Monday, July 12, 2010

Food For Thought

The article All Joy and No Fun is, I suspect, going to be making the rounds and talked about a lot in the IF world.  It explores the reasons why parents tend to be less happy than non-parents.

It is something I was aware of before LB was conceived.  I read the book Stumbling On Happiness (mentioned in the article), and at that time I came away with the theory that studies may be measuring happiness in a way that misses the happiness gained from parenting.  If I recall correctly, an example was:  Ask a non-parent, on a scale of 1-5, how happy she is at random points of the day and she might score a bunch of 3's and 4's.  Then ask a parent who is washing diapers, helping kids to school, etc and she might score a bunch of 1's but more 5's.  That is, parents may spend more time being less happy, but have moments of greater happiness and since we tend to remember the happy times more than the sad that would also explain why people's perception is that they are more happy with kids than without them.

I vowed to enjoy the 'chores' as much as possible and thought that I would have greater appreciation for those time given the time and longing I spent trying to become a parent.  I think I have done a pretty good job of that. 

And yet, as much as I hate to admit this to the infertility community, I believe I am less happy now than I was prior to trying to conceive.  I am, hands down, happier than I was while unsuccessfully trying to have a baby, especially after the birth / death of our son.

I have sometimes even thought that I would, if possible, go back in time to the Kami before TTC and tell her to forget the whole thing.  The 4 years between Ernest's death and LB's birth were horrible in so many ways.  I have changed for the worse as well as for the better, but I don't know that the net effect was positive on me or my marriage.  I wouldn't want to un-know LB or LBII and I would need a solution to the innate desire to have kids as well, so even if time travel were possible, it is more complicated than just choosing a different path; but I hope it illustrates my meaning.

The article makes some good points and also highlights a couple of things I am guilty of - not leaving enough time to myself and feeling guilty that I am not giving more time to the kids.  I think infertility adds to the guilt.  The article talks about parents feeling the need to sculpt their children - which can feel like work, but I also feel guilty because it took so long to get here and I need to make the most of every moment.

While I am typing this blog I am feeling the guilt.  I ought to be playing with LB and smiling at LBII.  They are growing up so fast and I am missing out on that at this moment.  It's sort of like waiting years to go the concert of your dreams.  You have front row seats and you are taking it all in knowing you may never do this again.  Then you have to go to the bathroom.  How can you leave the concert to waste time on that?!  But you have to, so you go, but you think about all you are missing out in the meantime.  Having kids, for me, is like being in that state 24 x 7.

In my on going effort to increase the happiness in my life, I am taking the points raised in the article to heart.  I know there needs to be a re-balancing of my time, but I don't know what that means yet.  Do I have a sitter come more often?  Do I let go of some of the guilt / responsibility I feel?  Other options I haven't thought of?  More importantly, perhaps, can I let go of the guilt and re-balance my time?

One more comment about how children has impacted our marriage.  Shortly before our son was conceived, a friend commented, "Geeze, you guys are like newlyweds!"  I smiled inwardly and thought how lucky we were to love each other so much.  By this point, we had been married for 4 years and together for 9.  Now I believe we acted like newlyweds because we had yet to have children.  I think we will recapture those feelings and habits, but I'm just not sure how or when. I don't want until the kids go off to college. 

What are your thoughts?  Do you find you are less happy if you have kids?  Are you less happy than you imagined you would be? Do you think these stats apply to you?  Do you think you will / are the exception to the rule?  What would you change if you could?  How do you think you are / will be different than the people in these studies?


Anonymous said...

Kami...I love, love your candid and honest viewpoints of not only your latest post but the majority of posts I secretly "lurked" upon while trying to figure out if DE was the right option for us. But lately, the pursuit of DE feels more like a second job and our donor hasn't even done her stims yet?!! But I'm trying to coordinate care between two countries - Canada and US (CCRM). So that in itself is a major job. But since Friday I have really, really been wondering if all of this will be worth it. The mentioned article in your post as well as another study published in a local national newspaper on Friday (exact same topic) really makes me wonder what's all this for. In fact I devoted my whole Friday's blog to the issue. But as of late I find myself getting cold feet but I suspect this is part of the process. When I think about the extreme we are going through just to have a baby, it blows my mind sometimes. I just hope it will be worth it...really, really hope so. But I think happiness is created by you and you alone...

Kami said...

LisainSk - I agree with you, that you have to make your happiness. It is easier when life goes the way you want to, as you well know.

Bottom line, IMHO, is that it is harder to turn off that innate drive to have children and live child free than it is to raise children.

Of course, we have lots of wonderful moments with the girls as well.

Me said...

I have a degree in economics. My favorite prof in college used to do some of those "happiness surveys". He used to REGULARLY remind all the students in his class that couples without children are happier than those with. I always believed him. After becoming involved with my sister's kids there was no doubt in my mind that he was right. And yet here I am. However, to me, my "happiness" is secondary to my biological imperative... BUT, my belief that my econ professor was right also helps to explain the reason why, if mutually-genetic offspring were not in the cards for us, we would have remained childless.

Leah Maya Benjamin said...

