Six weeks ago my wife gave birth to our first child, a girl we named Abby.
I had been warned that it would be very challenging for the first 6 – 12 weeks, but would get better and more rewarding. My own experience over the last 6 weeks is difficult to describe. It’s been more a matter of survival than anything else, but it’s also given me a glimpse in to what life may be like for the next 18+ years. I realize there will be less crying with no idea what is wrong (or maybe not), but I also realize more now than I did 6 weeks ago that my life is no longer my own. This is a really profound idea to wrestle with.
Before we had Abby I had a very satisfying life. I’ve started companies, traveled, have a great marriage, enjoyed the company of great friends, developed numerous hobbies, and have just been very satisfied with the life I’ve been living. So I don’t feel like I was desperate for any greater source of purpose or reward when we decided to have a child. If anything, I think it’s quite obvious now that it will be difficult for me to enjoy all of my old passions and hobbies as much as I used to.
At some level I don’t really think I had a conscious reason for having a child, other than some sense that it is what I should do. Not for any societal reasons, just some sense that it was in my best interests, even if I didn’t understand why. Since having Abby, though, I’ve been thinking more and more about whether it was the right decision or not.
Today I ran across an old article from the New York Magazine, All Joy and No Fun, Why parents hate parenting. It’s a well-written article that explores various studies and aspects of the challenges parents face today and whether overall people are better off having kids these days.
I think, reading between the lines, that I agree with the author of the article. All of the studies done on parenting that point out that people are not as happy as parents, all of the writings and opinions that defend parenting as something that creates a more rewarding or enriching life; they’re all correct. Parenting is a hugely complicated and nuanced thing. It’s not simply a matter of more fun or less fun, greater rewards or less rewards. It’s a component of a life that you can choose to take part in or not, and your life will be profoundly different based on that decision.
Maybe that’s what makes parenting one of the most, if not the most important and complicated decision we all make and why for some people it’s not really a decision as much of a gut feel. I also think it’s why we’ll likely never be able to capture the essence of parenting in a scientific study. It’s far too complex of an experience to nail down as “will make you less happy” or “will make you feel more rewarded”.
At the end of the day I don’t know that I’ll ever be 100% certain that becoming a parent was the right decision. It’s not just good or bad. In fact I may never fully understand the implications of my decision to become a parent. At some fundamental level, though, it was the right decision because now that I have Abby the thought of not having her in my life is so far from the right decision that I struggle to even contemplate the possibility.
I appreciate the scientific efforts to explore parenting, but I can say with absolute confidence that we’ll never be able to completely understand it.