As I wrote last week, I did finally read that article in New York magazine about parenting and happiness. I was curious whether or not it addresses the extraordinary lack of support afforded to parents in the United States. As it turns out, it does, and it doesn't. Author Jennifer Senior cites a study by sociology professor Hans-Peter Kohler, who found that "countries with stronger welfare systems produce more children—and happier parents," but does not explore just how bad we have it here. Remember, only four nations in the world provide no paid leave for new mothers: Papua New Guinea, Swaziland, Liberia, and the U.S. Furthermore, as is pointed out in a magnificent post at PhD in Parenting on this and related articles, we're all out here on our own, with no village to help us out. It's no wonder we're all so stressed out.
Also, my initial argument against the quotation I cited earlier still holds. The article distinguishes between in-the-moment happiness and the happiness gleaned from working toward a greater purpose and suggests that in parenting, one may be sacrificing much of the former type of happiness in favor of the latter. OK, maybe; but on the other hand, unhappiness does not inhere to such activities as washing dishes and doing the laundry (both of which I should confess Beckett mostly does around here), or changing diapers (a shared duty), or comforting a sick child (usually my gig), or anything else. One can—and I often do—experience in-the-moment happiness doing any of these things.
However. As Katrina Alcorn found in her "Who clips the nails?" survey, even in homes where both parents do paid work, Mom is still the one doing most of these things. Unhappiness may not inhere in these activities, but they do constitute a burden. No wonder mothers tend to report less happiness than fathers.
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At ...infinitely learning..., a recent post titled "Rekindling My Affair with Books" got me thinking about reading, specifically how I don't do much of it anymore. Poetry, yes; nonfiction, haphazardly; blogs, obviously; but fiction, hardly at all. And it's not just because I don't have the time for fiction, as I once claimed. The very idea of entering a fictional world and sticking with it through the course of a novel actually exhausts me these days. "Human kind / Cannot bear very much reality," writes T. S. Eliot in "Burnt Norton." Probably so, but these days I find myself not wanting to escape reality, but rather seeking to connect to it more deeply. Where else is my life but right here, in this moment?