I can’t fault parents for griping sometimes. No doubt that when Hudson was alive, we had frustrating moments, and certainly we would have had many more if she had lived to become a full-throated toddler, and later, a teenager. I honestly don’t remember griping about her very much, but frankly, we were very lucky in that she didn’t give us a whole lot to gripe about. And it is very easy (and from what I can tell this is one of the biggest potential pitfalls of parenting after the death of a child) to romanticize and idealize a dead child, just like it has been very easy for my body and mind to forget the pains of labor and delivery without drugs.
But I also can’t help but be a little mad when I read this article, “All Joy and No Fun: Why Parents Hate Parenting.” (Thanks to my friend, Matt, for sending it along and giving me a target for some venting). I mean, the title alone kind of makes me want to puke. I posted a comment at the end that said, in part, “I'd like to see a study done about how parents who have lost children perceive their ‘happiness’ now. I can pretty much guarantee that no parent who has lost a child is glad that it happened so that they can now have their ‘old’ life back.”
There’s a lot going on in this article, for sure, and she makes some valid points (in particular about the impact of subsidized parental leave and child care on people’s perceptions of how much they enjoy parenting). But its overall message and tone just seem absurd to me. I mean, what the hell is “moment-to-moment happiness” anyway? I don’t expect every parent to have the same perspective that I now have about all those little “drudgery” moments in the day (“Hudson, please stop screaming.” “Where are your shoes?” “Where did you put my phone?” “You’re playing in the dog’s water bowl again?!” “Food goes on your tray, not on the floor.” “What in the hell am I going to feed you tonight?” “Ugh, the car seat still smells like vomit.” “CAN YOU PLEASE TAKE A NAP?”) It would be totally unfair for me to expect other parents who have not suffered the death of a child to look at these moments and think, “Well, at least my kid is around so that I can have these moments with them.” Because that, of course, is how I feel right now. I want every single one of those crappy, frustrating moments back, with every fiber of my being. (And thank you to every parent who has already told me that they do, at least some of the time, look at these moments this way now because of Hudson. That is another One Good Thing). But “All Joy and No Fun”? Give me a break, would you?
I have no doubt that if Ed and I are so fortunate as to have more children, there will be many, many more opportunities to gripe and complain. I can only hope. But I can also hope that when those moments arise, I will remember how I feel right at this very moment, take a deep breath, and give my child a kiss. I hope that this (totally unwanted) clarity and understanding I now have about what it means to be a parent remains with me forever, and that I will never be caught dead saying, “All joy and no fun.”