Something rotten…except in the state of Denmark

by Katrina on July 12, 2010

Several of my friends have been talking about a story that appeared earlier this month in New York Magazine called “All Joy and No Fun: Why Parents Hate Parenting.”

Do parents hate parenting? According to the story, studies show that

  • Parents are as happy or less happy than their non-parent counterparts everywhere except Denmark.
  • Mothers are less happy than fathers. (Stayed tuned for the results of my “Who Clips the Nails?” survey for more on that topic.)
  • Each successive child produces “diminishing returns” in their parents’ happiness level.
  • Parents’ dissatisfaction grows worse at higher income levels. (In other words, rich parents are less happy.)

What is going on with us?

The article muses on various theories.

  • The “perfect madness” theory. Once children were once considered an economic asset. Now they are “projects to be perfected.” The anxiety we feel to do everything perfectly could be making us unhappy.
  • Parents neglect their own needs. Parent spend more time with their children compared to previous generations. This, despite the fact, that we work outside the home more hours than previous generations. Something has to give. In this case, it’s our leisure time.
  • We feel the loss of freedom. Because many of us are having children in our 30s and 40s, we have a lot of time to experience our freedom as single adults. Then we have children and free time goes out the window.
  • We lack support. In the U.S. in particular, we lack the things that make parenting manageable: maternity leave, sick leave, health care, and other kinds of support. This can make parenting an exercise in fear, isolation, and frustration.

According to the article, there is only one study showing parents are actually happier than non-parents:

One hates to invoke Scandinavia in stories about child-rearing, but it can’t be an accident that the one superbly designed study that said, unambiguously, that having kids makes you happier was done with Danish subjects. The researcher, Hans-Peter Kohler, a sociology professor at the University of Pennsylvania, says he originally studied this question because he was intrigued by the declining fertility rates in Europe. One of the things he noticed is that countries with stronger welfare systems produce more children—and happier parents.

Of course, this should not be a surprise. If you are no longer fretting about spending too little time with your children after they’re born (because you have a year of paid maternity leave), if you’re no longer anxious about finding affordable child care once you go back to work (because the state subsidizes it), if you’re no longer wondering how to pay for your children’s education and health care (because they’re free)—well, it stands to reason that your own mental health would improve.

There’s one other theory the article explores, and that is the very definition of happiness itself.

Is happiness something you experience? Or is it something you think?

We can feel happy experiencing the present moment, although for many of us, parenting does not lend itself to this type happiness. Personally, I find it difficult to enjoy the moment when I’m trying to buy groceries with two hungry kids hanging off the cart, or Jake is whining for a cartoon, or Martha wakes up with the stomach flu at 3 am, or Ruby wants to argue about how many bites of dinner she needs to earn her dessert. And I wish I enjoyed playing Sword Man or Candy Land, or reading “Green Eggs and Ham,” (again? really?) but often I do not.

Lucky for us, we get another kind of happiness from remembering the past. Parenting is great for this. The memory of the struggle is often our reward; it strengthens our sense of purpose. Many times Brian and I have paid a babysitter to watch the kids so we can escape for a few precious hours alone, only to find ourselves in a restaurant giggling about the funny things our kids did that day–the same kids we couldn’t wait to get away from an hour earlier.

We love our children. We adore them, in fact. When we’re not multitasking and negotiating and doubting our decisions, we can enjoy them.

Here’s what I want to know. Why can’t we have both kinds of happiness? Why can’t we enjoy more of the moments we spend with our children, and enjoy remembering them afterward, too?

What if you had enough time for yourself, time for your relationship, and time left over to be the parent you want to be for your kids? What if, like those Danish parents, you didn’t have to worry about paying for health care or your kids’ education? How would this affect your experience of parenting?

{ 39 comments… read them below or add one }

Dave

60 minutes did a story that relates about Denmark having the “happiest people on earth.”

http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2008/02/14/60minutes/main3833797.shtml

I think the jist of it was that Denmark had more “down to earth” expectations for what life should be and therefore were less disappointed with life (happy). That could relate to why they perceive parenting as more enjoyable too. Perhaps growing up with Television and other media creating a false expectation of what parenting is contributes to why we feel like we’re not successful as parents.

