Parents today are stressed. They have lost old friends. They miss their old hobbies. They're too tired for sex. They feel judged. A few years ago, one study reported that the drop in happiness after having a first kid was larger than when experiencing unemployment, divorce or the death of a partner. Yes, unemployment, divorce or the death of a partner. A lot of factors play into the struggle - economics, social media, the dissolution of the parenting village - but a big one has got to be this: We care a whole lot about fulfilling the wishes of our kids.
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In a discussion in Reddit's parenting community, a dad confessed that if he were to go back in time, he wouldn't have had his two children. Of course, he says, he "would take a bullet for them" and vows to "do everything to make sure they have an amazing life", but he believes their existence has "come at the expense of everything I liked about my previous life and all my interests and all my hopes for the future". He concludes with this:
I can't remember the last day I just got to do something for myself. I spend all my money on the kids and hate that I resent it. I had to move out into the burbs and don't like it. I hate my "parenting lifestyle" and miss my pre-kids marriage. I hate that I have such selfish feelings but they are what they are and I just. Yeah. I love them but wish they were not mine and I was the "uncle."
My guess is that more people identify with this father than he realises. His honest post ended up launching a discussion about the modern shift to a kid-centric culture, and how unsustainable it is. One redditor who goes by urbanabydos made a comment about parenting that struck me, one I wish to remember. They gave a simple ranking of priorities that it seems we have stopped following. It is this:
- Kids' needs
- Parents' needs
- Parents' wants
- Kids' wants
The redditor wrote that all the unspoken societal pressure has bumped No. 4 up to No. 3 or even No. 2, and "that's not healthy for anyone". They're right.
Redditors recalled the days when this ranking was in place. Their mums and dads would bring them along to whatever they as parents liked to do - say, drive around and look at interesting buildings - and the kids just had to go with it. They'd occasionally protest, but admitted it would sometimes be fun. I remember when my mum and dad would have me sit in the corner of their ballroom dancing class and just wait. It wasn't very exciting, but they sat through a lot of my tap and piano recitals, and it was clear that everyone's interests were important.
My five-year-old daughter recently said to me, "Being a grownup is so boring." And as much as I wanted to say, "It is not!", I didn't exactly have a strong case. We spend a lot of weekends driving to her friends' birthday parties, watching shows she likes and basically doing all the things she wants to do. That is pretty boring.
It's very slowing shifting as she gets older. (For instance, when she rides in my husband's car, she knows it's "Daddy's Music Car", and therefore she's very familiar with Weezer, The Beatles and The Strokes.) Seeing her parents pursue their own interests is good for her. I want her to know that we never stop learning and growing.
The ranking is a reminder of how important it is to distinguish your kids' needs from their wants. And if something is a want, have it get in line.