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For her new book, Jennifer Senior interviewed new parents to ask about whether their real experiences matched up with their pre-baby expectations. (Laura Rose/Ecco)
For her new book, Jennifer Senior interviewed new parents to ask about whether their real experiences matched up with their pre-baby expectations. (Laura Rose/Ecco)

Family happiness: Do parents expect too much? Add to ...

Zero to three and adolescence – that’s pretty well documented. Teenagers unmask things that have been concealed for a while. For a long time, because your child is loving and warm and thinks you can do no wrong, you can luxuriate in that. But once they’re spending less time with you and rejecting you, you have to fall back on other resources. If those don’t exist, if your marriage isn’t so good or you don’t love your job, it’s going to be hard. It’s this great unveiling.

It’s interesting that one of the people in your book with something to teach parents was a grandparent.

She was able to completely enjoy herself in the moment. Sharon was a 67-year-old retiree who had sort of missed the digital revolution - she actually loved e-mail and texting but she knew how to turn it off. She didn’t have a job to go to. She was really well-equipped to spend slow time. She was able to be very present with him. It made her retirement rather chaotic, but you got to see through her what it would be like if we could subtract away all of our distractions and be present with our kids.

This interview has been condensed and edited.


Jennifer Senior’s new book All Joy and No Fun looks at research and anecdotal evidence suggesting that having kids doesn’t make people happier. Does this ring true? How much stock should we place in parenthood as a way to achieve a fulfilled life? The Globe asked parents for their perspective.

“Being a parent is harder than I could’ve imagined. It’s not the lack of sleep. It’s the inability to resolve your child’s issues as they become more independent. I do think Western culture expects you to be happy when you have children, just as society expects you to be less happy when you’re childless. Both are erroneous.”

– Leanne Shirtliffe, a Calgary mom of two, author of Don’t Lick The Minivan: Things I Never Thought I’d Say To My Kids.

“It’s a busted flush from the start. We’ve turned parenting into a cross between competitive sport and product development. Parenting has become, like childhood, a dash to the finish line.

In this culture of soaring parental expectations, parents feel that raising a child is all or nothing. You either have an alpha child who ticks every box, or you have a total loser. Your child is either gifted-talented kindergarten, mensa at age nine, Ivy League at 17 or hoodie-wearing homelessness. So people have a dull swell of disappointment because very few people are exceptional.

“A big part of it is just being present. You’re not helicoptering overhead, but you’re there. You’re in the kitchen fiddling around with supper and they’re with you. It’s a lighter touch. If you slow down and just let things happen rather than jump in and make them happen, you will have a much richer relationship with your children and yourself. And you’ll be a lot happier. Happiness is something that just occurs as a byproduct of a life well lived. ”

– Carl Honoré, a London-based Canadian father of two, author of The Slow Fix: Solve Problems, Work Smarter and Live Better in a World Addicted to Speed.

“As one of the many women who are part of a growing trend to have children later in life, I can unequivocally say that having kids has given me more joy [alongside heartache] than I can ever have imagined. It’s given me purpose, a stronger sense of self and the opportunity to feel a deeper love than I ever thought possible.”

– Erica Ehm, a Toronto mother of two and publisher of YummyMummyClub.ca.

“While we all hate to see someone we love suffer, parents all too often err on the side of doing too much for their children. We try to fix the situation instead of giving our kids the skills to fix it themselves. For children to be happy, they need to be able to deal with the vicissitudes of life and take challenges in stride, building resilience and independence as they go. One of the greatest joys of life is watching our child succeed on his own merit and achieve something he has worked hard for.”

– Doone Estey, a Toronto mother of four and an educator with the Parenting Network.

“It all depends on your perspective. If you expect to continue living the same carefree life you had when you were single and dating, kids won’t make you happier. Kids change things, and the only way life will be happy is if you embrace the changes kids bring.”

– Buzz Bishop, a Calgary father of two, broadcaster and parenting writer.

These interviews have been condensed and edited.

Follow me on Twitter: @TraleePearce

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