I struggle with this myself, and I think it can be my internal perceptions and desire to control things that makes the “here and now” realities of parenting less pleasurable than the “memories” of parenting. Technology has increased our expectation that we can control our environment, and raising children requires a lot of room for the unpredictable.

I completely agree that having better health care and education would make parenting less stressful, but many Americans will believe European models are too socialized. Sadly, I think it is making families of more than one or two children a luxury– (another whole topic)!

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Holly

I have to agree that a lot of this disatisfaction–personally–comes when my expectations are to high. And especially when my expectations of myself are too high. I can’t blame the media for me feeling like I constantly have to have my home perfect and meals home cooked when I am the one that buys into it.

I also think that we forget how mammalian we really our. (Most) Humans are social animals. Parenting is the most isolating job I’ve ever had. I remember my grandparents taking a very active role in my childhood, but for many reasons that is not the case for my family or my friends’ families now. So my partner and I have our “extended family” of non-blood relations. Without these people we’d be lost! We watch eachothers kids, eat eachothers meals, share frustrations. And not all these friends have children. Aunties and Uncles play a crucial role in my kids lives, and this is healthy and good for them. For all of us really.
I think it boils down to unrealistic expectations that the nuclear family can do it all alone which is setting us up for failure, or more accurately the illusion of failure.
So take an hour with people you love. Sit. Watch the laundry remain dirty (in my twelve years of parenting I’ve only once seen it actually get DIRTIER–that’s another story). Watch your kids play with mud (if I could come up with a way to wash the children WITH the laundry I’d be s millionaire–after all they get dirty together, why not clean together too?).
I don’t mean to preach this. I had to make myself take a “nothing” break with my kids yesterday. I expect too much from me most days. But if we can all keep reminding eachother that we are doing good enough….better in fact, that can go a long way.

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Katrina

@David So glad you brought up the 60 Minutes story. I saw it years ago and forgot about it. This is a very Buddhist idea–just being where you are instead of expecting life to be different. And yet, I see so many ways that it could be different if only we all had a little more time, a little less financial worry, etc…

@Holly If you figure out how to wash the dirty kids WITH the dirty clothes, I will invest in your business! ;) Today was “Pajama Day” at preschool and Jake went to school in his pjs. It was a lovely little time saver.

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Ingileif

Two comments. First of all, I know from first hand experience that parenting really is easier in the Nordic countries, the burn-out that so many parents here experience is much less common there. This is not to say that everything is perfect there, but things like 9-13 months of parental leave (shared between the two parents), free health care and education, affordable childcare, and for most people, more support from grandparents and extended family, really do make a difference. It never ceases to puzzle me that here in the US the people who talk the loudest about family values are also the ones that tend to be against measures that would significantly help families with (young) children – but that is a whole other issue…

The second comment is that I am not sure that we are interpreting these so called happiness studies correctly. I haven’t chased down any of the original studies and their questions and analysis methods so I can not fully comment on it but in general it is really important to compare apples to apples, not apples to oranges. When we compare people who have children to people who do not have children we have to split the childless group into two depending on whether they are childless by choice or not. Those who are childless by choice presumably have different values and make different choices in life, than those who have families, so even if they get higher scores on a happiness scale we can not conclude that it is the fact that they do not have children that makes them happier. Perhaps they chose to be childless because their career or freedom to travel is more important to them than anything else and succeeding there makes them fulfilled and thus happy? Imagine a parallel universe where those of us who have children were all of a sudden childless – would we become as happy as the childless people? Or would we be unfulfilled and yearning to have a family? Or rather, are those who are childless despite wanting children more or less happy than those who are childless by choice? It is also important to break down the results by age. Perhaps it is true that at age 35-45 people who have children have higher stress levels and thus lower happiness scores, but what about, say, at age 50-70? Do those who have children and perhaps grandchildren report higher or lower satisfaction with their lives than those who are childless?

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Katrina

Great questions. If you look at the NY Mag article, at the end they talk about regrets. Some of the non-parents report having regrets later in life about choosing to NOT have children, while none of the parents regret every having their children.

This goes back to the idea of different kinds of happiness. Happiness in the moment is not the same as the happiness that comes from a sense of purpose, or the happiness we experience looking back at our choices.

