Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Parents Are People, People With Children

In the new New York magazine, Jennifer Senior has (yet another) piece about the unhappiness of parents. I think it's well done especially when, towards the end, she gets at what is, in one sense, the crux of the matter for me: What's more important? A larger sense of purpose and meaning vs. minute to minute happiness. Because if you're talking meaning, you're talking kids. If you're talking minute by minute, maybe not so much. (Except if, like me, you think maybe minute by minute isn't so bad, either.)

Still, on the day to day front, even if it's pretty good for you, as my friend Ceridwen pointed out, Senior skids pretty quickly over a study of parents in Scandinavia. Guess what? They're happy. They have health insurance, child care, family leave. More than that, they live in a place where, culturally, it must be OK to rely on other people because to get the great benefits, that's what they must do. There's no cultural imperative to go it alone. When parenting has been really hard on me, I've been alone. It's not the physical loneliness that was hard as much as a psychic isolation. I go out into the world with small children and hope for the best, not because I hope my kids will be agreeable for most of the trip (though there's always that) but because deep down I'm always strapping on my chin strap to deal with a world that really doesn't want to be bothered with kids.

It's not that I expect the whole world to stop because I might be pushing a wide, heavy stroller or walking with a kid's hand in each of mine. It's a sense that in the streets of this time and place there are those with kids and those without and ne'er the two shall meet. There's no texture to allow a happier kind of ebb and flow between the different stages of life. No sense that your own children are part of a big world where it's OK for them to run around and make some noise. Instead, children must only make noise or run in places that are explicitly "for children." All those other places, that would be everywhere, they're not for kids, or the grown ups who are with them.

So maybe it's not that kids are all joy and no fun (as someone quoted by Senior says), maybe there's lots of fun to be had with and around kids. Maybe it's just adults need to complain about kids today (and their parents) rather than have it.

NOTE: I realize now, a day later, that I conflated two kinds of parental isolation. The first demands we as parents, and people, go it alone with our bootstraps with little help from the state (with child care or health insurance or parental leave) or, because of how we tend to live, extended family. The second isolation is the cultural separation of family life which is driven by the noise and general childishness of children, and I'm not talking about childish wonder here. This is all extremely reductive but separating these two points is important. Thanks for your patience!

No comments: