Wednesday, July 7, 2010

New York Magazine Asks, Why Do Parents Hate Parenting?

New York Magazine has a very provocative cover story this week by Jennifer Senior about happiness and parenting. Senior wrote:

“Most people assume that having children will make them happier. Yet a wide variety of academic research shows that parents are not happier than their childless peers, and in many cases are less so.”

The most horrifyingly accurate paragraph went as follows:

"Before urbanization, children were viewed as economic assets to their parents. If you had a farm, they toiled alongside you to maintain its upkeep; if you had a family business, the kids helped mind the store. But all of this dramatically changed with the moral and technological revolutions of modernity. As we gained in prosperity, childhood came increasingly to be viewed as a protected, privileged time, and once college degrees became essential to getting ahead, children became not only a great expense but subjects to be sculpted, stimulated, instructed, groomed. (The Princeton sociologist Viviana Zelizer describes this transformation of a child’s value in five ruthless words: 'Economically worthless but emotionally priceless.') Kids, in short, went from being our staffs to being our bosses."

. . . being our bosses.

I oftentimes feel that, in the world of modern parenting, many things, people and institutions elevate children above their parents, putting the parents – who are financially, legally and morally responsible for said children, must raise them and teach them, etc. – at a power disadvantage. A loud chorus of parenting "experts," who are so fond of prattling on in the media, loves to tell us how very important it is to focus on bolstering our children’s self-esteem, urging us to concoct alternatives to the word “No” and to afford children, even very young ones, the “illusion” of control on many things in their day-to-day life.

Additionally, these experts tell parents that they should not ever shout (never mind swear) at their children because to do so is akin to committing lasting emotionally damage, like the verbal equivalent of whacking the kids on the head with a two-by-four. When parents are struggling for alternatives to the word "No," when they can't shout, can't reprimand, they're expected to be hyper-vigilant, hyper-involved and hyper-aware of everything, like whether the kids have applied sunscreen, bug spray, are properly hydrated and whether they've consumed any high fructose corn syrup.

Then throw into the mix the notion that, as Senior wrote, “middle- and upper-income families . . . see their children as projects to be perfected.” Those “projects,” and the high expectations that people have for parents to entertain, educate, fill with organic/homemade/locavore fare (but not too much "filling" lest we have an obesity issue with which to contend), to take to the “right” sports camps, to get onto the “right” teams, to make sure have the "best" science projects for the science fare (it's called “aggressive nurturing” in the article) are, frankly, freakin’ exhausting. It’s no wonder people aren’t having fun and really enjoying this precious time with their children before they grow up and leave us crying about the end of their childhood like the parents in the audience did at the end of Toy Story 3.

The most fun I have with my own kids, the times when I feel most fulfilled is when we’ve got nothing planned, when we’re not in a rush and there's no pressure to make a specific meal and we just hang around together, maybe talking or playing a game or just lying in a big pile on my bed being goofy. That’s when the pressure to be perfect, to “aggressively nurture” is off and joy enters the picture. And I think that if parents were able to spend more time hitting that release valve and depressurize our families – and stop making parents do things like sign all the homework assignments, fight with their second graders to make them complete homework assignments and run the children run off to yet another practice or game – we’d all be a lot happier, or at least I would. The simpler, the better.

“Loving one’s children and loving the act of parenting are not the same thing,” Senior wrote . . . especially when "parenting," according to today's insane standards, has become an unnecessarily complicated, high-pressured gig.

Image credit: New York Magazine.


  1. Meredith, I couldn't agree more with you. I am an American and have lived 10 years in Latin America and gave birth to all 5 of my children there. Since being back in the US 18 months now, I can tell you that I am equally appalled with the nosey neighbors offering their unsolicited critical childrearing "advice," intrusions of gov't agencies and all other so-called experts who strive to prove via scientific data, how harmful a slap on the tush is! Honestly, I cannot wait to move back where I can put my kids to help me after school, (instead in shuffling them to a million expensive unappreciated after-school activities,) and overall educate them on the basics in a more wholesome and organic way. I wrote an article on Hybrid Mom about Spanking in a relaxed parenting way and had "the experts" all up in arms! Would love to stay in touch. You can also check out my controversial articles- usually written with humor to take the "edge off."


    Here is the link to the Spanking article!

  3. "I love ya. Wanna choke ya."

    Ever said that to your kids?

    If you said "No way!" then you're not rearing children, you're a babysitter substitute.

    A friend once confided, "I hate my son!" No, no, I tried to soothe her - of course she didn't.

    Then my son got to that age - and I found out yes, you CAN hate your children. You just can't hurt 'em, no matter how good it would feel.

    I love my sons, but "time out" is for ME.