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pandasmom

Life would be so much better if I didn’t have to worry about healthcare (and thank god we are all healthy!). If my husband could provide for us by working only 40 hours a week instead of the 70-80 he does (I only work part-time, and at a job where my kids come with me- not quite a “career”….). If we weren’t drowning in debt. If the possibility of owning our own home was even feasible…. My children are great, I love to be with them and love to do things with them, I just wish there wasn’t so much pressure, so much anxiety about success and progress and, well, it seems from my point of view, money. I have the nagging feeling at the back of my head that no matter how many cupcakes I bake to bring to class to share, no matter how many playdates I arrange, no matter how many special trips to the library, pool, park, zoo I plan, no matter how hard I try, my children will soon realize that I am a failure as a grown-up (no “real” job, no house, no financial security) and be disappointed.
I would be a better parent I think if I could just let go of all that junk.

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Logan

Statistics schmistics, I’m not buying it. I recently read this article http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704289504575313201221533826.html
This basically goes over the same material, but comes to the conclusion that the statistics aren’t saying that much in terms of who’s really happier and parenting isn’t as bad as everyone is making it out to be. I can’t say I totally agree with everything he comes off saying either, like his claim that as parents have little influence on how our kids turn out, but he does provide a nice alternative view to the grim picture painted in “All Joy. . .”

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Katrina

Thanks for the link, Logan. I just skimmed it. Had the same reaction that you did about parents not having much influence. From what I’ve read, parents can’t change kids’ personalities (nor should we try!) but boy can we mess things up for them if we don’t give them the basics (ie emotional stability).

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WorkingMomofTwo

Hi Katrina – great post! I’ve been thinking a lot about your last bullet: “Parents’ dissatisfaction grows worse at higher income levels. (In other words, rich parents are less happy.)”. I think one of the challenges with where all adults in the household are working is that we are working so hard to keep our heads above water, we don’t have the time to be available to others (neighbors, friends, community), and therefore we stop asking them for help (b/c we don’t have time/energy to reciprocate). That’s sad & isolating. I’ve been reading a book you recommended on a prior post – “Radical Homemakers” (by Shannon Hayes) – which also talks about the fact that we don’t get happier as we get richer – instead we become more isolated as we depend less on our community. I don’t know what the answer is, but i know this weekend we left our 1.5 year old and 3.5 year old w/ a daycare friend/family and headed out for a 24 hour getaway and it was LIBERATING – both to get away, to ask a friend for help (and for them to be thrilled that we asked), and for our kids to bond w/ other adults. Maybe the answer’s around creating community & connecting…

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Teresa

On a personal level, what was most interesting to me was the finding that having more children produces more unhappiness, since my partner and I are in the throes of deciding whether to have a second child. And I think the issue of how to define happiness — is it pleasure? is it the absence of regret? is it something else?– is important to think about in light of study after study showing that parents are less “happy” than the childless. This issue certainly got me thinking.
However, for me the take home of this roundup of studies on parenthood and happiness is a point that Katrina makes in her writing: the problem of combining work and family is largely a structural one, with a structural solution. Sure, we should try to live-in-the-moment more, set reasonable expectations for our daily lives, reach out to break the isolation of parenthood. But study after study shows that in countries that take our most basic parenting needs (and other needs) off the table, people have a better quality of life. This should set our policy goals.
On another note entirely, one thing that popped into my head while reading the article was that many of the babies born in this country (maybe the majority? I don’t have the data on this at hand) were born as the result of an unplanned pregnancy. It would be interesting to see if countries that have more comprehensive sex education and less stigma around abortion (and lower birth rates, most likely) have higher rates of parental happiness because babies are more likely to be planned.

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Kat

@WorkingMomofTwo – I love that you asked for help and took the time away.

The take-home messages I got from the NYM article were:
– stop accumulating stuff NOW, and
– create happy memories every day, rather than waiting for the payoff of nostalgic fantasy later

Despite the obvious subjectivity of any happiness study, I do appreciate that these studies are raising questions around our “I need more” mentality. Whether it is in the area of parenting (Hayes) or personal finance (folks like Bob Sullivan), it seems that there is a movement toward simplifying your life in service of your day-to-day peace of mind.

