Thursday, July 10, 2008

Happiness and Parenting

My second child, a son, is due in just under three weeks, and I’m already anticipating the sleepless nights and messy diapers (so don’t be surprised if suddenly disappear for a few days). Meanwhile, my daughter is now two years old, and while she is still relatively well-behaved, she’s learned how to throw a mean tantrum on the slightest provocation. For instance, today she threw herself to the floor, rolling and screaming and pretending to cry, simply because I told her that she couldn’t take her bowl of goldfish crackers with her to the potty.

When she throws such a fit, I only have a few options: 1. Give in, buying temporary peace but teaching her that such tactics work; 2. Bribe her with some other alternative, again, teaching her that such tactics work; 3. Ignore her and hope she’ll get bored and stop whining on her own (this rarely works); or 4. Punish her in one way or another, making her even more upset in the (faint) hope that next time she might become a better and more mature person. Bad options, all three, but necessary because she doesn’t yet have an adequate understanding of what’s good for her. She doesn’t understand why she needs to eat vegetables, why she can’t watch too much TV, why daddy can’t spend all day playing with her.

To be sure, there is much more to parenting than dealing with tantrums. My daughter also provides countless moments of laughter and joy, and when she hugs me and tells me she loves me—I wouldn’t trade that for anything. But one thing she doesn’t give me is much time to pursue my own interests. Whether she’s in a good mood or a bad, she always draws a lot of attention to herself. Life is simply more chaotic, stressful and full with her around. Perhaps that’s why this story doesn’t surprise me much (HT Thinking Christian):

The most recent comprehensive study on the emotional state of those with kids shows us that the term "bundle of joy" may not be the most accurate way to describe our offspring. "Parents experience lower levels of emotional well-being, less frequent positive emotions and more frequent negative emotions than their childless peers," says Florida State University's Robin Simon, a sociology professor who's conducted several recent parenting studies, the most thorough of which came out in 2005 and looked at data gathered from 13,000 Americans by the National Survey of Families and Households. "In fact, no group of parents—married, single, step or even empty nest—reported significantly greater emotional well-being than people who never had children.
I’m not sure how they can claim to measure such a thing, but if happiness includes settled contentment, I’ve little doubt that the average parent feels less of it than they would without kids—there’s just so much more to worry about as a parent. But such happiness is not the goal of life. It is precisely the challenges, the struggles, the fact that I am forced to center my attention on someone else, that teach me what real unconditional love is. In truth, I love my daughter more deeply than I ever could have imagined, and I’ve little doubt that the same will be true of my son. But that kind of love can hardly be reduced to mere “happiness,” for it includes not only great joy, but also a fervent desire to see the best for them, even when that means making all of us temporarily unhappy.

And I wonder if the same isn’t true of God’s love for us. For I too frequently don’t know what’s best for my life. I too frequently think the world ought to revolve around my desires. I too am frequently unable to see that the things that make me unhappy can be for my own good, to teach me how to be a better, more mature person. Perhaps I needed to become a parent myself, to learn why I am still a child of God.


Anonymous said...

Oh, those tantrums... I can rarely make my daughter REALIZE that she is wrong when she decides to show her temper, none of the above listed points seem to work... The strangest part of is - she behaves totally different with different people. She is one person when in kindergarten, absolutely different - at home, and another one - when left with her grandparents.

As to the article - I do believe that children make you happier:) actually, they make you feel needed and loved... unconditionally:)

Ken Brown said...

Heh, I once saw a kid throwing a tantrum on America's Funniest Home Videos. Every time his parent (with the camera) left a room, he'd suddenly go quiet, stand up and follow her into the next room, then throw himself back to the floor and begin screaming all over again. He did it several times in a row.

I've concluded that tantrums are pure manipulation; kids seem to understand cause and effect (pretending to cry=getting what I want) much sooner than they understand right and wrong!

In any case, having kids is certainly more fulfulling and meaningful than not (partly because of the feeling of being needed and loved), and in the long run no doubt that means greater happiness, but in the short run? Depends on the day you ask me (yesterday was a tougher one than today has been)! Still, even on my daughter's worst days, I can't help but love her! :)