Moms are miserable. We are exhausted and stressed out because of our beloved offspring. Our marriages suffer because of those little people who we had the audacity to create - engineering their existence for our own narcissistic pleasure, believing that they would fulfill us.
Ironically, we are killing ourselves to stay fertile. After selfishly delaying motherhood to launch careers, many moms will go to extraordinary measures to get knocked up, flirting with bankruptcy to afford plump eggs, spry sperm and an inviting uterus. But do these children ultimately make us any happier? Apparently not. At least that's what research has shown, according to Jenifer Senior's provocative New York Magazine cover story, "Love My Kids, Hate My Life."
Does motherhood really suck? Well, the depressing article may have validated what millions of moms who chatter online say about the malaise and martyrdom of motherhood. And clearly this story and its decades of data struck a nerve, spawning a Today show segment that exposed the grim but unsurprising reality of motherhood: it can be a major drag.
We all know that life as a mommy can be suffocating and isolating and even a little boring. But most of us hit a biological moment where we crave children and give in to the primal tug to procreate. Yes, there is societal pressure to make a family and among female friends, there's even a tribal urge to do it together. We see other women with their baby bumps, or happy families in the park or Huggies' commercials, and we want a baby, often desperately.
But the reality of motherhood is less gauzy. Many women lose their identities when they become mothers. This loss of self, career or even friends can be disorienting and unhealthy. Stay-at-Work moms who continue in their careers and do double duty at home can feel resentful and simply wiped out. But there's more.
We are mothering in an age of anxiety. The bar has risen and the expectations are daunting. Not only are we supposed to exclusively breastfeed for twelve months and teach Mandarin before the age of two, but we also panic about autism, vaccinations, plastic bottles, terror attacks, and our children not getting into the proper kindergartens.
The New York Magazine article cited the recent documentary Babies where the happiest and calmest moms seemed to be Namibian women who joyfully played with their toddlers and beaded their ankles. They probably weren't worrying about whether they had accidentally fed their toddler a non-organic strawberry or forgot to apply the sunscreen or that they weren't maximizing tummy time by simultaneously teaching the alphabet. They just played.
Namibia is a world away from the "concerted cultivation" that Jennifer Senior writes about. This is sociologist Annette Lareau's term for the aggressive parenting model embraced among the ranks of economically advantaged families. In America, our children have become our projects. They are to be molded, fine tuned and sometimes fixed. And this is tedious and consuming work.
Today, kids are tested, diagnosed and medicated in whopping numbers. And grade school kids are tutored, trained and scheduled as if they were CEOs or professional athletes. It's no wonder than that in our age of anxiety, where we have given birth to Alpha Moms and Helicopter Moms that we are also finding loads of unhappy moms.
Were our moms unhappy too? Probably. But they had different expectations - a clean house, a tuna casserole, a husband with a pension, and well mannered children. For many of our own moms, motherhood gave them purpose and that in and of itself gave the job meaning. Even if moms find more fulfillment and pleasure in volunteer work and prayer than in raising their kids, the research according to Senior's article, has shown that motherhood still gives purpose in life. Does purpose equal happiness? Not exactly. But wedged between the drudgery and stress are the moments of fleeting, exquisite bliss. The "I love yous," the bedtime kisses, and the moments when our children explode with happiness as they see us in the audience of a school play or at school pick-up - these are the tiny moments that we relish.
Maybe if we took guidance from those moms in Namibia, put away our BlackBerries, slowed down, and sat on the floor to bead our children's ankles, we too could more frequently savor the happiness of motherhood.