11.14.2010

Joy in Parenting

Before I launch into this, I have to state a few things: 
• I don't make broad statements for everyone.
• I don't think serving someone is the same as being submissive. It's actually quite edifying... 
• Our lives are never perfect. But it's not a bad idea for me to strive to be a little better, and a little better. And sometimes that means scratching everything, and starting the climb again.

I've seen the question posed lately, "Is there joy in parenting?" Not being a parent, per se, but the actual act of parenting. This was prompted by an article I read the other day, that I will get to in a moment. And everyone will come up with their own answer.

I am in the service industry. I cook, I clean, I wash, I fold, I pick up, I put down, I bathe, I feed, I give, I care, I love, I love, I love. I have hard days. Days where my voice reaches an unreasonable pitch, and laundry goes flying, and my head spins, and the children cry, and so do I. I have days when I don't know what my 20 month old is saying, but she sure does, so we both are frustrated. I have days when time-outs lead to screaming tantrums, and there might be a spanking involved if one of the kids is, oh, say, jumping up and down on the back of the other one. !!! Every parent has those days. Of course.

I am undeniably in love with my children. Heart-achingly in love, in fact. If I didn't need (and adore) sleep, I would hold Maya all night. I would let her snore on my chest while her wispy hair tickles my nose, the weight of her little body pinching the nerve in my collar bone until I can barely stand it. I am happy every day. Especially when Finn tells me he's happy. Even when I am frustrated and strung out, I am still happy. I know that everyone has high and low days—parents, non parents, working moms, single parents, stay at homers, unmarried, married. It doesn't matter. But something has been pricking at me. I recently read an article that I admit really disturbed me. I couldn't stop thinking about it. It's an article from New York Magazine called All Joy and No Fun: Why Parents Hate Parenting. There was one quote in particular that stood out:  “The broad message is not that children make you less happy; it’s just that children don’t make you more happy.” That is, unless you have more than one. “Then the studies show a more negative impact.”

I can't tell you how sad this made me. My first reaction was to cry out in indignation, "No! You're wrong! Children do make you more happy." But clearly that study is showing that this is the unfortunate case for most people. And THAT is what is truly sad. The article brought to light lots of points. And I can say I was saddened by many of them, as statistically valid as they may be. The last page of the article was the best for me. It talks about purpose and reward, and how parenting does offer that. Which made me think more about the definition of "parenting."

The dictionary states: "To be or act as a mother or a father." So what does that mean for me? Is it just cleaning, cooking, scolding, sighing, succumbing? Or is it helping, correcting, teaching, loving, serving? I hope it is the latter. Even on the bad days, I try to look at it as the latter.

But here's the kicker. The days that are the worst for me, are the days I am focusing too much on myself. I don't mean doing things for myself. Hands down, parents need to take time for themselves as individuals, and need to be with each other one-on-one, as well. (And when we take time for ourselves, it makes all of the monotony and mayhem seem a little less heavy, too.) Of course I have to take care of myself, as well as everyone else in the household. That's not the issue here. What I am talking about are the days I feel sorry for myself, and give in to the slippery thoughts of general malaise. Those creepy scoundrels. I don't welcome those thoughts. They come of their own accord. And I prefer to keep them at bay. But either way, it's going to happen. Maybe it's after a week of illness in the house (ahem). Maybe it's because the routine hasn't had enough variety (double ahem). Maybe it's "that time of the month" (yep, I said it—that's a trigger, too). Whatever it is, some days I wake up and don't want to get out of bed just yet. I get lazy, and I decide it's a good idea to feel sorry for myself. But while I am in the act of feeling sorry for myself, another part of me is rolling my eyes at myself. Do you feel that? It's subtle. Even when it seems like I have a hundred reasons why I could easily feel sorry for myself, there are a hundred and one that show me I need to get over it already. Buy maybe it's the gloom that sets in after many sleepless nights, feeling hopeless, helpless, like you're not a good parent.

There is a breakdown of the family happening. And it has a lot to do with how we feel about ourselves as mothers and women. Those days I am busy feeling sorry for myself? Sometimes I like to throw in bullying for good measure. I bully myself. I compare my parenting skills. I compare my body. I compare my talents, or lack thereof. I compare my successes and even my failures. Wes tells me often that the happiness of our family depends on my happiness. And I see all of these negative influences out in the world telling me to feel sorry for myself, telling me to bully myself, telling me that my role as a parent is often without joy. That while I can love my children, I may not find any happiness in the act of parenting them. But I will honestly tell you that I work everyday to negate those efforts. I know I am worth more than that, and that my children are as well. I don't have to be a statistic that is less happy. I can't make myself an island (sometimes I feel the waves lapping at the shore). I have to trust that people are out there to help bolster me. That I have family, friends, and faith (and if necessary, real resources) that help me with those things, and give me more purpose. But I also have to be an advocate—for myself. I know that there are so many reasons for me to be more happy now, as a parent, than I was before I had children.

