Is parenting really ‘all joy and no fun?’
By Aimee Heckel
All joy and no fun.
That’s how author Jennifer Senior describes modern parenthood in her new book, which was featured this week on NPR.
The concept has parents debating online. Can you simultaneously be miserable and joyful?
NPR explains it this way: “… that the highs are great, that there’s something transcendent about the experience itself, but that the day-to-day strains are really, really tough and might interfere with what we might traditionally think of as fun.”
No one who has spent 30 seconds with a hungry, tired and pink-eye-infected kid will ever claim that parenting is not, indeed, “really, really tough.”
But are parents happy?
There are plenty of studies on the topic. Some find that parents are happier than non-parents. Some say dads are generally happier than moms. Others note that it depends on the children’s age.
Then, of course, there’s the definition of “happiness.” NPR reports that parents report “significantly more meaning” in their lives than non-parents — despite the daily challenges.
This backs up the “joy” part in Senior’s assertion.
But can parenting be fun, too?
We say yes. Emphatically, yes. If you’re not having fun as a parent, are you really having fun in other aspects of your life? Is your job fun? Is your marriage fun? Was your dinner last night fun? If not, well, why not?
Being a parent should be fun.
Think about it: What was more fun than being a kid? And having kids gives us an excuse — an imperative, sometimes — to reconnect with the carefree, creative, imaginative, magical dimensions of our own youthful hearts, if even just for an evening of playing My Little Ponies. OK, yes, there are times where you would rather stab out your own eyeball with a Lego than stack another one. But only when your Boring Mom Brain has your Boundless Childish Heart in a headlock. The problem is the former, not the latter. Have you forgotten who you used to be?
Kids force us to live in the present moment.
The hardest thing about being a parent is getting stuck in the immediate moment. At the exact moment when the baby is unhappy, it is impossible to be anywhere else or think about anything else, or even think about the future and realize that your baby will be just fine and wonderful and happy and adorable and at peace someday, if not very soon.
But the best part about being a mom is also the way that kids draw us back into the present moment. During those moments when your baby is asleep in your arms or you catch a little smile, it is also impossible to be anywhere else — and those are the best moments of our lives.
Kids always live in the present moment (that’s why their demands are always so urgent), and they force us to live in the moment, too. When the moment is challenging, it’s all the more intense. But when it is beautiful, it is like a glimpse at heaven.
Leave your life behind.
Kids also invite us to drop our inhibitions and judgments, and to open our minds to the impossible.
Isn’t that why people drink alcohol and do drugs? Allow yourself to have fun building a fort with your children (because you’re the only person standing in the way of your capacity to have fun with this experience), and you’ll see that it can also provide escape, laughter, adventure and freedom, like a night of drinking in the club. With no hangover.
Oh, and when your kids start whining that they’re hunnnnngry and trip and hit their head on the table, remember that your college buddies used to do the same thing on a Friday night.
You are living fully now.
But it’s hard. So hard. And how can something that is hard ever truly be fun?
Ask marathon runners. Ask the author of a book. Ask an artist. Even ask a pet-owner. Ask, well, anyone who has ever done anything worthwhile. Look back on your own lives, at the best memories. Often, they were sandwiched inside great challenges.
Childbirth teaches us this from the get-go. Some new moms struggle with feelings of anger, resentment and sadness, and the seeming contradiction of how that very same moment was also so wonderful. How could such a painful thing also be the best moment of our lives?
Children teach us that seeming contradictions are actually some of the most brilliant truths. Your “negative” emotions can coexist with your joyful ones, in the exact same breath, even. When you grasp that, you will feel an incredible freedom.
You do not need to change how you feel. Parenting is not supposed to be easy; nothing meaningful in life ever is. And by accepting both sides of parenthood, you can live fully — and love your baby and yourself as a parent unconditionally. Striving for this kind of love is not easy. Parenthood is a crash course in it. But oh, how much fun when you get a taste of it. Real, deep, life-changing, blood-warming, awesometastic fun. Not just flickers of shadows of fun behind drunken, half-conscious lenses.
Parents: Enjoy being present, when it’s hard, when it’s beautiful, when your eyes cannot keep open any longer, when your heart is pulsing outside your body in the shape of your child, and when you think you cannot make it one second longer. You can, and you will.
Don’t you see? Joy and fun are one and the same.
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