(This entry originally published in The Huffington Post.)
Is the American family doomed? You might start thinking so given the recent spate of sensational news articles that have been popping up lately. Last month, the Atlantic Monthly celebrated Father’s Day by sharing that dads are no longer necessary. This month New York Magazine proclaims that parenthood is a much bigger bummer than we all thought and suggests we might actually be better off not having kids at all.
My reaction: glad to read these crazy notions!
Why am I glad for such wild swipes at the family unit? Simply put, I see these sorts of articles like the Terminator’s final lunge at Sarah Connor before she has the robot compacted; and, just like Sarah Connor in that first Terminator film, we will never be the same again.
Let’s examine a little more closely the latest article from New York Magazine. Numerous studies are presented in that article to prove again and again that our happiness dwindles with the more children we have. There is some validity to these findings. If you’re a parent, you know firsthand that taking care of kids is mainly drudgery. Yes, there are pockets of fun and pleasure embedded in all of the stress, but the day-in, day-out affair that is parenting can wear down even the heartiest of souls. That’s the general view of the article and it’s a valid point of view. However, I would argue that these feelings of discontentment have less to do with what’s wrong with our families and are more symptomatic of how the family is mistreated in our culture.
What I mean by mistreatment is the lack of any form of real support for dads, moms and the family in American culture. Work/Family balance here is a joke. And paid parental leave? For most of us Americans, that’s a reality as close to us as Toy Story. I do give New York Magazine credit for pointing out that similar studies about parental satisfaction from Scandinavian countries, given their year-long parental leave and other supports, have (shock!) dramatically different results than our studies. Unfortunately, this point is buried pretty deep and too briefly in this otherwise alarmist article.
The good news these reports and others clearly point to is how moms are no longer the only ones suffering from acute work/family balance problems. Dads are feeling it, too. The bottom line: the American family unit is not working the way it’s supposed to.
The greater the awareness that things are not working, the more we will collectively seek solutions to these problems — or suffer mercilessly until we do so. I’m cautiously optimistic because the more that working dads feel these issues and realize it’s as much about them as their wives, the better the chance we have for finding better ways to balance our lives.
Which brings me to my last point: being a parent isn’t supposed to be fun. It’s a job. It’s painstaking. It’s major amounts of sacrifice. You will have more gray hairs and more circles under your eyes as a result. From a daily view, which is mostly where New York Magazine takes its perspective, it is a lot of unheralded, senseless grief. But here’s the other side: investing in the upbringing of your kids is, for a lot of people, one of the most meaningful, humbling, purposeful things we can be doing with our lives. Beyond the projectile vomiting, the sleepless nights, the nagging whines, the raging hormones and the drain on our time, space and bank accounts, there is profound meaning in it — and that, at least for this dad, makes all the difference.