Spring on the farm: green grass, tulips, redbud and lilac blossoms, baby lambs, and calves. After the ninth coldest winter on record, new life on the farm and the prospects of a new growing season make us practically giddy.
Other sure signs of spring are more subtle: individual solo and ensemble music contests, field trips, high school graduation parties, college commencements, and wedding invitations.
The arrival of spring is closely intertwined with the milestones of parenthood. This year, our family celebrates the college graduation of younger daughter Alexa, and the wedding of her sister, Allison. Moving one home from college for the last time and planning a wedding for the other leaves little time for reflection. Too often, in the midst of all the hustle and bustle of our family lives, we fail to savor these moments.
Being a parent, after all, isn’t for the faint of heart. In her new book, All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood, Jennifer Senior writes, “But the truth is, there’s little even the most organized people can do to prepare themselves for having children. Becoming a parent is one of the most sudden and dramatic changes in adult life.”
She poses the question of why some very credible research indicates that parents aren’t any happier than nonparents and, in certain cases, are less happy. Parenting, she points out, is a high-cost/high-reward activity.
I’m not surprised that studies target the early years of parenthood as the least happy. The reasons are etched in my memory. I vividly recall babies crying into the wee hours of morning, worry over fevers and ear infections, child care gaps, and my inability to accomplish any task requiring more than four minutes.
Then there’s the tug-of-war with toddlers over naps, videos, and clothes. A 2009 study found that mothers and toddlers averaged a conflict every two and a half minutes!
Thankfully, the preschool years arrive. These days are bookended by the breakfast hustle and bedtime stories.
Outdoor play is where it’s at. We fenced our yard and added a swing set and sandbox. One day my husband came home with a small shed. The previous owner had displayed his model railroad in it.
It was a perfect playhouse. We equipped it with a large, old chalkboard, a couple of old school desks, and a kitchen set. The girls spent many happy hours playing there.
The next milestone is elementary school. Soon, they are busy with piano lessons, dance, and T-ball. Birthdays are a big deal with school treats, sleepover parties with friends, and family events.
Harvard social psychologist Daniel Gilbert perfectly
describes this period of controlled chaos. “Everyone is moving at the same speed toward the future. But your children are moving at that same speed with their eyes closed. So you’re the ones who’ve got to steer,” he says.