I stumbled upon this article in the Straits Times this morning. It’s about the trauma of parenting. It started with this opening line, “Everyone knows that being the parent of an infant is hard. There is the sleeplessness, the screaming fits to tend to, the loss of autonomy, the social isolation and the sheer monotony of it.”
The author (Eli J. Finkel, a Professor of Social Psychology) writes to redirect our attention in regard to the cause of this parenting trauma. The normally accepted cause is that it is a “post-partum hormonal crash.” In other words, it is basically biological, something that arose from within us. The author begs to differ with these words, “…that many women and men experience significant psychological distress in response to becoming a parent, and that much of this distressing is not caused by a hormonal epiphenomenon of the birth process. It is driven instead in large measure by the objectively bleak circumstances new parents face. That you love your child is not always sufficient to counteract this reality.”
I find that the author has a point about circumstances conspiring to make parents miserable, even if it is not the sole cause of their misery. The author continued, “Given the ideology of parenting, it is not surprising that we typically blame biology for the experience of post-partum depression. But the circumstances parents face are often demonstrably miserable. The fact that post-partum depression rates are much higher among the poor than among the wealthy, who can purchase peace of mind through hired childcare, supports the idea that the phenomenon is, in most cases, more circumstantial than biological.”
The point of the article is about being understanding and supportive to a couple making this life-changing transition to parenthood because the same can be both nerve-wrecking and hope-sapping. The article concludes this way, “Pursue kindness over ideology. For a person whose suffering has been met with judgment, a sympathetic ear can make all the difference.”
After reading the article, I can imagine how parenting, especially in the beginning years, can take much more away from you than it gives back. It is definitely not job for the indecisive, knee-jerky and weak-hearted. This job of nurturing and grooming a life is a lifetime responsibility because your baby will never grow up in your eyes.
If there be a fitting lamentation to describe this toilsome duty of parenting, it would be in this blatantly honest classified ads for the job of a parent that I have taken the liberty to craft out. Read it with a pinch of salt and a trickle of jest. Here goes:-
We are looking for parents to run what we call a household or what society call a nuclear family. Of course the word "nuclear" here is not to be mistaken with that explosive fusion-and-fission chain-reaction normally associated with two subatomic particles travelling at breakneck speed to collide with each other or when one subatomic particle is forced to split itself apart under unimaginable heat. But yes, I guess the metaphor is scary and if the glove fits (for parenting that is), then what the heck right?
Now, let’s go back to the requirements for this parenting job. The first prerequisite is that you have to be married of course. It would be preferred if you are happily married. But then, some may say that the term is oxymoronic. You can't possibly be married and be happy. You can only be married and crazy; so says the disenchanted. Alas, to each his (or her) own right?
So, being married is a must for this job but whether the couple is happy about it is an added bonus, so to speak.
Next comes the desire to have children, preferably not just one. For his job, you will need to work those hips. We require a minimum of two children. Three would be good. And four would assure you of a fast-track promotion to managerial positions.
Now, here comes the third requirement. Resilience. That’s another must. When the first child comes and the same is followed by the second and the third, you will have to be prepared for what we call a personality change, to put it mildly. This change is unavoidable because you will go through what some may call an apocalyptic trial of biblical proportions or a complete nuclear meltdown at some point. The more creative, but no less cruel, may call it a madhouse of curses and swearing.
But call it what you want, the trick is to not let them naysayers scare you off your knickers. Don’t let them get under your skin because this special lifetime torture is exclusively reserved for your…(wait for it)…offspring.
Yes, they will get under your skin on an ongoing basis for almost every waking moment of everyday. They will get under your scalp to mess with your mind and make you worry endlessly. They will get under your chest to make your heart beat erratically and blood boil. And most of all, for the most blissfully unaware, they will get under your pants when your urge to get it on with your spouse is the most expressive, so to speak.
For all the above reason, the third prerequisite of resilience for this job is equally indispensable as the first and second, that is, marriage and having children. It is preferred that the resilience you possessed is as rock-solid and unshakable as a heroic war veteran dodging bullets from all directions while taking cover in a foxhole with a dead buddy. Too drama? Well in the vocation of parenting, it is wiser to be over-prepared than to be under-prepared. And it is important to bear in mind that the days will be long and the rest will be short when you are hired by us as a parent.
Often, the light at the end of the parental tunnel is not the blue sky and endless horizon but an oncoming train travelling at a blinding speed and carrying a cargo-full of soiled diapers, sleepless nights of fatigue, attention-devouring kids and a pathetically shrinking social life. This is why a resilient spirit is a priceless premium in our line of work.
From our organizational experience, the high turnover rate is mainly due to a serious deficiency in this area of parenting (resiliency that is). In our view, nothing challenges a loving couple more than the moment they decide to have children. It's usually downhill from there. The joy of anticipation is often overshadowed, most completely, by the toy of cruel parenting fate.
That’s why they are called offspring for a reason. When they come, the cool and temperate spring is "off" for good to make way for the summer of heated madness. This is then followed by the autumn of fallen hopes. Unavoidably, this ends up with the winter of hell. So, if you look into the mirror and do not see even a smidgen of resilience in the returning image, it is best you look elsewhere in the classified ads for far easier jobs like corporate raider, big time director, M&A lawyer, top surgeon or unerring meteorologist.
We have come to the end of our advertising search for the job of a parent. But before we end, here are some of the perks we are prepared to offer you if you are shortlisted and employed by us as a parent for the long haul.
You get to develop your character along the way, experience accelerated maturity without even knowing it, deepen the relationship with your other equally-tortured half in ways that would pleasantly surprise you, be more than compensated for the so-called lost years with a deep pervading sense of personal satisfaction and achievement, and last but not least, watch your babies grow up, learn as they do so, overcome life’s trials with your love, guidance and patience, and best of all, get a job, marry and start a family of their very own.
And if there is any consolation for being a parent, it would be the sweet revenge you savor when you as grandparents sit back, relax and watch your own children deal with their own children with a tinge of nostalgic sweetness and a stroke of what the Germans cheekily call "schadenfreude" - that is, the pleasure derived from the misfortune of others. Cheerz.