I think this is something most of us can sign on for when it comes to cleaning out the closet. However, when it comes to a big decision like selling your house because you really can’t afford it or not having a first, second or third child, there are actually few of us who are willing to give up our big dreams. We have convinced ourselves these things will make us happy and have tied the labels of “home-owner” or “parent” with our identity. To compound the issue, if we chose not to pursue these standards of success, we face both internal and external judgment that we are “failures as a grown-up” (see pandasmom comment above).

I am working on living the truly radical notion that less is more.

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Teresa

@Kat: That’s awesome. And certainly kids teach us again and again that less is more — hence all those anecdotes about kids getting an expensive gift and spending all afternoon playing in the box it came in.

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Deborah

I’d enjoy parenting more if my child had fewer tantrums. Why aren’t we holding the 6 year olds more accountable????
kidding.

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Cynthia

Hi Katrina,
It’s great to catch up with you and read your blog. I have been thinking about this since I began reading it (from the beginning). I have 2 kids, ages 1 and 4 and while I find it challenging at times, I really don’t feel overwhelmed and I’ve been trying to figure out why. Reading your latest post has given me some ideas. #1-I’m a teacher and while it can bee tough and draining, I never get a dinner time call from my boss or a weekend e-mail demanding that I work. While I do take work home, I decide when and how much. Points #2 and #3 relate to the Denmark article. My commute is a 15 minute walk. I love it-I get outside, get some exercise an fresh air. I arrive at work relaxed (and I get some of my best ideas then), not stressed out from battling traffic. I don’t know about commute times in Denmark, but I know from personal experience, that in Holland, for example, the majority of the population commutes on bike. That’s got to be healthier and more pleasant than driving. Most Americans need to drive to work though. Finally, the vacations. Yes, teachers have it easy in the summer. Even though I had 2 back to back trainings this summer, the rest of my time is free. I can sleep, hang out with my kids, do projects. I don’t know why vacation is a dirty word in America. I think productivity would increase if people had more time to recharge their batteries. Anyway, these are my thoughts. I look forward to more posts from you. -Cynthia Kemp

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Katrina

Thanks for sharing that, Cynthia. It’s amazing how the little things (walking to work, summer downtime) make a big difference.

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Kate

I’ve been thinking about this recently and have enjoyed your blog. I think much of what leaves us frazzled as parents (and especially as working parents) is the disconnect between expectations/entitlement and reality. I think rare has been the time or place in human history that the years of parenting small children wasn’t hard. I recently posted to Facebook that I am “starting to make peace with the realization that I can do no more than one thing apart from job and keeping us fed and clothed — exercise OR read books OR knit OR etc. Doing two never seems to work”. After I posted it I thought that actually, being able to do anything besides my part-time job and keep the family functioning was exceedingly lucky. I lived in a West African village as a Peace Corps volunteer for two years. I think it’s safe to assume that my current life — a husband who respects me and treats me well, two healthy children I can send through high school and beyond, enough to eat, and watertight housing with a sanitary place to poop — would be far more than enough for most mothers there, whether or not they had time for leisure activities on top of it. Their advantage is that socializing wasn’t a leisure activity — it was done while walking out to the cornfield for the day, sifting beans for rocks, selling from their stall in the market, etc.

When I posted to FB, I was trying to move past the sense of being entitled to all of it at once. Now I’m trying to take several steps further back, and put my life and desires not just in the context of people around me, but the human experience overall. The saying that “happiness is not getting what you want, but wanting what you’ve got” applies not only to material things but also to the structure of our lives. On a societal level, the US is very family-hostile and there are doubtless many things we can and should do to make parenting easier. But on an individual level, we’re here today and we have to do what we can to make our lives tolerable. And I think fighting the fundamental human urge to want just a little more than we’ve got (be it a bigger house or a husband who takes more responsibility), and instead to recognize the bounty of what we have is a huge step in that direction.

That was so long maybe I need to start my own blog — but then of course I wouldn’t have time to exercise or read books!

