Is the joy of parenting a myth?

Is the “joy of parenting” a myth? Is it a clever ruse by parents to make people think being a mom or a dad is fulfilling and wonderful, when really we just don’t want to admit we made an enormous mistake?

Well, a study by researchers in Canada says that even if it’s not an outright lie, the joy of parenting is at least a gross exaggeration. Parents oversell their happiness in an attempt to rationalize the financial cost of having kids, the study says.

One researcher even wrote, “Many people believe that to be truly fulfilled in life, it is necessary to experience the joys of parenthood. Children are considered an essential source of happiness, satisfaction and pride. However, the idea that parenthood involves substantial emotional rewards appears to be something of a myth.”

If that is true, then I have been thoroughly duped.

Part of the study gave reading material to two groups of parents. The group whose reading material focused on the fact that it costs more than $190,000 to raise a child were more likely to idealize parenting and overemphasize the happiness a child can bring.

OK, I understand that people have a tendency to exaggerate intangible benefits for things that may look too costly. If we go into major debt to buy a house, we extol all the virtues (and tax write-offs) of homeownership. So it would make sense that if parents are making serious financial and emotional sacrifices for children, they might overemphasize the intangible joy of children to prove that it is worth it.

But the joy of parenting is not a myth. It’s there, it’s real, but it’s not constant. Somewhere between scraping Cheerios off the floor and counting to three for the one-millionth time, there are moments of pure and transcendental joy.

My first moment experiencing this rare variety of joy was in the hospital room after my first daughter was born. It was a penetrating happiness – like all the pieces of who I am and could be and should be all came together. That first maternal moment in that hospital room wasn’t a lie; it just wasn’t sustainable. Real life was destined to take over and it would be silly to expect a lifetime of meadows and smiles and deeply fulfilling moments.

That’s the truth of motherhood – joy comes in snippets, in little moments like afternoon tea parties and watching my daughter wave goodbye from the preschool door. I grab on tightly to those moments. They whisk me back to that same feeling in the delivery room where I was truly, genuinely happy because I knew that being a mother was exactly who I was meant to be.

And no, I’m not exaggerating because I just wrote my daughter’s preschool a tuition check.

How do you describe the “joy of parenting”? Do you think there’s merit to this study that says parents falsely exaggerate that joy?

Erin Stewart is a regular blogger for Deseret News. From stretch marks to the latest news for moms, Stewart discusses it all while her 4-year-old daughter crams Mr. Potato Head pieces in her little sister’s nose.

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