Normally, I love the Motherlode, but today's post, "Hey, Whiny Modern Parents, Tell Us What You Love About the Gig," sent me on a bit of a rage bender. You can credit the good, old-fashioned cocktail of generational myopia and current affairs ignorance this commenter displays:
I would be interested in some discussion of why today’s parents complain so much. No previous generation has made so many mountains out of molehills, nor do I ever recall my peers, relatives and forbears having so much difficulty with the chores of daily life. All my friends with children work, as did my mother, aunts and both of my grandmothers. They were fun and vibrant. Now all you hear is “sleep-deprived,” “too busy to shower,” “too frazzled to cook — get takeout,” “kids are sooo expensive,” etc. etc.
On the Internet, the mommy bloggers, “parent confession” and discussion sites heavily focus on the negative as does Motherlode. And in real life, most of the under-35 parents I know are in a constant hand-to-brow state of self-pity. It’s rather irritating esp since there are far more safety nets and handouts for parents today than for previous generations, not all of whom lived like June Cleaver.
Why might today's parents complain more? Because the America in which we are parenting hosts a much more challenging economic environment than the America of even 20 years ago, much less 40 or 60. Let us count the stressors that a) reduce all that vibrant fun and b) puncture the myth that the America of yesteryear was some dystopian hellscape lacking social safety nets:
1. Young adults are grappling with rampant unemployment and/or a permanent, long-lasting lag in earnings or financial well-being. Per David Frum, a family headed today by people between the ages of 35 and 44 will be on average nearly 70 percent -poorer than its counterpart in 1984. I would hazard that it's easier to be vital and joyful when your household earning power goes seventy percent further.
2. Perhaps women are less vital and joyful because the persistent salary gap between men and women means that women have a significant retirement savings shortfall relative to men. This after a lifetime of earning less. And bear in mind, women who are mothers face systemic salary discrimination. Still feeling that zip-a-dee-doo-dah about being a working parent in the 21st century?
(Side note: You would think that men, who are increasingly unhappy and stressed about conditions in the U.S. workplace, would be a lot more vocal about how equal pay benefits the entire family. In a country where two-thirds of families are either helmed by a woman breadwinner or co-breadwinner, you'd think that dudes would be into fair pay for all, because it benefits them too.)
3. Pregnant women and caregivers face discrimination and harassment on the job. So you can see where a worker may find it hard to be joyful about, say, a parent's broken hip or a baby's ear infection when she goes from that stressful and unpleasant situation to a boss who will punish her for it on the job.
4. As moms in the workforce get older, the gender pay gap worsens. So, you know, right around college-paying time. So, are parents allowed to start whining yet?
5. Although U.S. productivity has surged, so have hours worked -- while salaries have stayed flat for nearly 15 years. So parents are spending more time at work for less money. Think they might be taking that stressor home with them?
6. Not only do working parents face long hours for less (actual) pay, they face the terror of a wildly unregulated day-care system where the costs for having someone else watch your child can exceed a year's college tuition.
7. Did anyone say student loans? An entire generation of young professionals -- if they're lucky enough to be employed -- is struggling with $1.2 trillion in student loans. While it's delightful that today's young scholars are referred to as excellent revenue sources, what on account of how they can never, ever, ever discharge those loans in bankruptcy and they pay interest rates far, far higher than bazillion-dollar banks have to on their loans, the fact is: Student loan payments can seriously damage your career and love prospects.
Now try being all zesty and peppy about raising kids when you have loan repayments flying out the door on top of the daycare fees that cost more than your college tuition.
It bears repeating: People who are raising children in today's America are facing financial and societal pressures that parents did not have 20, 40, 60 years ago. We are shorter on money and time and opportunity.
To me, the real miracle is that anyone is still taking that tremendous leap of optimism and saying, "Yes. I will do this. I will raise a person in this world,." There's joy in that commitment to the future. Even if it's not the vital, fun type that others would prefer we display.