I noticed a marked change for the better in my marriage after Maya was born. It was really good before, but something clicked once we came home from the hospital with a pink, swaddled addition. I know I am fortunate to have had that happen. That is not always the case with couples after the birth of a child. I was pleasantly surprised to see that change occur. You know what it was? We were both being less selfish. We saw more of our eternal purpose as parents and a family. We were helping one another and appreciating each other a little more. We were relaxing, and taking things in stride. It made me want to try a little harder every day. Yes, there are major life set-backs, and huge trials (we are in the midst of a strenuous chapter in our lives). Yes, we have arguments like everyone. Yes, there is day-to-day-drudgery, and the monotony of daily tasks and chores. But I simply cannot connect my hatred for laundry (and oh do I hate the 2 weeks worth of piles in my back room), with the parenting of my children. Tedium and routine are not unhappiness, and they are not the sole definition of parenting. Guess what. I avoided ironing my jeans in college (Asha folded jeans, I sorted socks...or was it the other way around). I put off washing the dishes. I still had to shower, shop, cook, be sick and get well, run errands, and earn degrees on top of that. When I was married without kids I replaced school with work, but kept the other tasks. The difference now? The grand difference? I still do those things, AND I am immeasurably blessed to have two little crazy children to spend my days with. They are all mine to do with them what I will (mwuahahahahaha).

Every mess they make on my sadly surrendering rugs. Every single time Maya dumps mini marshmallows all over the room I just meticulously picked up, vacuumed, and mopped. Every time Finn wakes up sick in the night (in MY bed). Every time they hear what I am telling them and willfully ignore it (sometimes to their detriment), I am reminded of something. These amazing individuals are entrusted to me. I am here to serve them. I am here to be their guide and mother, to nurture, love, and raise them. It's my job, duty, calling, privilege (whatever you want to call it) to help them navigate their way through life. To help them learn that they can't try to kill each other on a daily basis (maybe even be best friends), how to count to 100 (starting with 10), learn to read ("T and V spell TV, Mom!"), appreciate the world around us ("Don't whack the rosebushes"), to love, to love, to love. In a word I am here to parent them. And if I let myself, I might even get something back from them in return. I can either let the marshmallows overtake me by force, or I can sit on the ground and help Maya eat every last one of them. And I may or may not have done that just this evening...

____________________

Of course, these are my personal feelings and experiences. They are not those of everyone. Serious emotional and mental needs affect the outcome of this question, "Is there Joy in Parenting?" And that is something to never take lightly. Everyone is fighting their own battle. Some parents I know are doing it through loss, depression, on their own, or in dire circumstances. To them I send encouragement, admiration, and love. I am amazed at what they push through with bright hope in dark times. And the children of those families? Amazing little lights. And their parents know it.

I really am interested to know if other people truly find joy in parenting—whatever your answer may be.

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Ali said...

Hey Lyndz,
Great post, and how all those emotions and (pity) triggers ring true for me too. Mike just got home from a 2 week trip away, and I cried in his arms right before he left, not wanting to be alone with "them" again. Its been a rough couple of years for us too, being home by myself most of the time weeks at a time, trying to raise decent loving human beings. Money has been tight—sometime scary tight. But at the end of the day when the boys throw their arms around me and say, "I love you Mommy" I find my joy. Yes the grind gets to me, doing the same thing over and over—chores, discipline—some days I feel more like a referee than a parent. But Like you said it is a privilege to be their mom and a job I don't take lightly. It's the toughest job I'll ever have, and I'm paid in love. My joy comes when I see what truly amazing people they are and are becoming and I'm proud to know that I had a hand in that.

Dennis and Cherise said...

Beautiful Post Lyndsay,
Parenting is truly what you make of it. I loved when you defined parenting. Because though I am not physically a parent, I still help parent others, like my nieces and nephews. Thank you for writing this!

stephanie said...

so well written, lyndsay! yes, we all have good days and bad days. but when it comes down to it, i wouldn't rather be doing anything else. there is definitely joy in parenting these little people for me!

Meet the Harkers said...

Well put. I couldn't have said it better. I have recently found myself very unhappy. Constantly comparing myself to those around me and never measuring up to what I think I should be. And just when I am at my lowest and want to scream to just let it out, I look down to my beautiful baby boy. He sees my stress and unhappiness and he flashes me his amazing smile. And with that I melt and realize all in one moment that I was looking in the wrong places for my happiness. Happiness will never come from materialistic things, true happiness is in love. Love of my family, my baby boy. He is all I need to be happy. There is no where else in the universe I would rather be than with him in my arms smelling his sweet baby smell. With just one smile he has taught me a life lesson that can never be taken away from me. That is the joy of parenting. In my opinion, parenting is where the most true joy is found. Thank you for your words, Leah Harker

christina said...

I love this. Thank you for sharing it. It's amazing and wonderful to be able to relate to strangers. I guess you're not really a stranger, but you get it, right? :)

Often I think to myself, "What would I do without these little monsters?"

We cry a lot, too. (We're girls!) But ya know? We laugh and smile and dance together so much more.

So do I think there's joy in parenting? YES, indeed.


-c

Jamie Lamb said...

Funny, I was just thinking about this today.