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Jennifer

Love that last sentence!! :)

You make one really good point… that they get their socializing during work. That’s huge. While the business lasted, I was doing social meal preparation. In three hours, I made healthful dinners for 24 evenings, to bring home and refrigerate and freeze. It was wonderful to get so much done, and while socializing to boot. There were two places, actually, Let’s Dish and Dream Dinners. If anyone has one near them, I HIGHLY recommend them, and I’m praying one will come back near me! Equal or less money spent, less planning, less grocery shopping, and better health and weight control, plus many kid friendly options. *sigh*

I sometimes dream of living in a commune where all child raising, cleaning, cooking, etc. is shared. :)

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Katrina

Social meal preparation? How cool. What city are you in? I don’t think we have anything like that in Oakland.

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Jennifer

It was the most fabulous thing, but also such a new concept in our society that neither of the franchises near me lasted. Dozens of customers were extremely upset about that. I think the businesses broke even, but didn’t profit, which could only last so long. But many still exist around the country. I’m near Danbury, CT, and I know there’s one an hour from me, in the NYC suburbs. Dream Dinners and Let’s Dish are both nationwide franchises… there are several other names out there as well. Again, I recommend it to anyone. I’m thinking of starting a non-profit co-op group on my own–we could use a church or other community kitchen. It really made a difference when I was doing it every month.

The way it worked: There were 6-12 stations, each with a recipe to follow: All the ingredients were laid out at each station, with measuring devices. You’d follow the recipe, seasoning to your own taste, leaving out things if you wanted to, or adding more of one thing, then you’d put the completed meal, uncooked, into a bag with a label on it–identifying the meal and how to prepare it. We used large plastic zip lock bags. The beauty of this is that you can stack 24 of them in layers in your small freezer, believe it or not, and still fit in some ice cream and Lean Cuisines! At dinner time, you pull out one of the healthy meals, throw it in the pan to sautee, or in the oven, and you have a home cooked, healthful, non processed, hot meal in 15-30 minutes. (Some dishes could be put in a slow cooker or stew pot, or on a grill). Of course, three or so meals could be put in the fridge–the ones you’d eat in the proceeding few days. The other benefit is–no multiple dishes, utensils, pots, pans it would have taken to prep the whole thing at home. Also, if the recipe required rare ingredients–you didn’t have to run out to buy them once, then waste the rest. Anyway, like I said…. 24 meals in a few hours, and talking with friends as you do it (each station fit 2-4 people). Even Netflix took many years to catch on (I remember my cousin told me about Netflix 13 years ago, and it sounded ridiculous–movies by mail), but any really good idea will become popular eventually. Here’s hoping!

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Katrina

OMG, Jennifer. That’s brilliant.

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Suzanne

Hi Jennifer

I’m in South Salem, NY and if you ever want to start a coop, let me know. Meet you in Ridgefield!

Suzanne

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RookieMom Heather

Aaah, irony upon irony.

First I’ll say that my husband clips the nails. He is fantastic.

Second, I went to Denmark this year with my children (as a huge leap back toward our former/current/dying passion of international travel) and came to the conclusion that the Danes really and truly have the support systems in place to make parenting a pleasure and that “America hates children” so maybe it’s not that parents hate parenting as much as that.

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Dana

The New York Magazine article is alien to me. I love being a parent.

Since I have never been to Denmark, I can’t comment on what family friendly means to them. I’ve only lived in the US and Canada, and I figured out in a few years of Canada that I wasn’t cut out for a country with a large social system. Its just me- I like low taxes, low sales tax, inexpensive goods, entrepreneurial opportunities and to be honest- warmer weather.

I’ll admit we’ve been blessed always having one of us with a job with good healthcare, and we’re not worked up about paying for education. My husband paid for his own education, and I paid for some of mine. We save a bit and we have ideas for helping our kids get what they need from college without going into tons of debt. Fully funding 3 private college educations is just not something we are willing to do regardless of how much money we have when the time comes. So, I suppose some of the things that Danish parents have taken care of, I don’t have as worries right now either.

I do find it a bit mindblowing that people aren’t happy as parents. I always knew I wanted to have children and figured I would be a stay at home mom. We got married young by todays standards (24 and 26) and had kids youngish (28 and 30) and fully expected it to change everything. We looked forward to it changing everything.

I had no expectation of having a big career. I wanted to do what in my heart I felt was best for my kids and knew that the rest would fall into place somehow. It wasn’t just magic- we chose to live in an inexpensive place, to have a small house, to save before kids, and to base life on one income. After my daughter was born, some small time freelance turned into big opportunities. Sometimes, it was a juggle. But most of the time it worked out fine, and I kept pushing to make it more of what I could live with. We worked to get my husband his masters and always seek new opportunities in his organization. I did some hard things (like wrote a textbook when my son was a fussy newborn) because I knew they would help keep my options open.

But never, even when being thrown up on over one shoulder at 2AM while I worked on a powerpoint and packed for a 7AM plane did I ever feel like parenting was a drag. It was a choice I made and a job I embraced. I have no expectations that it, or my life, will be perfect. Trust me, it isn’t. There have been plenty of very low moments, and I expect more over the years- but that is part of life.

If we really think about it, hard core parenting is barely a heartbeat in our lives. My dad says we go through a physical torture phase (birth to age 3), an emotional torture phase (tweens and teens) and finally a financial torture phase (sports, proms, trips, college, weddings, etc.). If you can approach each one proactively with humor and appropriate expectations, I think its a journey worth taking.

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Katrina

I love your dad’s assessment: physical torture phase, emotional torture phase, and financial torture phase. Unfortunately, for those of us living in the SF Bay Area, the “financial torture phase” started BEFORE the kids, and will probably continue long after they’re out of the house.

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Dana

Here comes the question that I am never popular for asking…

Why live in the SF Bay area? There are other places to live that aren’t financial torture.

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Jennifer

Dana ~
There is a saying that expectations are pre-meditated resentments. Maybe you had the right expectations. Either that or super well behaved kids? They do exist… my sister was one of them. I wasn’t! …. Same parents, two entirely different temperaments. When I dreamed of being a mother, I dreamed about comforting my kids, teaching them, doing activities with them, building their self esteem, nurturing, feeding, playing, even weathering “storms,” but to be honest, I never expected the amount of sibling fighting and rivalry, complaining and whining and lack of gratitude I get. It’s really unrewarding to cook last week’s favorite dinner and have them grimace and groan. I find it so exhausting to have to work at getting vegetables into them, vitamins taken, mess picked up, teeth brushed. … But, even these hurdles would be much more manageable, if not for the constant incompletions and failures in my days….

I have a friend who had the most stressful job–on the stock market floor, with non-stop demands, people stressed, mad, barking at her, and not a moment to breathe, working 10 hours per day. She’s now a stay-at-home mom and loves it. I totally get that! For me, I have the perpetual frustration of never getting it all done–either my job suffers, or the quality of family meals does, or the house is a disaster, or I’m sleep deprived and then I get sick because of it, or someone is mad at me for something. This is the single thing that makes the difference between entirely loving parenthood, and only loving it when I’m not being pulled in 80 directions and can actually keep my eyes open. I love my work, love my kids, love my garden, love my pets, really don’t even mind driving or cleaning… but when I have 30 hours of stuff to do in 24 hours, day after day, year after year, it’s tough.

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Katrina

@Dana Good question. There’s no way we can leave the Bay Area, although there was a time when it was tempting because the cost of living is so high. But my stepdaughter’s mom and stepdad live here. Leaving the Bay Area would mean leaving my stepdaughter, which we would never, ever, do.

But there are other reasons to stay. My husband and I moved a lot as kids. The Bay Area is the only place that has ever felt like home. We love the weather, the culture, the diverse mix of people, the politics, and the network of other families that has become like an extended family to ours. We’re both freelancing now, which is only possible because we have such strong work connections here. I could go on…

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Dana

Makes very good sense, however, you must fully acknowledge that any financial woes that come about because you choose to live somewhere are just that. Choice. It’s worth it to you to live somewhere that feels like home. It’s worth it to you to have good weather, and a certain kind of life. That’s terrific.

You are, and were, aware of the constraints. You knew what it cost, you married someone with deep ties to the area, and you chose to have children. All wonderful choices, but they don’t seem to make you happy based on what little I have read on your blog so far.

It is difficult for me to relate to making a choice to live somewhere that would immediately throw me $50-80K a year behind regardless of how much it felt like home, but that is me. There are pockets of this country that are insanely expensive which might in theory make them harder for working parents to keep up with their bills and their lives, no doubt, but should be really be basing on country’s “family friendliness” on that?

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Katrina

What’s the alternative, Dana? Should only rich people be allowed to have children in big metro areas? I hope you will agree with me that that’s insane.

