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The Myth of Happy Parenting

With my first pregnancy, it seemed everyone was more excited than me.

My mother squealed when I told her the news. People at church kept hugging me and grinning in my general direction. Even my OB-GYN's secretary shrieked, "Congratulations!" when I asked for a prenatal appointment.

None of them were spending hours curled in bed, barely moving due to nausea. They did not endure 12 hours of labor, during which I cried, "Why, God? Why do you want me to suffer so much?" To which my nurse replied, "This is what it takes to have a baby, sweetheart."

Then I'm not sure I want to have a baby, I thought.

As a friend recently put it, raising children requires holding joy and sorrow in the same hand at once.

When my son finally arrived, I was in love. But soon it became clear that he was not one of those coveted "easy" babies. He cried incessantly and slept little. Frankly, there was a lot I didn't like about him. I carried a crushing burden of guilt. Weren't children a blessing from God, as the Bible and church people told me? Shouldn't I like him more? Shouldn't I be happier?

As he grew, he became a delightful child. Still, my guilt continued. I felt bad that endless peekaboo, reading the same board book for the 100th time, and changing dozens of diapers left me bored and restless. It left me wishing for a small injury to land me in the hospital, where someone would take care of me for a change.

Of course, my secret resentment of the difficulties of raising children has deep roots. In her satiric novel of 1927, Twilight Sleep, novelist Edith Wharton uses the title concept ("twilight sleep" being an anesthetic regimen that let wealthy women sleep ...

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May 2014

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