Raising Richmond: Parenting and happiness

Earlier this month, New York Magazine published an article exploring the notion that people with children are less happy than their child-free counterparts. In response to that, today we answer the question: Are you happy (or happier) being a parent?

Editor’s note: Today’s feature is the newest installment of our parenting column written by two sets of Richmonders: Jorge and Patience Salgado (veteran parents of four gorgeous children), and Ross and Valerie Catrow (parenting rookies who have only been doing this “raising a child thing” for a little while). Check back fortnightly to watch them discuss/agree/disagree/throw down over all kinds of parenting issues, Richmond-related and beyond.

Earlier this month, New York Magazine published All Joy and No Fun: Why parents hate parenting, an article by Jennifer Senior exploring the notion that people with children are less happy than their child-free counterparts. More than two weeks later, Senior’s article has drawn over 560 comments (and counting) and continues to spark conversations among and between parents and nonparents alike.

So in response to this article and the dialogue it’s inspired, we’re tackling this question: Are you happy (or happier) being a parent?

The Salgados

My husband always adored Bill Cosby and thought he was hilarious. Even as teenagers before marriage and children, he would belly laugh over his parenting bits, which were a comical take on his slight annoyance of life with kids who he called “those people”.

As a bright and shiny aspiring preschool teacher and child development major, I was always horrified. My entire life was spent around kids, enjoying their company and investing in their futures. Even though I knew Bill Cosby really probably loved his kids and life, I said a secret prayer that I would never become like that.

Fast forward sixteen years to living in a house with less than 1200 square feet with a dog and four kids, (two of whom are total firecrackers) and on a tight income with both parents working. I am physically and emotionally spent in ways I never really imagined. I would be lying if I didn’t tell you there are days when I fantasize about what I would do with total freedom, things like go to the bathroom by myself, sleep till 9am, and go for a spontaneous weekend trip to NYC. I totally get Bill Cosby now, I nod my head like I’m in church and laugh till I cry at that old bit now. I sit by my husband on the couch and hold his hand, my ally and friend in a world where we are greatly outnumbered. I laugh in knowing there is a confidence in believing the truth and joy still existing.

And then a new study comes out, telling me I am not as happy and fulfilled as my peers without children. Apparently, because I work and have four children, I am downright miserable. I laugh after finishing the article and wonder why it even matters. I must be a glutton for punishment as I chose this life four times over. I think about how Lucy (age four) told me last week that she wished her poop was pink with glitter, how I missed a concert because the babysitter had an emergency, how Jack waited until he lost two teeth to double up on the tooth fairy, how exhausted I was after cooking a dinner no one liked, how Josiah believes in our family kindness work, how our kids are on the computer way too much just like us, how the baby insists on playing the running hug game, how hard and joyful it all is.

Truth be told, my highs have always been as big as my lows. I can’t imagine it would be different with children or not. I choose “those people” and this beautiful mess over and over again just as I choose happiness. We are not so simple to be or feel just one thing, and I happily embrace it all, for that is what living truly is.

The Catrows

Want to know a 100 percent guaranteed way to get under my skin? Say to a mother- or father-to-be in your best doom-and-gloom voice, “Ohhhh, just wait until the baby comes…”

I’m never sure what people are trying to accomplish with a statement like that. I think part of it comes from a genuine place of not wanting to sugar coat things for their friends, but I’d wager a hefty sum that part of it is also prompted by that age old saying “misery loves company”. I find it frustrating that so many people’s minds automatically go there when thinking about having kids; it paints an unfair picture.

Parenting is hard. Parenting brings with it expectations and tasks and obstacles that can be a giant pain in the ass… but so do most things that are worth doing. Any job you have, any relationship you build, any challenge you take on in your life will have those elements as well. I don’t know why parenting is supposed to be immune to these, especially since it involves the creation and rearing of another human being, of all things. It’s a big job with big responsibilities. And really, really big rewards.

When questions about child-rearing and happiness come up, particularly those comparing the happiness of nonparents to parents, all I can say is “It’s not that simple.” To be frank, if someone were to suggest that I’m personally less happy now than I was before I became a parent (which I suppose the New York Magazine article is indirectly suggesting by saying that my nonparent counterparts are happier than I am), well, I’d call bullshit. Again, it’s not that simple.

There is no way our life will be all flowers and sunshine with a toddler running around; it ain’t gonna happen. But the pre-offspring life I shared with my husband wasn’t all flowers and sunshine either. As we all know, there’s a give and take with everything. Am I thrilled with the fact that my mornings no longer start at 10 or 11am? Negative. But I can tell you (and this is the God’s honest truth, as cheesy as it may sound) that there hasn’t been a single morning in the almost two years our son has been with us that I haven’t been happy to get out of bed and see his face. For someone who struggles with anxiety and The Sads, that is huge.

For me, becoming a mother was a very primal, biological need that I felt down to my core. It was never “Let’s have a baby so we can be happier!” Parenting was something we actively chose but never expected to be easy. And sure, the “stuff” of parenting weighs heavily on me, but that doesn’t mean it overshadows the joy, the silliness, the sweetness, and the new kinds of happiness (both in the day-to-day and retrospective moments) that are now part of my life as a mother.

I can never know, with all things being equal, if the child-free versions of Ross and Valerie Catrow would be happier than who we are now. But I do know that overall, we are happy — happy with each other, happy with our lots in life, and happy with our choice to open that life up to our sweet little man. Early mornings and all.

Ok, your turn

What are your thoughts on parenting and happiness? Are people without kids happier than those with kids? Is it the other way around? Can we ever really know for sure?

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Patience Salgado

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