This week's New York Magazine has a cover story about recent research that suggests that people with children are not so happy. Does this mean the Baby Boom is ending? There seems to be a trend in the media to have cycles in which they promote or discourage parenting. Maybe it's the recession. For me, though, this article raises some challenging questions. First of all, what is happiness? How is it measured? And second, whoever said living with children would make you happy?
I grew up in a family where everyone had several kids and loved being parents but noone ever claimed it was easy or pleasant. Oh yes, there are moments of bliss. Holding a sleeping infant in your arms, smelling his damp, sweet scalp, celebrating accomplishments, or just basking in tender family moments. But, any parent will tell you that those are peak moments in the midst of a lot of stress, distress, heartache, frustration, tedium, and smelly chores. This is no secret! Never was! Like any big job - being a surgeon, landscaping, fishing, building things - it is mostly hard work, lots of risks, and a great feeling when it all works out ok.
That brings me back to my earlier question, how do we measure happiness? I'm "happy" when I get a legal parking space in front of my house. I'm "unhappy" when I have three inches of water in my basement. But those feelings are shortlived and don't compare to how much I love my home in total. I have to walk my dog in all kinds of weather, and fight with him to let me clean his ears, and those vet bills! OK, so you know what comes next...yes, I have a picture of him on the desktop of my computer.
Love and happiness are so complicated and changeable, but we know when we have them, even when we are on the downside of their cycles. They cause the deepest pains, and the greatest joys, the worst anxiety and the greatest contentment.
I guess this article really got to me because I am a year away from an empty nest and the hardest parenting days are over. My house already seems quieter and I find myself staring into strollers longingly. This is another hill on the parenting roller coaster. Loss. Loss of the baby, the toddler, the pre-schooler, the sixth-grader, the teenager. They never come back. And all I can remember are the good times, the busy times, the feeling that my life was not my own and that was a good thing.
I guess that's why so many people look forward to being grandparents. No one ever asks "Are grandparents happy?