I think we have to acknowledge, first, that raising children and having the time and resources necessary to do it well is fundamentally good for society. (If you don’t agree, you might want to look at this article about the global baby bust: http://www.cfr.org/publication/6963/global_baby_bust.html)

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Dana

Children are important. The next generation is important. Raising good citizens is important. Having intelligent, educated, upwardly mobile people producing children is important. But so is personal responsibility. Define “rich”. Does rich mean high income? Does rich mean having a lot of assets? Does rich mean having a decent meal on the table every night? Does rich mean not scrimping for money to pay for your child’s perscriptions? I might say that being rich means you can afford to live in the Bay Area to begin with. I am not sure how I would even come up with the down payment required to buy a modest house in, say, Marin County, let alone make the mortgage payment, put gas in my car, etc.

If someone’s lifestyle is not allowing them to follow their heart and raise their children the way they feel like they should be raised, I am not sure what government or employer policies would be able to ease that. No matter where they live.

When real estate was totally insane everywhere, here on the east coast I saw a lot of my friends giving up on Boston, Philadelphia, Greater DC, etc. and moving to New Hampshire, Harrisburg, York, and all of the other wonderful small cities we have that are still close to humanity. I was wondering if there was a national trend happening of from people that wanted more from life than the rat race. The bubble burst on this coast dampened that a bit, but I’d be curious to see if it truly was a national trend.

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Jennifer

There’s also higher pay scale in more expensive areas, and if one moves to an area with no family, they will often have to pay for more help. So, in reality, she and her husband might earn less and end up in the exact same financial position if they moved to Wisconsin, but they’d be more isolated and less happy.

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Katrina

Thanks for articulating your position so clearly, Dana. Yes, personal responsibility is absolutely important. We agree on that. No one can live your life for you.

However, to think that we are invulnerable and omniscient, that we never need a helping hand, is to deny what makes us human. We are not reptiles meant to go it alone. We are mammals. We are social animals. We need each other.

Other countries have found ways to help working parents keep their sanity and raise their kids. The U.S. has failed to do this. My argument is that when we give too much emphasis to “personal responsibility,” we fail to see how institutions, government, employers, and society at large plays a role in our collective well-being.

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Dana

Have those countries given up something else in exchange for what you consider collective well being? Is Denmark your gold standard? What articles do you recommend reading to learn about some of the other countries that we should emulate from a family policy standpoint? What policies would be “enough”? I know plenty of Canadians that live paycheck to paycheck and struggle with childcare despite not having to worry about health care or maternity leave, I am sure there are Danes up to their eyes in debt who live in cities that make life a stretch.

Looking at Denmark’s tax rates compared to ours on this page, how is giving up another 15% of our income to the government going to help make life easier?: http://moneycentral.msn.com/content/taxes/p148855.asp

Trust me, I don’t think we’re invincible. Last year, my doctor was arrested in a horrific child abuse case which threw my family into a tailspin for months and changed the way I think of myself as a parent forever. And we weren’t really inolved. You think you are a together parent, and bang, life kicks you in the head. Who knows. We could lose our jobs tomorrow, have everything we worked for suddenly disappear. I can only arm myself the best I can without depending on some program to be there to pick me up. If am hanging by a thread and tragedy strikes, its my fault for not seizing opportunities I had to be proactive for the past 12 years of my “adulthood”. (If adulthood starts at 22 :) )

I am not sure of the solution, but I still remain unconvinced that more regulation is the answer. I’d love to see more companies decide on their own (like mine does to some degree) that maternity leave and somewhat flexible work arrangements are good for business, while keeping the government out of it.

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Katrina

I’m not sure what the solution is either, but I suspect it includes gov’t policies like paid maternity leave, and subsidies for affordable quality child care, as well as changes in workplace policies and culture. I guess I’m willing to pay a little more in taxes for things like this.

As for links that you asked for, here is one of the best reports I’ve read describing the problem as it affects low, middle, and high income families, as well as some solutions: http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2010/01/three_faces_report.html

And one more solution story, from Sweden: http://wp.me/pVKXl-j7

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Dana

We might have better luck with this mission if we take the approach of promoting things like more universal childcare as building better students who can be more competitive in the world economy, as well as making local communities stronger. I know in my rural community, the few kids that manage to go to the excellent childcare centers are exponentially outperforming children who didn’t go to preschool.

