Why Choose Misery?

Recently I read an article in the Sunday NY Times written by a mom who left her high powered job in New York to move to North Carolina, closer to her parents, and stay home with her two young children. It was mostly about how miserable and tired she was with this new role. But, of course, she wouldn’t change it for anything, because it was going to make her a better person. Seriously, the title of the article was “I Didn’t Become a Stay-at-Home Mother for My Kids. I Did It for Me: I was miserable. But sometimes misery can make you a better person.”

Since when does being unhappy make you a better person? Parenthood isn’t a synonym for martyrdom (although there are certainly times when a parent is a martyr). And there is nothing noble in being miserable. In fact, I am a firm believer that the happiness and well-being of young children depends almost entirely on the happiness and well-being of their primary caregiver. So why choose misery?

All this said, I’m not about to judge some woman for how she raises her kids. There are enough of us telling other women how to do mothering right. Have a vaginal birth, not a C-section. Breast feed don’t bottle feed. Use cloth diapers not disposable. No screen time before the age of 2 and then heavily limited afterward. Don’t feed your kids junk food. Don’t be on your phone when you’re at the park with your kids. And on and on.

But, why choose misery if you have an alternative?

Look when I was a young mom, when my sons were babies and toddlers, I was either a full time student or working, or both. I stayed home as much as possible not because I wanted to be the primary caregiver but because I didn’t have the money to pay for a sitter or send my kids to daycare when I could be at home with them. But, when I was home with the boys, and not doing homework or studying, I didn’t have the energy to be a great mom, to be nurturing and present. So they watched a lot of TV. Was this great parenting? Probably not, but it was parenting that allowed me to maintain my own sanity. And that was good for everyone.

Tjere are only so many hours in the day, so much energy to move from A to B. If you are burning it all at work, what’s left for your home life? Or if you are burning it all on home life (taking care of kids, cooking, cleaning), what’s left for your work life? Rarely will you be in work-life balance (a silly phrase, which, like “having it all,” doesn’t have any basis in reality). This doesn’t make you less of a parent or less of an employee. It makes you fully human, having to juggle the realities of life. It’s not easy.

Women, do what you want. Leave the house to go to work. Or stay home to spend time with your kids. If you have the privilege, then make a choice. But if your choice makes you want to lay on a bed and never get up (as the author of the NY Times piece wrote more than once), then maybe it’s the wrong choice for you. Why choose misery? Do what you need to do to make yourself – and no one else, including your kids – happy. 

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