Thursday, July 8, 2010

“And while I’m on the subject. . .”

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.”


  1. I got to this sentence, and decided this author is NOT for me : "The scene ended with a time-out in his crib."

    I am not sure that adults should really expect a life of fun, in any case. Sometimes I think people our age need to grow the hell up, you know?

    I can be angry with you anyway, though. I do want to let you know, however, that I am one of those parents who has treated my time with my own kiddos differently since Hudson's death. There is definitely a realization of how extremely precious every moment is.

  2. We get New York magazine -- free from airline miles -- and when this issue arrived, I could only laugh. This is obviously one of those counterintuitive angles that reporters love (I know, being one) that is at its core totally false. At least, I think it's totally false. Being a parent is the best thing to ever happen to me and I've NEVER thought otherwise.

  3. I put this article in the same category as the Atlantic's "The Case Against Breastfeeding," that ran last year:

  4. Danielle GrabielJuly 8, 2010 at 6:28 PM

    Since having our second baby, I've been dealing with mild post-partum depression - mainly caused by a feeling that all my normal stresses are magnified with two kids to manage. I find myself turning to your blog all the time for the perspective that need to realize that all my so-called stresses ought to be put in perspective and each moment appreciated to its utmost. Thank you for being my therapy. I wish I could return the favor somehow.

  5. I haven't read it, and I won't, since the title says it all. I'll count myself among the people who stop and think, when something in the moment is driving me crazy, that I should count myself lucky to have that moment at all. And, conversely, I'm even more grateful for the good moments, too. I very often think of you two, and I hate it again that Hudson isn't here with you. It is totally wrong and unfair and there really aren't any good words for it (although you got pretty close in that last post.)

  6. I'm currently reading The Happiness Project and was going to skip over the chapter about parenting because I don't have kids. Then I realized, well duh, there are kids in my life and I may find myself in parenting-esque circumstances from time to time.

    The author starts off that chapter pointing out that most of the accepted research (the same research cited in this article) states that parenting does not make people happier.

    And then she refutes that premise in somewhat anecdotal but interesting, and ultimately convincing (imo), ways. The remainder of the chapter is about concrete steps she took to feel happier, more at peace, etc. while parenting, especially during challenging moments (like having sharp objects thrown at you).

    Anyway, thought of it when I read your post.

  7. Last month I was away from my kids for four days-- they were at the beach with their father while I was home working. I looked forward to it for months, thinking it would be great time for me to relax, sleep in, etc. But it was horrible! I missed them, but more than that, I was BORED! I couldn't remember what I used to do with my time. Whatever it was, it was not nearly as rewarding as parenting, even the difficult parts. So I can easily imagine, Mandy, how aimless you must feel, and I'm so sorry. Elizabeth Hambourger

  8. sadly, i came across this article when my friend's mother posted it on FB. not for the reason that you think. she liked it. she thought it was right on. and let me tell you about this mother: the hated being a parent so much that she abandoned her 2.5 year old (my friend) and only took her back as a teenager (from the grandmother) when the grandmother got severely ill and couldn't physically care for my friend. it's pretty freaking sad. kristina

  9. With apologies to all the non-parents (who I hope ARE very happy), whenever I read that people without children are happier than people with (or similar things), I think to myself, "Maybe they're happier (or just as happy, or whatever) because they don't know what they're missing....if they did, they would be so much less happy." As a bereaved parent with no other children (yet), you know what you are missing, Mandy. I wish so badly you still had Hudson in your arms and that I didn't have the new perspective on the "drudgery" that her death has wrought. I think of Hudson constantly at those moments when I am getting fed up with my children and honestly see a real change in my responses to them at those times. One Good Thing, yes, but I am mad that Hudson was the price for this.

  10. Amen, Mandy. I was never happier - and on a day to day basis - than in our time with Hudson. And I know that tougher parenting challenges lay ahead, but happiness would be empty without them.

    It gives me sorrow when I think about what these studies say about our culture (and I wonder if the studies are across cultures or just Western-centric); that we are so encased in the self and the material as to numb the spirit and disconnect happiness from parenthood.


    Not sure if you have seen this but interesting article on topic...look at the 91% figure, can't really argue with that.

  12. Mandy, Hudson's death came very early in my time as a mom, and I'm sure it's influenced how I experience parenting.

    I certainly like to think I would be able to appreciate the joy of parenting my little girl without any reminders of how lucky I am, but nevertheless, you can count me among the parents who are going to appreciate every little moment even more because of knowing you and your family.

    I will always remember reading your posts from the hospital in my bed as I worked hard to breastfeed a sleepy and somewhat reluctant little baby, and just hugging her that much closer. And having her in the car that week, on some of our first real outings, driving past Children's, praying for you and counting my blessings.

    I think of you, and admire your grace, all the time.

  13. Mandy, I have never met you but know Ed from the nonprofit world in NC. I have been following your journey and have been touched in so many ways by your courage and willingness to share this journey with others. I read this article and was very disturbed by the nature of the article. As a Mom of two strong-willed little ones, one of whom has special needs, my life has not been without challeneges and frustrations, especially when my husband is deployed and I am facing the challeneges of parenting alone. BUT I know without a shadow of a doubt that my life has been enriched by their very existence and cannot imagine the pain, grief and sorrow that you and your family must be feeling. I feel very sorry for the children whose parents feel this way and hope that it is a small minority. Anyway, I just wanted to say thank you for your courage and grace and tell you that even though I have never met you or Hudson, my life has been changed by both of you. I find myself appreciating the little things that I used to take for granted... I hold my kids a little tighter, laugh a little louder, shout a little less, linger a little longer to look at the bugs, clouds, etc. And during those challenging times and moments of frustration, I think of those who would give their life for just one more of these frustrating moments and count my blessings. I guess One Good Thing (if that is possible) is that so many have learned to appreciate the light as a result of this darkness. I hope that Hudson's legacy shines brightly and begins to peak through the darkness that surrounds you. Wishing you peace as you try to find the meaning in the loss of your precious daughter!
    ~Lisa Familo