him” and he frequently posts links to articles that I suppose he expects will make the rest of the world never want to have children, thereby re-affirming his own decision.
The latest of these is actually quite interesting. It’s an NPR story on the new book “All Joy and No Fun (The Paradox of Modern Parenthood)” featuring a Fresh Air interview with author Jennifer Senior. If you haven’t already heard it, you can check it out here. Go ahead, I’ll wait for you.
Are you back? Cool. Now, in the words of Jules from “Pulp Fiction,” allow me to retort.
On the Title of Her Book: “It’s a very economical way of describing, I think, the experience of parenting. It’s a phrase that a friend of mine used almost parenthetically … when he became a new dad. That’s how he described parenthood. He said it was “all joy and no fun.” I think meaning that the highs are great, that there’s something transcendent about the experience itself, but that the day-to-day strains are really, really tough and might interfere with what we might traditionally think of as fun.”
DD Replies: Keep in mind now – I listed to the Fresh Air interview only, and haven’t read the full book (although now that I’m aware of it, I really want to read it). But from what I understand, Ms. Senior is saying that parenthood robs you of the things grown-ups are supposed to think is “fun,” which society has taught us to believe are such things as partying late with friends, watching sports with the guys, taking off at a moment’s notice for some exotic locale, etc. Well, I have one pretty firm belief that I’ll probably say more than once on this blog: If you treat life correctly, it will do the same back to you.
What this means is, put in the time and energy to find the right spouse for you; take your time making the most important decisions of your life and guess what? Marriage will be awesome. Then, put the time and energy into putting yourself in a place where you can support, raise and give yourself emotionally to a child and guess what? Parenthood will rock.
If you screw with that stuff – marry too young, start having kids when you can’t afford them or work too much to be there for them – the great, time-tested traditions of marriage and parenthood will transform themselves from heaven into hell. This year, I spent New Year’s Eve at a kids’ playplace, counting down to twelve…noon. Every child had a noisemaker, a party hat and confetti. As the clock hit 12, two hundred kids counted down, sang songs and danced with their parents. And lemme tell ya: As a guy who spent many New Year’s celebrations before parenthood partying hard, I can honestly say this was way more fun.
On the Role of Parenting: “It’s become much less clear what a parent’s role is. We’re not exactly sure what we do in relation to our kids and that’s very hard, I think. … parents now think that they’re supposed to be shoring up their children’s self-esteem. They think that they’re supposed to be making their children happy now that we regard children as being very precious and valuable and priceless. But if you think about it, that’s a really weird goal. It’s very hard to teach your child to be happy and to be self-confident. It’s not like teaching them how to do math or how to plow a field. Teaching your children happiness is a very vague and elusive idea.”
DD Replies: I would say quite the opposite. If my children want to learn a certain life skill, I’ll happily point them towards the school or class or mentor who can do that. But we, as parents, are blessed with the greatest teaching assignment of all: Showing them how to find joy in life.
There are unemployed people out there every day who nevertheless wake up each morning with a smile across their face and the hope that things are about to change for the better; there are wealthy people who lead miserable lives, fight with everyone who loves them and think the whole world is conspiring against them. I’d much rather have my children grow up to be the former.
Like so much else in life, it’s about baby steps. Today, my son spent the entire day walking like a robot. My daughter blew kisses to the lady cleaning tables at a restaurant.
Today, my kids were happy. Tomorrow, I will do my best to make sure they are happy again. And that’s the way it should be.
On Sleep Deprivation: “In the middle of the night, even though it’s the worst, you’re so tired… some of the most magical things happen in the middle of the night. My kid, at one month, looked directly at me and cooed. It was this recognition like ‘Ooh, you’re my Mom.’ I’d like to think that when I’m dying, I’ll remember that… that is as close as I am going to come to awe.”
DD Replies: I agree, 100 percent. Although I’m still a relatively young parent with two kids under the age of 6, one thing I’ve come to believe is that when you do come across a tough parenting moment, whatever higher power there is out there has a way of shining through. A glance, a giggle, a word of encouragement – kids have this uncanny sixth sense that allows them to remind us of our love for them at the exact moment when we need it most.
And in my humble opinion, such awe-inducing moments…well, if those aren’t fun, I don’t know what is.