For those of you who don't have the time or the desire to read through the article, I'll sum it up for you. A group of German parents were interviewed about their overall happiness from the birth of their child up until the child's second birthday. The results? Dismal. According to this particular "study" (and I use that term loosely), raising a child was found to be more stressful, more taxing, and more devastating than divorce, unemployment, or even the death of a spouse. The parents reported trauma from the physical exhaustion during pregnancy, to the strain on their relationships, to general depression. While I'm certainly not dismissing those very valid points...all I could do was shake my head.
First of all, the study only focused on the first two years of the child's life (otherwise known as the SWEET BABY JESUS SEE ME THROUGH period). Well, thanks, Professor LOL. I'd be hard-pressed to find a parent who wasn't overwhelmed with a newborn who wanted to scream instead of sleep at night, a teething infant, a formerly fantastic sleeper who went through the famous four-month old sleep regression, and the Terrible Twos. Even if you have a baby who came out of the womb with the temperment of Mother Theresa, it's still a major adjustment in your family. And let's be honest, not everyone is going to have the same experience; you can't say "everyone hates the newborn period, but don't worry because it gets better!" No, not everyone will hate the newborn period. Personally, I love it. But I've also never had a colicky baby who screamed uncontrollably for 23 out of the 24 hours of the day. Just like I've never experienced HG during pregnancy, or dealt with severe food allergies with a small child, or faced a crushing physical or mental diagnosis with either of our children. OF COURSE all of those things will add a tremendous amount of stress to a new parent. But...to suggest that the depression that comes along with having a baby is comparable to (or worse than?) the death of a spouse? I don't say this often, mainly because I'm not a teenager anymore, but I'm officially going there.
I. Can't. Even.
Even though I love the newborn period (and I do! truly!), it was very, very difficult with Alessandra. She never wanted to sleep, nothing made her happy, and I felt mentally ill from sheer exhaustion. However. Even in my darkest moments when I wanted to jump in the car and drive to the opposite end of the country, I kept repeating to myself, "This is a transition period. It's hard, it's exhausting, but it WILL get better." And of course it did. Not overnight, but within a few months, she began sleeping more and settling into a routine. Sure, sure, I was still tired and had my crabby moments throughout the day, but I could definitely see the light at the end of the tunnel. The more sleep Alessandra got, the more everyone's lives improved, and by the time she was six months old, we finally felt like we had settled into a comfortable routine as a family of four. The transition period had passed, and life had greatly improved.
I'm fairly certain that if I lost my husband, I wouldn't be sitting here writing about how much my life improved six months after the fact.
I've noticed a disturbing trend these past few years; in a desperate attempt to make parents (frequently, mothers) not feel so alone and overwhelmed, we've gone from the 1950's "put on a happy housewife face no matter what!" mentality, to "here's everything that absolutely sucks about being a parent, and hold on to your hats because it's a wild ride!" One unhealthy end of the spectrum to the other, in my opinion. Look, I'm all for keeping it real. I've blogged many, many times about my lack of the crafty Pinterest mom gene, the tantrums and antics I've had to deal with in public, and how my house is generally neat and clean, but won't be showcased on the cover of Good Housekeeping anytime in the near future. But I try to keep in mind that:
a) I love my children fiercely, and I don't ever want anyone to get the impression that they're a burden to me (or worse, that my children read this blog one day and break down sobbing because they think I don't love them)
b) There's a difference between light-hearted humor and thinly-veiled contempt, and
c) While everyone appreciates a humorous parenting moment, I truly don't want to scare people away from having children.
I have a few friends-men and women-who are at the point in their lives where they're considering starting a family, but they're legitimately afraid to have children because of these kinds of articles that are constantly appearing all over the internet. Or they read a post by a mommy blogger who is trying SO HARD to be "relatable" and "edgy," but they just sound bitter and resentful. One thing that really struck me was the mention at the end of the article about the concerns of many European goverments, regarding the declining population rates in their countries. Gee, ya think? When you're constantly bombarded by articles pretty much promising you that if you have a child, you'll lose your looks, your sanity, your marriage, and your individuality? Who in the world wouldn't be terrified of procreating after reading articles and blog posts like this one?
Fellow parents, I beseech you. Let's make a pact to focus on ALL aspects of child-rearing: the wonderful, the good, the not-so-good, and the flat-out ugly. I'm by no means suggesting that we revert back to the days of our grandmothers, when you were supposed to put on a happy face no matter what, and everything was expected to be super duper perfect with a cherry on top. Of course not; that's equally harmful and unrealistic. What I am saying is that if you had a wonderful, relaxing, rewarding day with your children, go ahead and share it! If you have a child who potty trained in three days, go ahead and shout it from the rooftops (expect to have rotten food thrown at you, but hey, WORTH IT), and if you have a child who volunteers at a soup kitchen in his free time and prays the rosary every night and asks if he can clean up the kitchen after dinner, heck yes take pride in that.
By the same token, if having a child HAS negatively impacted your marriage, don't feel as though you have to keep everything bottled up inside. Having the support of a trusted friend, a therapist, a religious leader, whoever, can do wonders. If you have a child with special needs, and you're just DONE at the end of a particularly rough day, don't be afraid to reach out for commiseration. If your normally well-behaved child acts like you just shot them up with meth before you head into the grocery store, and they're pulling items off the shelves and shrieking at the top of their lungs because you won't buy them expensive bakery cookies and they have a potty accident in the cart and pee all over the groceries (not like I know anything about that), please understand that that one hour is NOT a reflection on your parenting, and feel free to give the stink eye or sassy comeback to anyone who so much as raises their eyebrows at you. Like I said before...I'm all about keeping it real. Some days are wonderful, and my heart feels like it could burst from the love and pride I have for my children. Other days, I consider the wisdom in buying stock in my favorite brand of tequila.
But in the meantime, go right ahead and give the publishers of this "study" the major side-eye.