3 a : enjoying or characterized by well-being and contentment
Today, a friend sent me and several other women a link to an article in New York Magazine about parenting. This friend doesn't have children, but said in her e-mail that she was interested to hear what we thought since the article seemed to be the opposite of how most of her friends feel about parenting. It's a fairly lengthy article, but it's worth reading if you have a few moments. I think I've read excerpts of this article elsewhere (maybe I heard about it on NPR?), so its content wasn't particularly shocking. Essentially it shares the results from various studies that show parenting doesn't make you happier. As someone who swore in high school that I would never have children, it made me stop and think about why I chose to have not one, but three, children and how I feel like they've affected my life - and quality of life.
Am I happier now than I was eleven years ago (pre-parenthood)? For WordGirl, the easiest way to answer this question is to define "happy:" Merriam Webster's first definition of happy is "favored by luck or fortune." Um, OK. Not inspiring me. Definition #2? "Nobly fitting, effective or well adapted?" That certainly doesn't define my parenting. Third time's a charm? "Enjoying or characterized by well-being and contentment." There's something I can work with.
Am I more content than before? Is my life characterized by a more general state of well-being? The answers are yes, but the reasons behind those answers are far more complex. Am I happier because I am a mother? While my daughters have changed my life in many ways, I'm not sure that parenting has brought about a state of well-being. If anything, I constantly question my choices as a mother, I frequently lament the ways I fail them, I strive to be a better role model and guide for them. So I wouldn't say that parenting itself has brought about well-being for my soul. On the surface, I was probably more content before children, if more empty.
Am I happier instead because of what I've experienced over the past decade? Without children, I wouldn't have been forced to quit work for a while, mourn its absence in my life, find a hitherto unknown love of writing and cease to even desire a traditional career. Who knows what my career path might have looked like without children? I had a well-established, well-paying job where I excelled before having children. I never loved my job, but I felt competent and confident doing it. That might have been enough to keep me going in that direction had I not needed to stay home with A and B when J was working 60-70 hours/week. I wouldn't trade those experiences and the self-awareness I've gained for a life free of dirty diapers, potty training and strong, independent minded daughters.
Am I happier now because I am a person of faith and wasn't before? I think this is highly likely. I'm definitely a different person than I was before. I'm kinder, gentler, more thoughtful, less selfish. (Aren't you glad you didn't know me then?) I'm more apt to think of others than I used to, though I still fail often. I don't like to ponder who I would be had I not taken a step of faith ten years ago, had I not taken many steps since to better understand my faith, my God, myself. My faith has anchored me and freed me at the same time.
Am I happier because I have a deeper knowledge of myself than I did before children? This might be the greatest gift my daughters have given me - to help me, push me and inspire me to understand myself better and be more truly who I am meant to be. Seeing them use their innate gifts so effortlessly makes me want to jettison the toxic cargo I've carried for much of my life. Cargo that tells me who I can and can't be. Cargo that tells me who I should and shouldn't be. They make me want to simply be me. This is a worthy goal: last week, my counselor encouraged me to not see our purpose together as me "getting better" but to instead see it as an effort to gain more of myself. Because when I have more of myself, I can give more of myself - to God, to others, to my daughters.
Are my daughters work? Definitely. Do they push me beyond what I think are my limits? Every day. Do I feel constantly, persistently happy? Not really. But I am learning to be more content. They are teaching me things worth knowing, like how to be more authentically the person I am meant to be. And that does make me happy.