Defintely happier now! but more guilt. Before I didn't really have to consider much else which was alot easier. I do think sometimes what would I be doing if I didn't have kids, but that doesn't work because I was so unhappy and depressed that I probablywoudln't even be around, so I have to think what wouldI be doing if I didn't want kids? which is probably back to 3 day eventing, dressage and such with my horses. I really only think about this now, 3 year olds are challenging at times.
The fact is I wanted kids and Joe and I are much closer now but as you know it did a number on our marriage so I'm just ahppy its all turned around. Nothing makes me more happy then watching Joe watch Maya, so sweet, I love the smile.

Yes you need time to yourself, give your kids an early bedtime by themselves and take sometime for yourself!!!!

Summer said...

I have lots of thoughts on this but not a lot of time to write (in the middle of moving and I really should be packing right now because the movers are coming in 1 week!).

Anyway, I did want to say that I realized that for me more happiness does not necessarily mean being more content. I may spend hours on end doing things I don't want to do (changing diapers, telling TK for the 87th time not to drop food on the floor, etc) but at the end of the day I am more content than I was before TK was born. And that includes the time before I had to deal with IF.

Panamahat said...

As always, a great no-holds-barred post from you Kami. And as always, I am very grateful for your honesty and willingness to share your deep down truths with us. I have been asking this question to myself for a while now, and there is no easy answer. I can see a lot of satisfaction in a life without kids, once I get past the grieving-their-loss stage. But I can understand the joy they bring, and DH's unwillingness to stop trying just yet. I just hope that after the lengths [effort] we now have to go to (second donor, plus probably surrogacy -piled up on top of the seven losses so far) I end up regretting having children, if we eventually are successful. I can see that being a real possibility, because I am so so so tired of this journey already, and it scares me!

Kami said...

That is a good point, Summer. People with children are less depressed (per the article) than people without and they find children very rewarding even if they aren't as pleasurable.

I remember pre-ttc and trying to figure out a purpose for my life. I had a lot more moment-to-moment happiness, but I was feeling an meaninglessness that I do not feel now.

Lori Lavender Luz said...

Thanks for bringing this to my attention. I especially like your analogy of having to go to the bathroom at the concert of your dreams, and being in that state 24x7.

And I liked the part in the article that said that kids have gone from being our staffs to being our bosses.

This is very thought-provoking. I identify with a lot here.

Frenchie said...

After having a very difficult day with my son, I almost cried reading this...very thought (and emotion) provoking. I also miss the 'newlywed' feeling in my marriage. But I'm not sure it's having kids that has killed it, or if it was the years of infertility before...? A great post. Thank you.

Jill said...

There's a sort of rebuttal article here:

I haven't read it yet. And I haven't even read all of the original one yet. I have no attention span I guess. :)

I think it's hard to make a blanket "happier/unhappier" assessment. I'm unhappier in some ways and happier in others. Parenting is a job in many ways. I didn't like my job that I was doing before I had kids. I was bored with it and pissed off at the mundane parts of it and angry at my boss on and off. And now that B and C are my "bosses", they piss me off too.

And yeah, it's hard on a marriage and I hope we get it back together some time - I'm just too damn tired right now to attend to it, which is bad. So in that aspect, I'm less happy.

But I've never ever known love like I know with these boys. I physically feel my heart swell when I look at them sometimes. And watching them grow and learn makes me so much happier than anything I ever "accomplished" at my job before being a mom.

I do wish I had more time to myself. More sleep. The ability to pee without people watching. A day that didn't revolve around poop and naps and making sure everyone eats something green. But didn't I wish for x, y and z when I didn't have kids? I think you always yearn for something you don't have don't you? Gosh even when I was 30 I used to look back whistfully at the 2 years I lived in Chicago when I was 22-24. Those were FUN times. Some other time in your life was always more fun in retrospect. But we move forward and grow up and get more responsibilities and all right?

I think in the end, what I feel is that since having kids, the highs are way higher but the lows are way lower. So like you said - 1s and 5s, instead of steady 3s.

musicmakermomma said...

Great post - lovely analogy with the concert. I am definately more guilt-ridden now than before D; and I feel a lot of anxiety. But I love what I'm doing in my life (mostly) so maybe that is something to do with aging too.

I remember being very unhappy that I didn't have a house, and while I loved my job I didn't get paid enough to buy a house. Now sometimes I feel like I cheated; but everything is a tradeoff!

I saw an article somewhere (?) recently about only children and happier parents - made me really question my motives on trying so hard for #2. And of course the time that takes away from D. But I keep thinking - in a month I'll know one way or the other...then the insanity takes over and I figure out all the possible ways this torture can continue (low betas - blighted ovum - defective chromosomes - disease or health problems...) Trying not to think too much here!

RJ said...

Another timely post!! I appreciate your honestly. For me, I was definitely happier post-baby for the first year. Since then? Definitely some struggles.

Last night, I went out with some child-free friends while another friend stayed home with M. I rode my bike (with no trailer or child seat) and felt so liberated. After 2 drinks, it took everything I had to not to stay out drinking for hours. Sigh.

Regrets? No. Just a reminder that I need to make some efforts to recapture some of what brought me happiness pre-offspring!!

Lisa DG said...

It's too early for me to say but I will think about that question- it's a good one.