Saturday, April 26, 2014

All Joy and No Fun

After I started reading Jennifer Senior's recent book about modern parenting, All Joy and No Fun, I figured I would never need to blog about parenting ever again.

She wrote it all.

It's all been said and done now. Her thoughts were a thousand times more articulate and illuminating than my own and I found myself nodding, chortling, and grunting in agreement pretty much non-stop throughout.

For example, her section on "flow" and the parent. Part of why parenting infants/toddlers is such a miserable experience is because there is no sense of "flow"--defined as that sensation of being totally absorbed and "in the zone", where an hour can feel like 5 minutes. Flow requires the perfect balance of stress and boredom--just challenging enough to keep you engaged and not too challenging that you're feeling high anxiety.

But parenting is like the opposite of experiencing flow. You are either bored out of your mind or stressed out of your mind.

First, the boredom--because babies can't talk, because reading Hop on Pop for the 50th time blows, because helping someone stumble around the park and not get to their destination for 30 minutes is mind-numbing, because tossing a ball back and forth, shaking rattles, playing peek-a-boo, labeling objects, and all the other stuff you're supposed to be doing for your baby's early development is, let's face it, completely boring after the first 90 seconds.

Second, the stress, which for me (and most parents I would imagine) comes from a very simple source--crying. Some people can tolerate a lot more crying than others, but we are all hard-wired by Nature to have a true physical stress response to our children crying. Heart rates are elevated, cortisol levels rise, blood pressure goes up, everything in you feels horrible.

So there you have it--the yin and yang of parenting small people--extreme boredom or extreme stress. No wonder in large national surveys mothers rank spending time with their kids less desirable than doing the dishes or other house chores. Hard to believe if you've never spent more than 8 hours with a small child, but I'm here to testify--that shizz is fo realz people. Fo realz.

Don't let the cuteness fool you!

Because the author was so dead on in capturing life with the 0-3 set, I was really excited to read on as she laid out life with school-age kids and then life with teenagers. Maybe this would give me a little road map toward what awaits and for once in my parenting life, I could get ahead of the curve!

Although I did find it somewhat helpful, alas, it didn't prove half as insightful sounding as the first part, maybe because she herself has only experienced motherhood up until age 5 (the age of her only son). All I gleaned is that kids between ages 4 and 12 are intensely over-scheduled and the parent basically morphs into a taxi driver. I'm thinking this might become irrelevant for me as Google develops the driver-less car any day now.

But aside from these little peaks into the horror and hells of parenting, I have to say my favorite part of the book was the last section in which the author explores the Joy of parenting. After all, the title does promise that it's "All Joy..."

Her descriptions of the deep and abiding joy in the midst of the pain of parenting were so poignant I teared up, a lot. In particular, she noted that single moms are by far the most stressed out people on the planet, BUT they are the least depressed. This seems counter-intuitive since you assume intense stress causes mental breakdown and depression.

But the author notes that depression is essentially a function of disassociation. When you feel like you have little or no attachments to the world around you, that is the key to depression. And parenting is the ultimate antidote. For the first time in your life, most likely, you feel the ultimate attachment. Never have you committed to someone to the degree that you commit to your child. And infinitely more so if you are his/her only, single parent.

To be on the hook, to be forever committed, to inextricably link yourself to another such that it is simply impossible to feel happy if that person is sad, is a monstrous burden--but also the gateway to paradise. As I've quoted before in reference to parenting--To love another person is to see the face of God.

And to that also, I can testify. That shizz is def fo realz too.


CM said...

For me it's definitely gotten easier as they get older. X is 3 and he's not out of that needy little-kid phase yet. Even though he doesn't do a lot of crying anymore, what I find stressful is the constant demands for my attention and energy. I feel like I can't get anything done and I often feel like I'm hiding in my own house because the second he sees me, the "MOMMY MOMMY MOMMY" starts up again. The other day I said to JW, "What would we do if we had a whole weekend at home without the kids?" as sort of a fantasy discussion topic, and he shrugged and said, "Probably the same thing we always do," which made me feel really resentful because the kids leave him alone.

Whoops, that was a derail. What I was GOING to say before the complaining was that K, at 7, has learned to do a lot of things for himself. He understands that it's inconvenient for me to do things for him that he could do himself, and he actually cares about how I feel and what I want to do. Not only that, but he's very reasonable about following rules, because he knows we only make rules for good reasons and we get him on board. And I think that X will get there too. We don't have the overscheduling and taxi driver thing, at least not yet, so being with K really is a lot of fun. (And being with X is often fun, but as you point out, with little kids one second you're laughing and marveling at how adorable and amazing they are, and the next second they're destroying something and screaming and you're at your wits' end.)

Anyway, my point is, I think it gets better.

CP said...

Aww, this was a sweet post. I have a hard time processing all the anxiety that you seem to be experiencing when it comes to parenting. It makes me think that perhaps I'm way too laid back and not putting enough into parenting. I definitely have times where I am so annoyed or frustrated with my children's behavior and there are times when I know I am not handling things the best way but I don't think I ever get anxious or stressed about being a parent. But then I'm a very unstructured person. I hope you can find your peace and your groove and I hope you know that you are doing a very excellent job. The very fact that you stress about it so much shows that you care a great deal (and perhaps more than the average person!).

P.s. your kids are so freaking adorable. Noah is seriously your twin and Judah looks so much like his dad!

Suz said...

I love your blogs. It's like a self - help educational read for me at times and definitely a source I will rely when it's my turn for motherhood. Keep writing! :)