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More on the Burdens of Parenting

July 19th, 2010  |  by  |  Published in Uncategorized

As we continue to explore the All Joy and No Fun paradox from last week, which included Christopher’s excellent Q&A with Jennifer Senior, here’s some Monday morning reading (is there any better kind?). On her Psychology Today blog, Nancy Darling has a slightly different take. For her, “parenting” seems all chore mainly because the word itself doesn’t encompass the best parts about having kids.

Parenting is full of unexpected pleasures.  It used to amaze me when they were babies that their bodies were so perfect or how good they smelled.  Listening to my youngest practice a violin etude last night–one he had bored himself silly with all summer–I was just awestruck that this kid who has terrible handwriting, who likes fencing with sticks in the back yard and who will do anything to start a water fight–could make such truly beautiful music.  I love just watching the look of concentration on his face as he focuses on it.

Note that, unlike the behaviors evoked by the word ‘parenting’, these these are passive behaviors.  They involve just sitting back and enjoying my kids being themselves.

None of those pleasures are captured in a standard measure of ‘parenting’ or–I think–evoked by the word ‘parenting’ as it is used in studies of time use.  That isn’t parenting.  It’s being a parent.  If you asked me about how I felt about parenting, none of those pleasures would be assessed, because that’s not what I think of when I think of the word.  That is an issue of construct validity.

A semantic argument, perhaps, but the point is well-taken. The best parts of being a parent–those quiet moments, the deep love–are the hardest to name and define. The worst parts–trying to get your kid dressed in the morning, waking up every two hours when they’re young–are much easier to identify and complain about. So just remember: “parenting” is a shallow river of suck. “Being a parent” is a far deeper ocean of something that is, well, pretty indescribably good.

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