This article from last Saturday’s National Post must be one of the most shallow analyses of parenthood and reproduction I’ve ever read. And I’ve read a lot. One notable excerpt made me laugh out loud:
Why are people choosing to have fewer children? After all, voluntary childlessness seems to violate the Darwinian premise that our genes predispose us, like all other creatures, to try to reproduce.
I don’t think we can be faulted for failing to try to reproduce. As the mother of inquisitive children, I can tell you that copulation is everywhere. Our problem is not the trying. The actual reproduction that results from all the trying, well, uh, that’s another story.
That being said, this article made me take stock of my own happiness index. Being five times a mother, I figured I should know. Maybe this made me reflect because I was particularly grouchy that day. Because reward, when it comes to parenting, is something we feel more than something we know. It is both inanely obvious and impossible to describe. It chews us up and spits us out and makes us grateful for the ride. It is like nothing else, which probably explains why conventional happiness indexes miss it all together.
The contentment that comes from being a parent is not physical – although those newborns sure smell good – nor is it emotional. In fact, the emotions it triggers can be downright negative: may the person who has never felt exasperation after repeating the same simple instruction a gazillion time – don’t jump on the couch, leave your brother alone, when the baby cries it means he doesn’t like it, the cat is not supposed to make that noise – cast the first stone, but it sure won’t be me! The contentment that comes from being a parent is a contentment of the heart, a sense that we are partakers in something much bigger than ourselves, a feeling that we are given a mission we can’t refuse. It also pushes us to limits we didn’t know we had. Limits of patience, yes. But also limits of self-sacrifice, love and tolerance. When my first child was born, I thought I could never love anyone else that much. Until the second one came along. And the third. By the fourth, I had learned one of life’s most valuable lessons: each additional child doesn’t take away from the mother love-pie, it’s the pie that gets bigger.
And this is my unscientific observation: Parenthood makes me happy because I love. And the more I parent, the more I love. But the more I love, the more I suffer because loving children is not the same as loving ice cream. When they cry, I cry. When they fear, I fear. When they stumble and fall, I stumble and fall and then have nightmares about it. And as they grow and become more independent, I am torn between beaming with pride and collapsing in a heap because each step they take away from me is a step that separates me from a piece of my own heart. The heightened sensitivity that comes from being a parent has made me more aware of forms of happiness I would have otherwise ignored. And while each additional child makes me cry, fear and stumble more, children also make me more sensitive, loving and patient. Happier.
Tanya is picturing Véronique breaking into song: