Why Are Parents So Miserable?

Holly at Parenting.com interviewed Adam Mansbach, the author of Go the F*k to Sleep. Read the interview here. Interesting, right?

“My partner is Swedish, and though she loved the book, at first the Swedish community didn’t get it at all. They even expressed concern about my mental health! Since then, we’ve settled our differences, translated the book into Swedish and it’s been well-received there. Some cultures really understood and embraced the book while others weren’t so keen on the idea.”

Hmmm. So the Swedes didn’t “get it” at first? I wonder why… Did they notice the tone of desperation in the story? The rage? The helplessness? Do the Swedes not feel the same way?

Well, no. No, they don’t feel the same desperation, rage, and helplessness that American parents feel. Their culture, while not perfect, has made great strides in creating a society where both men and women can be happy and productive in the workplace and at home. They don’t have to chose one at the expense of the other.

It starts with parental leave. This is not maternity leave, which they did away with a few decades ago in favor of a more egalitarian system. With parental leave, parents are entitled to 480 days of paid leave per child, with 60 days reserved exclusively for the father and 60 reserved for the mother. Fathers also get an additional 10 days of leave when the child is born. The 480 days can be taken at any time up until the child turns eight years old. In addition to their very generous parental leave system, preschool is highly subsidized in Sweden, and children are eligible at 12 months. I’ll take that! Here in DC, the average decent preschool is $1400 a month. That’s more than a mortgage in some states.

So that might help to answer the question of why Swedish parents aren’t quite so angsty. But the real question remains: Why are American parents so miserable?

Part of it, of course, is that we don’t get the same benefits. The U.S. does not have paid maternity leave, although some jobs do offer it even though they are not required to. We do not have subsidized daycare. I know of a handful of parents where one spouse’s paycheck pays for daycare and nothing else.

But the U.S. also seems to have an issue with the fairness of it all. Not everyone wants children, or is even biologically able to have them. Why should parents get paid time off, while non-parents have to get up and go to work every morning? And shouldn’t someone who sacrifices family, friends, and life for his job get farther ahead faster than someone who takes a year and a half off every time he has a child, plus all those days when the child is sick?

My answer? No. And yes.

1) The child benefits most of all from this time with a devoted caregiver rather than being in a daycare during the first year. A mother is more likely to breastfeed if she isn’t working during the first year, which is healthier for the child. The leave reserved for fathers helps create equality in the home–this kind of beginning helps the father to play a more active role throughout childhood.

2) Parents should have parental leave because it benefits society as a whole, not just the parents (although the benefits to the parents are obvious). If you make a person chose between having a career and having a child, eventually the human race will go downhill. Ever seen Idiocracy? Yeah, something like that. Give people options and the human race continues.

3) Maybe it won’t be like Idiocracy. Maybe corporations, law firms, etc will lose some of the best and brightest employees when they tap out of the rat race to have children instead of shackling themselves with golden handcuffs. I see this brain-leak happen every day. That’s the thing about most people–they have so much to offer. They aren’t just parents, and they aren’t just employees. People are multifaceted, so why is society trying to shoehorn everyone into just one thing? Why do we have to be a good employee or a good parent? With a little help, we can do both. Productive parents and productive employees both benefit society as a whole.

4) If a person gives up everything for their job, then yes, they likely will go further with their careers than most people, regardless of whether they are parents or not. I’m ok with that. I would rather have a life. Even if I didn’t have children, I wouldn’t devote my life to my career. There would still be people I love, and things I love to do. I would still want to travel. I probably won’t get as far in my career as someone who forgoes vacations. Oh, well. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have ambition, and it doesn’t mean that we should have to sacrifice a satisfying career for children, or vice versa.

What do you think? Should parents get paid leave, or is it completely unfair?

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