Back in August, a recent study in Germany made quite a bit of news, as it showed that having a baby causes a drop in happiness worse than divorce or even the death of a loved person. But these findings are not even the most interesting thing about the study.
What was particularly interesting to me were the responses to this information. Some were positive. For example, Scary Mommy wrote: “Science just confirmed what many of us have been saying for years: having your first baby zaps your happiness. Seriously.”
But others disagreed: there were numerous posts saying something along the lines of: “No, having a child is not worse than death or divorce, because it wasn’t like that for me.” These moms usually describe how easy parenting was for them, and they simply can’t understand why someone would complain about being a mother. As Stephanie of Keeper of the Home put it:
“Sadly, it’s common to hear negative remarks about children in our society. People frequently grumble about the expense, the noise, the trouble, the mess, yes the burden of children. But moms, I have to ask this question (and I’m asking myself along with you)… what are WE saying about children?”
Yes, without a doubt, the trend is there: it seems to be fashionable to complain about motherhood these days.
And where there's a trend, there’s a pushback against it. Some even feel inclined to shout their differing experience from the rooftops. There’s only one problem: the trend exists for a reason.
When I had my first child, I struggled. I struggled so much that many days I found myself wondering how I was going to survive this. Reading websites such as Scary Mommy or BLUNTmoms made me feel less alone, while reading blogs about how to be a happier mom only made me feel like a failure. Ashamed, I wanted to hide my parenting failures from the world.
Most mothers -- myself included -- love their kids, even if we complain. And we have reasons to. Let’s face it, it’s hard to be sleep-deprived, exhausted, and have to care for a little person who depends on you for everything. And many of us do it primarily alone.
But now, the Internet has given me and other moms a way to express our dissatisfaction. We can share our frustration with similarly-minded parents and find solace in knowing we’re not alone. Let’s remember that mothers have been lonely and unhappy for a long time but only now do they have the means, and the courage, to admit it.
But the fight isn’t over, because we still get comments along the lines of “Moms, Stop Complaining, You Chose to Have Kids."
Again, most moms actually love their kids and enjoy being mothers. Yes, there are exceptions, but I think I can safely say that in most cases these things are true. But when we read posts about how we should just enjoy being a mother, here’s what we hear: “Shut up, shut up, shut up.”
I think Stephanie Sprenger is absolutely right: “All the #blessed propaganda thrown in our faces these days is giving many of us a complex.” It is, and not without consequences.
Let’s consider for a moment what would happen if a happy mom is made to feel that she needs to shut up about the good parts of parenting: nothing much. Maybe she’ll feel grumpy about not being able to share her happiness with others, but that’s all.
For the frustrated moms, the implications are much direr: social isolation, shame, low self-esteem, and in more extreme cases, even depression.
Of course, just like everyone on the Internet, happy moms are entitled to their own opinions, thoughts and experiences. It’s perfectly OK to enjoy being a mother. What is not OK is to criticize fellow moms for writing openly about their parenting struggles or scaring us with the thought that our children could die.
If you don’t like reading posts on Scary Mommy or BLUNTmoms, don’t. These websites are not meant for you anyway. They are for the moms who find motherhood difficult and want to share their experiences with other similarly-minded people.
I read a lot of blog posts about the dangers of complaining too much -- one even equated it with second-hand smoking. But the truth is that everyone complains about something -- and one of these things may just be the difficulties of being a mom. What’s more, complaining can be a very healthy practice, because “venting about our challenges is how people connect with one another.”
What’s more, speaking out about the difficulties of parenting can help break the same taboos that make parents feel unhappy and isolated. In their TEDtalk, Babble founders Alisa Volkman and Rufus Griscom confess that they were shocked about finding out that there are more taboos about parenting than there are about sex. They point out the 4 biggest parenting taboos, including the idea that everyone is supposed to fall in love with their brand new child immediately after birth, or that parents are not supposed to talk about miscarriage.
But I specifically want to draw your attention to taboo number 4: you’re not supposed to admit that your happiness levels drop significantly after the birth of your child. Instead, you’re expected to put on a happy smile on your face and tell everyone left and right how #blessed you are.
If you think complaining about parenting won’t make parents happy, you are deeply mistaken. When parents complain, they’re not just doing it for the sake of complaining. They’re doing it because they desperately long for more connection, more openness and more honesty among parents and by sharing their difficulties, they get just that.
The point, as Rufus Griscom eloquently puts it, “is not just hopefully honesty for the sake of honesty, but a hope that by being more honest and candid about these experiences, that we can all collectively bend that happiness baseline up a little bit.”
In other words, if we let parents complain about parenting, everyone will be happier -- a paradox right after my own heart.