Why children make you unhappy

by CJ

I read somewhere that people’s happiness takes a plunge once they become parents, yet they’d never choose to un-have their kids even if they could. It’s a strange contradiction and one that Walter and I mull over frequently at 3 am.

In the wee hours of this morning, I realized that the top reasons my smile quotient (SQ) is reduced are that I’m now:

4. Regularly talking to adults who want to talk about poop,
3. Routinely wrestling another human being into her trousers,
2. Too often conscious at 3 am,

… and most crushingly,

1. Permanently on guard against disaster.

You see, on the day that Poppy was born, the chemicals that invaded my post-partum brain included a rich dose of neurosis. Overnight, my suburban world was recast as a brutal place where bad things could occur in direct proportion to the degree to which I feared them.

In this unstable universe, steps were suddenly too high, ledges too low, the fan above the crib didn’t look as sturdy as it ought.  The tool cupboard, always a benign place full of stuff you didn’t need, instantly became a place where one might find an axe.

Even now, twenty one months later, questions that have no answer invade my cluttered mind.

Precisely how much fecal matter is on a dog’s tongue? I wonder as I butter my toast for breakfast. If a can of refried beans fell on Poppy’s head, would it kill her? I quietly ask when I post my check to the gas company. In the event of a flood, I muse during an evening out with friends, which nursery furniture could reasonably be turned into a boat?

And most tellingly, When will the government pass a law requiring children to wear a helmet in public?

Every night, I creep into the nursery when Poppy’s asleep and quietly stare, just because I can. I adjust her blankets, put her teddy bear closer and then draw nearer to listen to her breath. At this still point of the roiling day, it’s reassuring to bask in the omnipotence of parenthood. I know that, for those few minutes that I’m standing above her, I can protect her from fire, floods, plagues, coyotes and people who’ll be mean to her just because they can.

And this, I submit, is why one’s smile quotient plunges on the day one becomes a parent. In a universe buffeted by randomness and filled with strangers planning stupid things, nothing’s as important and as impossible as protecting one’s child from risk. And, pace as I might the boundaries of her world, ever on guard against disaster, I know that I score a 10 for hyperbolic vigilance but a fat zero for actual control.

Coming home with your newborn and realizing that you have little influence over the big, crazy world that hosts her? No wonder parents feel a little bit less happy than they did before.

At least that’s my theory for why parents’ report a lower SQ. Do you have a better theory?