Now that we’re six months into this great child-raising experiment, I can concur with a good bit of the data of these studies. I am more stressed. I have less time to myself and much less time alone with my spouse. I sleep less and need it more. I’ve had more sickness this fall than I have in the past three years combined.
But I’m happy. Happier, really, than I’ve been in a long time, maybe ever. What’s that all about?
Last week there was an article posted on Slate.com by Shankar Vedantam ("Parents Are Junkies") comparing parenting to a drug addiction. All the stresses of parenthood are endured for the fleeting but overwhelming joys of those beautiful moments when our children treat us with generosity and love. Just as a junkie will gladly destroy his professional and personal lives with unhealthy behavior in hope of a fix, a parent will also give up any semblance of an ordered and easy life to get a few moments of bliss when our children kiss and hug us or laugh. “Junkies we are,” he concludes, “and proud of it.”
My habit is still pretty new, I suppose, but I can certainly identify with Vedantam’s sentiment. Parenthood, as he points out, must be providing something pretty fulfilling, given that people readily choose to have more kids after discovering how tough parenthood truly is. My little girl is still pretty easy to handle, being only six months old and unable to talk back or run away from me. It won’t be long before she develops the capacity to assert her will in opposition to mine in ways that are decidedly uncute. (It’s kind of cute now: “Oh, look, she’s kicking my hands while I try to dress her!”) But even though I’ve only recently taken up the habit of parenthood, I can attest to being completely and unequivocally addicted. I spend half my time at work thinking about what my little girl did this morning or last night, and I spend the other half thinking about what she is going to do when I get home. Okay, that might be an exaggeration, but not by much.
There is something so pure and powerful about the love a parent feels for his child. Yes, parenthood can be frustrating. In fact, I think the more I love my child the more frustrating it gets. But the joy of that pure love is overwhelming. Every night, my spouse and I creep into our daughter’s room while she sleeps so we can gaze upon her beautiful face while she sleeps. Creepy? A little. I’m sure it will help our beautiful girl keep a therapist in business in a few decades. But we can’t resist: we’re amazed at the purity and beauty of this lovely creature for whose care we’ve been entrusted.
As I have been writing this blog, I’ve been listening to Buddy Miller’s 1995 album Your Love and Other Lies. It’s classic country: twangy and filled with the kind of borderline maudlin stories that the title implies. But a few moments ago a song called “Watching Amy Dance” came on and I stopped writing to listen. It tells the story of a man who cheated on his wife, who then left him and took their daughter with her. His only regret now is that he wishes he could watch his little girl dance. It brought tears to my eyes. It’s over the top for sure, but I found myself flooded with the kind of sorrow that I would feel if wasn’t able to see my own little girl do the simple, guileless things that children do. It makes all of the frustrations – the dirty diapers, the lost sleep, the constant mess in the house – completely worth it. Loving my child is indeed addictive. I mean, it’s only Monday morning, and I’m already seriously jonesing.