I’d tell you what parenting is really like, but I’m too busy rocking in the corner.
I’d show you some really cute pictures of my kids. But I can’t, because I’ve lost the will to move my limbs.
I would recall an adorable anecdote about that hilarious thing they said this to me this morning, but all I can summon up is a bleak void where my life used to be.
You see, I am a parent of little children, and apparently, I am miserable beyond belief.
It’s not just me. It’s official.
In Germany, more than 2000 people were interviewed over a period of several years as part of a social survey – before they became parents and in the first few years of parenthood, and were asked to rate their own happiness during that time.
On average, researchers Rachel Margolis and Mikko Myrskylä found that in the first year of life, parents’ levels of happiness were “devastatingly bad — worse than divorce, worse than unemployment and worse even than the death of a partner.”
The researchers found that the couples started out rating themselves as pretty happy with their lives, and in the year of pregnancy, they became happier still. SO MUCH TO LOOK FORWARD TO.
And then… the crash. As soon as that little blanket bundle was handed to them, the couples’ happiness levels plummeted. Well, for 70 per cent of them, anyway. The couples’ results varied, with the “worst-hit” being parents over the age of 30 with a higher education.
This is exactly the sort of finding that parents-to-be hate. We are in an age where it is no longer taboo to talk about the negative, difficult elements of parenting. That’s a bloody good thing, because for decades parents – mothers in particular – who dared to speak ill of the glorious role she was apparently born for was a pariah. An ungrateful, un-natural freak.
No more. We less-than-picture-book parents have plenty of avenues for venting our frustrations and daily fails (you’re reading one of them right now) and it’s no longer completely taboo to suggest that there’s plenty about having kids that is way, way more challenging than it looked in the manual (that we didn’t get).
But we may have gone too far. A pregnant woman of my acquaintance says there is no way motherhood could be as awful as everyone says, because really, why would anyone ever do it?
And a brand-new mother I know, completely mushy with love for her baby boy said the biggest surprise about parenthood to her was that it was any fun at all. ANY FUN AT ALL.
Parenting is hard. It is especially hard when you are not used to it. Your life will never be as completely upended as it is in those first years, when you are living in an unfamiliar land, you don’t speak the language, and the new inhabitant is a completely needy, pain in the arse.
Parenting is hard. Particularly for these dads, who failed hilariously at dressing their babies. (Post continues after the gallery)
Happiness is not the first thing that comes to mind when when all the things that used to underpin it – sleep, exercise, time with friends, holidays, achievement at work – are no longer the priority in your life.
And, of course, a significant portion of mothers suffer from Post Natal Depression, making those early years the most difficult and stressful of their lives.
But what we do need to reassure the not-parents-yet amongst us is that yes, for most of us, happiness as we knew it may throw itself out of the window when we have babies, but what replaces it is so, so much more.
Since I have been a parent, I have never been so stressed. But I have never laughed so hard.
I have never been so tired. But I have never been so sure of my place in the world.
Yes, I have lost a few friends. But I have made many more. And there are two new people in my life whose company delights me above all others (except, you know, when it doesn’t).
And since I have been a parent, I have never been so anxious. But I have never, ever, loved so hard.
Those are the things you’re not meant to say, but sometimes we need to. Because when some nervous new parent reads the results of that new study, they will weigh up only what’s lost, without any idea of what might be gained.
Parenthood doesn’t bring happiness. It’s way, way better than that.
What was your first year as a parent like?
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