Thoughts on parenting, as we begin again

Jeff and I are expecting another baby in February. We expect two children in two years to be a lot of work, but something that we will enjoy in the long run.

A German study on parenting came out recently, which was headlined as “Parenthood is worse than divorce, unemployment — even the death of a partner” despite the study not addressing any of those comparisons. The study actually said that parents who were most unhappy after the birth of their first child were less likely to have a second child, which isn’t exactly surprising. Overall, the research on parenting and happiness is mixed, and I think it makes more sense to focus on factors that make parenting better or worse than to average all parenting experiences into a lump.

My favorite response, by a Swiss woman writing about why Germany is particularly likely to have unhappy parents:

“The German style of parenting is very much still infected with old prussian virtues. The children are supposed to be silent, obedient, perfect mannered and docile which is completely against the nature of babies/toddlers/preschoolers. And if they misbehave it’s always the mothers fault. . . . I am a mother of a lively three year old boy and not one day passes without us facing public hostility. . . . The German mother loses all her social prestige as a mother. Even if she is a double PHD finding a cure for cancer she’s now supposed to stay at home, be content with it and produce high Quality Germans measured on their “Abiturnote”(uni entry exam score). Very similar to Japanese mothers.”

We don’t seem to have come up with a solution to sleep deprivation, which many agree is the worst part of having a baby. There’s a reason it’s used as a torture technique. But social expectations around parenting can certainly make it better or worse. This isn’t the first time I had heard that mothering standards tend to be insanely high in countries with low birthrates (witness the bento box).

Where I live standards aren’t too unreasonable, but I do think we could use less emphasis on cleanliness. Little kids get dirty all the time. It doesn’t bother them. They don’t like to be washed. It doesn’t cause any kind of problem except for their parents. It would save everyone a lot of trouble if we just accepted grubbiness as children’s natural state.

Thinking back on whether Lily has made me more or less happy, I’m not really sure. The extremes are more extreme. I’m dissatisfied with parts of my life and miss things about not being a parent, but before Lily I was dissatisfied with different parts of my life and wanted to have a baby. I think my happiness setpoint just includes some dissatisfaction, and I’ll always find something to be dissatisfied about.

I do think parenting strongly affected my sense of meaning. I remember, in the midst of Boston’s interminable 9-feet-of-snow winter, reading a blog with pictures of the snow combined with Samuel Beckett quotes.

beckett

beckett3

I remember feeling both that the combinations were perfectly apt, and that they had no meaning to me. Those feelings of futility, of pointlessness — they had once been familiar, and now were completely alien. My life, even when unpleasant, always and unquestionably has purpose. Lily’s well-being isn’t my only goal, but it’s the most obvious and ever-present one.

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