Thursday, January 19, 2012

On parenting

I had children younger than most of my US friends, and when it was their turn to raise young kids, whenever they saw me they asked questions such as: "How did you do it? I never realized it was so hard!", or "I love him/her/them, but I'm barely making it through the days", or "Tell me, how many more years do I have to go through before it gets easier?"

Yes, I do have a few friends who blossom as parents and seem to take everything in stride, usually leaving their career by the wayside along the way to perpetual parental bliss. It's a sacrifice that seems to come easily to those friends, who appear to have a natural vocation for pure parenthood.

But most of my friends are juggling career and parenting, and, while parents of young children, live in a state of constant tension, stress and tiredness. They do not have quite enough energy and time to perform as well as they expect from themselves at work, nor to be as attentive to their children as they would like to be.

As a parent, one of the most helpful things I got told came from the mother of a colleague. I only met her once, when they came to dinner at my house.
Making small talk, she asked: "So, how is it, doing research, having two young children, and all that?"
I answered succinctly: "It's not easy".
She glanced at me, surprised by my frankness. After a short pause she replied: "It will get better."
Then, seeing that her answer hadn't sunk in, she insisted: "I have had two children myself. I remember what it's like. It will get better. It really will!"
That time, I paid attention. Unnoticed by the other people present at dinner, we exchanged a look of mutual understanding; and the conversation moved on to other topics.
In the following months, whenever things were almost overwhelming, I recalled what she had told me and, instead of thinking "Things cannot go on like this," I soothed myself by repeating in petto: "It will get better."


  1. It is almost a mathematical statement: Consider the function of ease of parenting. Suppose things are not good at present, so the value is small. It may get worse as well (the function decreases). We know that things will eventually be better (let's say, in 200 years). So the function shall have at least one [local] minimum. By the definition of a minimum, the function increases after that. So does the ease of parenting. QED.

    1. 200 years... that's not too comforting!

      Here is my gauge of when things "get better": do you feel better on Sunday evening than on Friday evening? In other words, is the weekend relatively less stressful than the workweek, or is it the other way around?

  2. As someone about to have a baby, that does give me hope.

  3. Ahahah. The weekend is definitely worse than the week, but I also think that another question is very important: "should I really ask the question "will it get better?"?" (a quick scan of my iPhoto library or my little diary of noticeable family events usually convinces me that I should not), and in fact, sometimes I also ask myself the "what would my life have been without them?" ("Empty" is the word that comes to mind more often). [We've got to boys, aged 8 and 6]

  4. Back then, I told myself (and it's kind of true) that parenting and researching were complementary kinds of work, and doing one was a break from the other. Following a one-year-old around and keeping them from killing themselves *is* different from doodling all day and staring at the doodles. I'm sure that my unconscious was working furiously on research while I was reading that bedtime story one, more, time. I hardly missed any amazingly cute, beautiful, fun stuff while I was editing that paper, again, and finding more embarrassing errors, again.

    Really though, neither was what it might have been if I had been able to devote myself to it totally. But what fun is that?

  5. Yes, parenting and researching are somewhat complementary. In fact, if you have only one child and that child is healthy and has an easy-going, happy disposition, then I believe that parenting makes you more productive at work.