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Pracitcal Tips for Being Friends

Monday, July 19, 2010

Why Parents Hate Parenting and How Childfree Friends Can Change That

The most emailed article in New York magazine right now is Why Parents Hate Parenting. It mentions studies that show parents are less happy than their childfree counterparts and that when it comes to the pleasurability index, mothers prefer watching TV, napping, shopping, and even housework more than taking care of their children. Apparently though, this parent angst is fairly recent.
Back in the days before it was All About The Children, people had kids to contribute to the family income not drain it. Kids were doing real work like farming, raising livestock, and rendering fat to make soap so they could wash once a month. In fact, the reason the school is out during the summers is so that children could help with the harvest not so that they could be sent to summer camps that cost more than a new car. Kids back then actually made life easier and financially better for parents. And while this started to change as Americans left their agrarian roots, up until very recently, children still weren't the happiness black holes that they are today. Back in my parents' day, it was expected that dad would have a cocktail when he got home from work, mom would join him and we kids would be outside riding our bikes without helmets. Look at the parents in Mad Men. Do you think kids were cramping Don and Betsy Draper's social life?
The article also goes on about the usual suspects of not enough sleep, not enough sex, and too much stress as reasons parents are not living the Hallmark fantasy they thought it was going to be. None of this is news and it leaves out the real reason parents hate parenting: Because they are not having any meaningful conversations. Oh, I am sure there is an exchange of information that doesn't involve kids. (Honey, don't forget to pick up milk on your way home. Set the alarm for 6:00am. I think the toilet is clogged) But a deep conversation that doesn't involve (or is interrupted) by kids? Go ahead parents, tell me the last time you really sat down and talked.
Now you may think, Big Whoop. Who needs to have meaningful conversations? Well, according to a recent New York Time article, Talk Deeply Be Happy, anyone who wants to be happy. Or as the article says, "Substantive conversation seemed to hold the key to happiness". While it's well documented sex has taken a back seat in most parents' relationships, I think real conversation has been put in on the back bumper and is barely hanging on with some duct tape. Why? Because moms can get so wrapped up in discussing every facet about their kids, they start to live through their kids and then they start to lose themselves. What compounds this is moms tend to only hang out with other moms so they start to think it's normal to only chat about kids. And then, especially if you are living in a cosmopolitan high-income area, it starts to get competitive about everything from who's reading first to who is getting into the best kindergarten and it keeps going right into college. Exhausting. Moms, you're already so hard and judgmental on yourselves about the way you're parenting. Do you really want to be dealing with the sotto voce tsk-tsking of other parents because your child didn't get certain grades, finish as well athletically, or whatever the competition du jour is?
Fortunately, there's a solution to this. Start hanging out with your childfree friends. Step away from the mom friends for a moment and have a real conversation us. Because we're not talking about All Things Kids, we're more likely to be talking about something deeper than Sharpie pen mishaps on the carpet. And moms, guess what, we're not going to judge you at all because your kid didn't get into the most exclusive pre-school, magnet school, or college. Mostly, because we don't care. But also because we live outside of Parent World, we know those things are not nearly as important to your child's success as you think they are. So by eliminating all those conversation wasteland topics, we can discuss things that are more substantial. The NYT article goes onto say, "By engaging in meaningful conversations, we manage to impose meaning on an otherwise pretty chaotic world." And moms, you could probably use this more than me since I am going to guess your world is a tad more chaotic than mine.
I am not saying you can only have meaningful conversations with your childfree friends or they are any deeper than parents. What I am saying is that with kids it's much easier to lump having thoughtful conversations in the same "I'll get to it when I'm not so busy" pile as sorting all your old pictures, cleaning out the junk drawer, and regrouting the tile. Eventually, you almost forget how to have them and feel self conscious about doing something so selfish sounding as having meaningful conversations.
So my advice is to practice with people that haven't forgotten: your childfree friends. We love these kind of talks. And once you've practiced with us for a while, it will be that much easier to actually have them with your spouse and even your kids. Who knows, it may make parenting so palatable, it might possibly pass housework on the pleasurabilty list.