The fact is, my joy increases with each child I have. I never imagined I'd feel that way when I was struggling with a 2 yr old and a baby 5 yrs ago! But like you said, parenting trains you to be selfless. And that's what brings happiness. Serving out of love, not duty or obligation.

Sometimes it takes a while to find joy in parenting (as in a few years!), but it comes. It used to bring me to tears to hear people say how much they loved motherhood, because it was so hard for me at first! But life goes on, kids mature, situations change...and I love motherhood with every bit of my heart now!!! It's a fascinating challenge, and I love how it stretches my intelligence and skills.

(And it doesn't hurt that my kids are outrageously cute and squishy, right?) :)

Amber said...

I love this post! Thank you.

Emily Ruth said...

AMEN! and so well articulated, Lynds. I am feeling so much of what you say, that I simply echo, what you said : )

KatieJ said...

Great post Lyndsay! I can definatly say each child that has come into our family has brought an overwhelming amount of joy with them- I wouldn't trade being their mother for anything. Along with that immense love and joy comes immense responsibility and soooo much work but overall it is great! I have also noticed that when I try to focus on "me" too much I do start to feel sorry for myself and feel less joy. I just remind myself that this parenting little ones doesn't last long, it's just a moment in life really and I need to find joy in it now because like the poem says, "babies don't keep"

Marilyn said...

Lyndsay,

I marked this post with a "like" but really I "love" it. I feel much the way you do. I truly, honestly, LOVE parenting my children. I feel lucky to be able to raise 4 kids and to learn so much about myself in the process. Of course, there are days where parenting isn't the most fun, but I believe that is the case for any situation. We have to take the good with the hard.

I find it sad, extremely sad actually, that parenting is looked down on so much. I get the feeling sometimes that people pity me because I have 4 children. They feel sorry for me. It's rubbish, though, because I feel sorry for them. The joy and happiness and laughter that I gain from raising these amazing people is the greatest blessing I'll ever receive in this lifetime.

It's not the easiest job in the world but it is certainly the most rewarding.

Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts so beautifully. I would love to link to this if you don't mind.

Crazy Lady said...

Very well said. definite joy in parenting. also helps if you have a helpful spouse. one of the best avenues we have in life to learn about ourselves and grow (as much as the children we are raising) the most rewarding experiences in life. can't wait to see what my bunch of four will turn out to be.

Mrs. B said...

I loved this. I feel that being a mother is a privilege not a right.

One of my favorite quotes:

"If you bungle raising your children,
I don't think whatever else you do well matters very much"- Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis

Jon, Meghan, and Emory said...

Thank you for taking the time to write this post. I really needed to read it this week. My little boy is almost 15 months old and I'm finding myself feeling down about the monotony of life. It's such a good reminder that he should be my greatest joy and I'll find that joy in serving him, not in feeling selfish and sorry for myself.

Mary said...

Wow what an amazingly thoughtful post. OF COURSE there is joy in parenting. It is so hard sometimes, and as a mom of a 4-yr-old and 18-month old, I am absolutely in a position to state that definitively. My life is very hard right now, and I do have days when I let it get the best of me. But does it ever overshadow the astounding love and joy that comes with it? No.

dandee said...

I am always amazed at the way you're able to articulate your thoughts in to such beautiful, powerful words. The world needs more mothers like you, Lyndsay.

Everyday of my life I am reminded why I chose to be a mother. When I laugh at a joke my ten year old offers, when I hear my 9 year old play a beautiful song on the violin, when my 6 year old figures out how to spell a word by sounding it out, when my 3 year old helps fold the laundry and says "yook mommy, I did it!", when I rock my 19 month old baby and sing "you are my sunshine".

These are the moments that I will forever cherish. Sure there are tough days. Days where I'm impatient and the children are whiny, but I would never trade this experience for anything the world could offer me. Being a mother brings me the greatest joy.

Lee said...

Okay can I just say this was truly a overwhelmingly beautiful post. I love that Wes tells you that you are the happiness in the home. I think I will practice that in my home.

Shayla said...

Found your post through Marilyn's link and just had to comment that I truly appreciated it. Being one of those moms parenting through very deep depression at times, I appreciate your last paragraph. But even in deep sadness, there is true joy to be found in this blessing we have been given to be mothers and fathers on this earth. Sometimes I think the "world" misunderstands the true meaning of "joy" and "happiness" as that light, go-lucky, good feeling we all get to feel at different times in our lives. When everything is going "just right" or things just "feel good". I have learned through true difficulties and struggles that joy comes in a very different way than the world would have us believe. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts. This is why I love blogging! :)

a. harms said...

Thank you. I read this post the other night and decided the next day I would stop feeling sorry for myself. Wow! It changed the entire day with my kids. So, it is now my new motto. I totally believe there is tons of joy in parenting, but many times it is the very small things that most parents don't take the time to enjoy. Thanks again!

Jessie said...

Beautifully written! You took the words out of my mouth and put them to paper (or blog) better than I ever could! I love being a mom! I know I have much much much to look forward to in the years to come, but I have never been more (tired) happier!!!