The XX Factor

Even About Our Children We Are Truly Ambivalent

Jennifer Senior was on the Today show this morning to discuss her controversial New York Magazine article about parents and unhappiness, ” All Joy and No Fun .” To recap, the article argues that today’s parents are more stressed out and exhausted than ever before. It has drawn criticism and no small measure of defensiveness from many parents online-the founder of parenting webzine Babble felt compelled to respond with an open letter to New York Magazine declaring , “Yes, kids make us happier.” But the truth isn’t that simple, since notions of happiness are so difficult to pin down.

On the “DoubleX Gabfest” last week , June, Nina, and I discussed how parents might be reporting higher levels of unhappiness now because they have higher expectations of happiness. This point was brought home by watching Senior talk about her article with Today show psychologist Dr. Gail Saltz, who emphasized that parenting has become “a competitive sport” in which women feel they must be perfectly smiley übermoms. Saltz said something almost verbatim that my mother, also a shrink, has always told me: Even about our greatest joys we are truly ambivalent. Saltz said, sensibly, that this sort of ambivalence “is normal and that is OK. … If we could accept that, and therefore not have to be guilty about it until we explode, we’d be in much better shape.” Wise words.