This means that the kindergarten teachers don’t have to work as hard.

Imagine if every child went to preschool. Could we have a slightly larger class size? Or maybe start first grade material sooner? Would it wind up costing the school district less money in special education later down the line? Would our high school be able to churn out more students that were immediately employable?

I think my issue with some of our positions are working parents who really could use more help is that we talk about it so…. self-revolvingly (is that a word? ha). It’s about how difficult it is to deal with a sick kid, or pump in a broom closet. We don’t do a good job talking about how good childcare probably has a direct impact on future business in the US. About how I am far more likely to return to my company after my somewhat paid maternity leave, which protects their investment in me over the years. Instead, we tend to focus on how tired and stretched we are personally because we chose to have children.

I hope I am making sense. I am not against programs that make long term financial sense for myself and my country. I am against paying an extra, let’s say, $5K per year in taxes and fees for my entire life to support a nation of families that may not be making good decisions about their family spending rather than $5-10K per year for the 5 years my child is in full time daycare when I worked extremely hard to find a life that could (most of the time!) roll with the punches of parenthood.

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Jennifer

In terms of marketing, your ideas are excellent–because widespread breast feeding, quality childcare, among other things WILL lower health care and special ed costs for everyone. That’s the same reason I’m willing to pay more taxes though–because there will be a cost saving benefit in the long run. But the latter portion is politics, and I don’t think you agree with the political stand of this blog. Which is OK, but everyone should just agree to disagree on that one thing, because it’s a blog for mothers about coping, not politics. :)

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Erin

The grass is always greener.

I just spent the last year in Norway with my Norwegian husband and 2 year old. We decided to try the Scandinavian way, after my American job continued to expect me to work long hours, just 6 weeks after giving birth. Since I arrived late, I didn’t get to take advantage of the paid-maternity leave…however we had great subsidized daycare, and free health care.

There were some negative things that I encountered unfortunately.

1. The universal health care was not as good as what we were used to. The doctors gave us the run-around, and made us “wait and see” for many ailments. Because of the medical neglect, I lost my hearing due to a sinus infection, and had to come back to the USA because it was taking forever to see a doctor (7 months and counting) to see a doctor who could operate on my torn cartilage knee. My daughter has a couple of medical issues, and I know the doctors there are good, but you won’t find as good treatments in the USA.

2. In America, we have access to a lot more convenient ways to have fun with kids; i.e. zoos, indoor play parks, great play area equipment in parks. In Norway, kids run more in the woods, and generally have less toys. Which is great too, but required more of moms attention in the earlier years.

I wish we could find a happy medium between Norway and USA. I understand that having a community, like Norway, that helps you to be more around your children, beats all the cool conveniences we have in the USA.

In the end, the kids will be happier wherever their parents are happy. I’ve had to sacrifice financially, by taking the last year off and living off of beans and rice (and the Norwegian equivalent, fishcakes and hot dogs)…but am happy to be less stressed to the max than I was before. Now I have to get back to work, but it will have to be in a foreign language. It was worth the risk to try this alternative method, but I think we will be back in the USA soon enough, as I miss the community that can be easily found here, through blogs, play parks, etc. Living in solitude in a cabin in the snow sounds like a dream, but with a 2 year old, I miss the camaraderie of work, and fellow Americans.

Hopefully this economy will turn around soon, so we can take more risks, and push against our bosses.

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SoVeryVienna

It is all about the lack of social support policies we have. Our for education, labor, taxes, childcare, and until recently healthcare (although a new social experiment) all work against parents. Not just low-income parents, who of course feel the brunt, but regular old middle class American parents.

The quote from your book that haunts me is about how we have these politicians that extol family values, yet deny policies to support paid time off upon the birth of a baby.

Our nation prides itself on being independent and full of self-starters. But we are tired. We are stressed. We are raising children alone. This is counter to biology and public policy can play a role to guide behavior. Arguments that our nation is bigger than Denmark and that we have a more complex population are nonsense. If we are so full of pride and hubris that we claim to be the best and do more than any other nation in any number of measures, then let’s make it better for families. We are we allowing ourselves to live like this? How can we?

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