If you haven’t seen the results of the recent survey on parental happiness, perhaps you’ve been sleeping under a rock (or under a mess of children) for the past couple weeks. The study, which no one can seem to stop talking about, looked at over 2,000 Germans before they had children until two years after their first child was born. The researchers found that on average, parenting was not only more stressful than divorce or unemployment, but also than the death of a partner.
The internet erupted, and continues to erupt over the findings. Parents are at odds with one another about the study. Some feel it’s ridiculous, proclaiming they enjoy absolutely “every moment” with their kids. But others aren’t surprised one bit that the first two years of parenting are monumentally draining, emotionally taxing and, yes, depressing, some commenting to the tune of “did we really need a study to tell us that?” It’s okay that all parents aren’t on the same page here. But then the word “ungrateful” starts to get thrown around a lot and that’s when I get all revved up and start typing.
What rubs me the wrong way is the name-calling and trying to speak to someone else’s experience when you haven’t walked one day in their shoes. If someone isn’t enjoying every moment of parenthood or is going through a rough patch with a newborn (or, hell, a teenager!) they are instantly pegged as not being grateful enough for their children. The minute a parent admits it’s not all roses, it seems the mud-slinging starts and it’s not okay.
Opinions about whether the study is a crock or not aside, lets get one thing straight- depressed or unhappy parents are not necessarily ungrateful parents. So can everyone please stop saying that? Being exhausted, overwhelmed, lonely, financially strapped are things a lot of people have to go through and no, it is not always easy and enjoying every moment is not always possible.
Sometimes, you’re just trying to keep your head above water. Sometimes, you have to go through really, really difficult things that you didn’t expect, like an infant who doesn’t sleep more than ten minutes straight for a whole year, or a partner who travels constantly for work. Sometimes parenting is so much damn harder than we expected it to be and we have no idea where to turn or what to do to make the carousel stop turning.
Yes, I’m speaking from experience. And yes, I can tell you, after the last chaotic and exceedingly overwhelming year of my life, that is it entirely possible to be mind-numbingly depressed and still completely and utterly grateful for the lives and health of our children. In fact, it’s the only thought that kept me going after the birth of my second child. I am so grateful for this baby. I thought it, said it, felt it when I stroked his cheek on the rare occasions that he slept. I cried and cried and held him and said “thank you” a hundred times a day because I was so grateful for him even in my darkness. Sometimes I even felt my immeasurable gratitude exacerbated my anxiety that something could one day happen to him. That he wouldn’t always be okay. That there were a million things , scary things, completely out of my control.
While the study didn’t shock me as much as it did some, it did make me realize one thing- as a community of parents, we need to do more to help one another because most people feel very alone at some point during their parenting journey, but especially during the first two years. I’ll admit, the results of the study aren’t easy to digest. How can parenting be more stressful than death? But even if it’s a little rough around the edges, it seems to me that there has to be a kernel of truth there, and that is, that parents are struggling.
As a community, we need to realize that not everyone walks the same path. Just because parenthood has been kind to you, don’t point fingers at someone who is struggling and say “how ungrateful you are! Why did you even have kids in the first place?” Because sometimes it’s the parents who are giving absolutely every bit of themselves to their children that struggle the most.