Just in the last week or so, I’ve seen a few articles that have made me realize how little people talk about the “dark” side of having kids. The side where both you and your spouse are sleep deprived, and one of you forgot to put the clothes in the dryer and now they’re moldy, and the other needs to wear those pants today for work. Or something. Totally hypothetical. There are so many things nobody tells you about parenting.
And, helpfully, the first article is called “The 8 Things No One Tells You About Being a Mom” (thanks for sending, Ann!). It lists things like “There’s no privacy” (citing a woman whose child saw her tampon string while she was peeing and said “mom, I think you sat in some gum”), and “Your baby will eventually insult you.” It does give you silver linings for everything, so you can feel lots better about being insulted by the fruit of your loins (the silver lining: “Repeated verbal stabs make you immune to them.” Thanks. I didn’t get nearly enough of that in high school).
The next article I read wasn’t quite so cheery — it’s an article in Newsweek about a study that shows that (gasp) having children does not automatically make you happy. As a matter of fact, it often makes you rather the opposite: “Parents experience lower levels of emotional well-being, less frequent positive emotions and more frequent negative emotions than their childless peers,” to quote one of the study conductors. It goes against everything we’re taught to believe — that children make life worth living, that once you hold them for the first time, you’ll realize how empty your life was up to that point, etc. The people in charge of the study received hate mail, even. The study doesn’t say that having kids automatically makes you miserable, but it just says it doesn’t automatically make you happy. Honestly, I am just getting to the point where I am not lying when people ask “But it’s all worth it, right?” I mean, you can’t very well say “No, not really. I’d rather be on a Paris vacation,” can you? But, the article does have a semi-silver lining — after telling you that people with children report lower marital satisfaction for at least a year, and listing how much it costs to raise a child to 18 (not counting college), the author does state that studies who parents have a greater sense of purpose that those without kids, and that there are other rewarding aspects “impossible to quantify.” And indeed there are (or were, until a study quantified them), as shown in this article, that discusses a study detailing how a baby’s smile and laughter trigger reward centers in the brain — the same reward centers triggered in drug addiction, actually. But sad or neutral faces don’t have the same relative negative effect. And I believe it. Baby giggles are the best. JoeKim and I have decided that if we need to conjure a patronus, we have to imagine a big Darwin giggle. That’s our happiest thought.
The last article, from Streetwise, actually, is a much much bleaker article — an interview with a woman who wants to raise awareness of postpartum psychosis. Not just the baby blues, or even depression, but psychosis. The moms you hear about who drown their babies, or jump off buildings. Her daughter killed herself because of postpartum psychosis, and so now she wants to make sure that people know about it and talk about it.
It’s amazing how much our society doesn’t let us talk about the bad things about parenting. Not the eye-rolling complaining about lack of sleep, but the days when you wish you had a do-over and had gotten your birth control prescription refilled. Maybe it’s evolution somehow, so people keep having kids. But for some reason, people seem to think (myself included) that you can’t complain — really complain — about parenting and still love your kids. Of course you can. You can complain about your husband and still love him. You can complain about your car and still not trade it in. You can complain about The Real Housewives of Orange County and still never miss an episode. But not kids. That has to be unambiguously wonderful.
And honestly, it does get better and better (or do my standards get lower and lower?). I had a day off today and spent it all with the Peanut, and had such a great time just crawling around on the ground, seeing what makes him giggle, listening to him babble. I guess those are the things that can’t be quantified.
But it will also be really nice to go to the Richard Cheese concert at the House of Blues tomorrow.