Friday, 6 May 2016

Joy with or without kids

No Kidding in NZ recently wrote a post about "Joy Olympics" or, basically, the assumption that one kind of life brings more joy and happiness than another kind of life. People might make this assumption about their own lives, or they might make it about others' lives: "My life would be so much more joyful if I had Z," or "Ms. X is obviously happier than Ms. Y because Ms. X has Z and Ms. Y doesn't."

I think comparing my kind/level of joyfulness to another person's, whether with kids, or without, is like comparing apples and oranges. There's so many factors that make people and situations different. I might have similarities with another individual in terms of personality, infertility diagnosis, family makeup, children's development, relationship, politics  ...but really, there's always more differences. We build community by looking for common ground (in the case of  ALI community, experiences with infertility and loss) and that's excellent, but it's quite a stretch to expect that individuals or families will have similarities beyond that. Before we were affected by infertility, we were all individuals on our own path. (But I do think it is more heartening and comforting to  focus on similarities, not differences.)

On the other hand, No Kidding's post got me thinking about whether I would say I'm more "joyful"  after having a child. I think there is more grounds for comparison when I focus only on my life. I found it an provoking question to ponder.

First I thought it was interesting that NK used the word "joy" rather than "happiness." They might seem similar, but I feel they have very different meanings. "Happiness" to me is a state of general contentedness with one's lot, while "joy" is an intense appreciation of a moment in time.

So, more joyful with child or without?

I could make a pretty good argument that I was more joyful before kids, if I exclude the joyful moments with AJ. I think before I had a child I was actually more skillful at enjoying other things in life, including but not limited to:

  • music (playing in a community band)
  • dance and fitness
  • yarn crafts
  • creating deep and meaningful relationships with friends
  • travel
  • readiness for transformative experiences. This one is nebulous, but I could describe it as the constant feeling that an amazing experience or opportunity could change my life for the better. This belief required alertness to what life was bringing my way, a willingness to treat each opportunity as a treasure.
Now? Well, the simple logistics of life make many of the things I formerly enjoyed harder. Anything I wish to do simply for myself does not involve only money and time, but the mobilizing of other people to care for AJ, extra planning for meals, schedules, organization of materials, etc. Band I have dropped (too much practice and rehearsal time) and knitting and crochet (lost motivation somewhere) and while we travel locally, we are unlikely to plan any long trips (i.e. overseas) until AJ is old enough to remember the experience. I still stepdance, but feel like I am learning more slowly than previously and new steps don't seem to stick very well, somehow.

Friendships: I do maintain some but I don't see my friends often. Evenings and weekends seem like just enough time to spend with AJ and Mr. Turtle, or with my mom or local in-laws. If we squeeze in some of the errands and chores we need to do, even less time.  Some friendships seem to easily survive these dry spells; in some other cases I've definitely grown somewhat apart from people.

Readiness for transformative experiences: Because I am not seeking a transformative experience, I am generally less excitable, and you could argue, less joyful. It's not that I don't want to have fun experiences or enjoy myself, but I'm not always looking for something to rock my world. The obvious reason is that I have already found it: my family. My world rocked and rollicked about and now it's settled into its new rhythm. Family life brings me profound happiness and contentment, but a side effect of that contentment is that I am a little out of practice at getting really excited about life. I like (and need) the security I feel, but sometimes I am nostalgic for the past days when I knew that my life could take a completely different direction in the next month, or year, and that was totally OK.

Despite the nostalgia, do I regret for an instant that I have a child? No. But I recognize that motherhood has changed me and the change is not quite as simple as adding an extra helping of joy. Sometimes days it feels that simple, not going to lie. AJ is joy; in fact that is her middle name. Holding her sleepy heavy body in at night and first thing in the morning. Hearing her laugh of delight as she masters a new skill or piece of knowledge. Watching her with Mr. Turtle and feeling the love between us grow exponentially. It is easy to feel that anything else in life is by comparison a mere shadow on a wall.

We are also lucky in that so far we have a pretty easy child. But even if she was a huge challenge, or becomes one later, I can't see myself ever regretting parenthood.  I see life as a progression, a taking on of challenges, and I'm sure I'd rather have a challenge than no progression at all. I've had stagnant periods in my life and I hated them more than anything. I would choose to live over the worst struggle in my life rather than the times when I felt I was accomplishing nothing and getting nowhere.

And yet. There are questions in my mind. If I'm spending less time and energy on the  things that gave my life meaning, is my life becoming less meaningful? Am I missing out on chances to change myself for the better? Am I becoming more anxious, more pessimistic because I am focusing on the things that could take away what I have, rather than what would improve it?

I don't have quick answers to those questions, but I think they are important to raise. At least sometimes; the rest of the time I'm quite happy to play with my baby and appreciate what I have in this fleeting present. And last, best not to make assumptions about other people's lives, or even your own, come to think of it.

6 comments:

  1. I really like your post, and I'm glad you wrote it. I think the reason I focused on joy, rather than happiness, is that for me, moments of joy are what fostered mindfulness and reflection - they're what helped me heal, into a generally happy and contented life. Joy, for me, can occur in the midst of sadness. It's what gives me hope.

    I like too that this has raised questions for you. I look forward to seeing your thoughts on those someday. Or perhaps, I'll talk about mine.

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    1. Thanks! I agree about joy existing in the midst of sadness. That's a very profound observation. I find it challenging to talk about these subjective emotional things: it's much easier to write about experiences rather than perceptions.

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  2. Been reflecting on this post. For me, I look at this idea of finding "Joy" as dependent on where one is at in life. The things that brought me joy when I was younger are different from what brings me joy now. And I'm confident that if we weren't parenting after infertility, that list would be different too. Things change as we grow older.

    Where I get testy is with the comparison and assumption that one set of "joys" being better or more worthwhile than others. It assumes that we aren't diverse as humans but also that joy comes from only certain things. Which completely underestimates how complex and individual humans are will also demanding group think (which is severely scary).

    A very thought provoking post. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

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    1. Thanks! I agree about joy coming from different things at different ages. I think that's partly what I was writing about too. I know I am changing as a person and it is difficult because I can't clearly see where it is going although I have some inklings.

      I believe that you are correct that it is misguided to claim one kind of happiness is better than another, but then I have to ask: why do people constantly do it anyway? It's easy to say one shouldn't do something but what is it that drives that impulse.

      I agree that group think is scary. I don't know if it's just me, but I feel more pressured toward group think now than any other time of my life since university, and I feel like I'm using an unprecedented amount of mental and emotional resources to filter the messages that are coming at me. Which may actually the cause of the neglected hobbies as much as motherhood.

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  3. I love this post, because it makes me think. I dislike comparisons in general, because everyone's life is so different and there will always be things that are more and things that are less. I love your thoughts on what joys you had before AJ and what joys you have now, and how some things have become more complicated but others have added more joy. A give and take. I kind of think of our life when we had a dog (not meant to be an offensive comparison) and now that we don't -- we had the joy of being greeted at home like rockstars and snuggles and playing and walks outside, but we also had the responsibility that made going away harder, early morning walks, and the constant alarm when we were out of "the dog needs to go out, we need to get back home." There are plusses and minuses to both. I think different experiences bring different joys, and no one life can officially be declared more joyful than another. I loved your last line. Thank you for making me think!

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    1. Thanks! And welcome. Sometimes I wonder if I think too much, but letting it out on the blog seems pretty healthy and harmless. I agree, when you look at the details the (often hurtful) generalizations get harder to make.

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