Last weekend, Drew and I were in Texas for our friend Kate’s wedding, hitching a ride from Dallas to Austin with our friends Nick and Emily (you might remember them as the first in our group to have a baby). Nick – who has never had a cup of Starbucks in his life – surprised us all by powering down a Java Chip Frappuccino on the way there. He’d gotten less than 5 hours of sleep the night before, between our late night flight arrival and something called “Dads and Donuts” at his son’s school at 8 am. Which, as best I can guess, consists of mostly unemployed men inhaling an entire row of powdered Hostess Donettes. (For the record, Nick is very much employed)
Despite the 12-ounce caffeine-sugar bomb, Nick and Emily both went down for a nap almost as soon as we got to the hotel. Drew and I, who’d slept till 10 am, quietly slipped out to explore Austin. The next day, when Nick zonked out again before the wedding, it occurred to me that he was in…
Parental Sleep Survival Mode
And I’d have done the same as him, were I in his shoes. Rations are low in those early years and you need to grab after sleeping opportunities like a life raft when they float your way. The average parent loses 400 – 750 hours of sleep in the first year alone. This terrifying article says that although we need a bare minimum of five hours of sleep to function properly (who are you freaks of nature functioning properly on 5 hours?!), most of us need eight. But 67% of all new parents are getting just 3 ¾.
And what’s happening to the sleep deprived? Well…
- Mood swings
- Lack of energy or motivation
- Decreased ability to focus
- Increased perception of pain
- Lack of impulse control
- Slowed metabolism
- Heart disease
- Increased likeliness of arguments and relationship splits
They’re also killing about 1,500 people a year in fatigue-related car accidents. But don’t worry – the Mayo Clinic says a generous five-hour stretch of sleep is “possible” after three months. They also have some fabulous suggestions for creatively taking back your sleep, like:
Set aside social graces. When friends and loved ones visit, don’t offer to be the host. Instead, ask if they could watch the baby while you take a nap.
Seems like a good way to ensure that no one but your mother-in-law ever visits you again, but perhaps that’s just me?
When sleep is that much of a hot commodity for parents, I guess it’s easy to understand why they often talk about the Childfree doing things like languishing in bed on Sundays well past the time at which McDonald’s stops serving breakfast. And while this is sometimes true if we’ve been out late the night before, it’s not like we’re all clocking 10 hours a night, rocking a Blanche Devereaux sleep mask. In fact, I’m fully functional on 7, so I’m mad at myself whenever I go over that – even on the weekends. I don’t want to sleep my life away. There’s work to be done, books to be read, places and friends to be visited. But at the same time, I need to be well-rested enough to enjoy them and do things right.
As Drew likes to remind me every time we take a red-eye back to the Midwest, I am a complete baby (pun intended?) about my sleep. I never sleep more than an hour or two on these flights, sometimes nap a little when we arrive, and then I’m miserable and out of sorts for the rest of the day. I get through it only because I know I can catch up the next night. But if I knew I couldn’t get back on track for another 6 months, and still had to get up every day and be fully mentally present for work? I know parents are fond of saying things like, “you’ll figure out how to survive”, but I’m not sure I understand the point of just surviving. Call me crazy, but I’d rather be thriving.
What about you guys? Can you function on 3 ¾ hours of sleep?
I realized a little something last week – namely, that I had written a post about stay-at-home-moms and work-from-home-moms, but two of my first commenters were a childfree MAN and a work-from-home DAD. We hear a lot about Childfree women feeling marginalized by society, but jeez, what about the Childfree men? Even I’M marginalizing them.
Part of it may be that they haven’t kicked up as much of a fuss as their female counterparts; their voices just aren’t being heard. And I can’t say I blame them – it’d be nice to fly more easily under the radar and not be subject to a barrage of BINGO comments from parents. But how DO they manage to do that?
The Biological Advantage – or Disadvantage?
I have to believe it’s got something to do with the biology of the situation. Society views an aging childless woman with a watchful eye, ever mindful of the expiration date on our eggs. But with men able to father children into their seventies (eww), they’re given a fairly large length of rope. Rather than warnings about ticking clocks, they get jokes about settling down and “boys will be boys” type comments. Instead of being classified as cold or heartless or weird, they’re usually chuckled over as immature playboys or perma-bachelors.
At first blush, it may seem that women are getting the short end of the stick, but I’m actually not sure which gender has it worse! At least with most women, the needling wears off somewhere in the early forties. For men, it’s just getting starting. They’re getting the extended deluxe version of our old favorite comment: “Oh, you’ve got time!” Who knows how long that may go on for them? And commentary from friends and family is really the least of their worries when you take a closer look at…
The Childfree Man’s Dating Game
A friend of mine told me the other day that he almost exclusively pursues younger women now. Sounds like a trophy-wife-seeking cliché, right? But that’s not it – he says the women he meets that are his age (a ripe old 33) come on way too strong, have that Baby Rabies glint in their eye, and make it all too clear that they’re ready to be a mom, like, yesterday. It’s not really their fault – if they want to have babies in their mid-thirties, they truly do need to get a move on it, and don’t have a tremendous amount of time to waste on a man who won’t work out. My friend actually does want to have kids, but these overdrive female biological clocks make it impossible to tell if they’re actually interested in him, or just his fathering potential.
I can only imagine what dating must be like for the guys who don’t want kids. Though I know many guys who want to be Dads, I haven’t met any that I could classify as truly baby-crazy. Women, on the other hand…I know several who openly classify themselves as such, and quite a few more who could be diagnosed with Baby Fever by anyone engaging them in conversation for longer than a minute and a half. I have to imagine it’s rather frightening to be sitting on the other side of the speed-dating table from them. But imagine how slim the pickins are for the guys who tick off the “not interested in kids” option on eHarmony!
Speak Up, Boys
It’s funny that this is my first post that really brings in the male side of things. I keep thinking my audience is entirely women, but you fellas keep surprising me when you leave a comment or bring up my blog if I see you out and about, when I never in a million years would have guessed you’d be reading this. So, many thanks to my dude-followers* – particularly those of you adding to the conversation. I wish I could hear from more of you to make this a well-rounded dialogue.
So what do you think, boys? Do you have it worse than us ladies?
*An extra-special thanks goes to my favorite dude follower – happy belated Father’s Day, Dad! Thanks for not being one of the aforementioned Childfree men. Oh, and for working your ass off for the past 38+ years to give us a good life. But mostly Dad, thank you for having such an amazing mustache in our youth, and not teaching me to drive the John Deere. There’s no doubt in my mind, I would have wrecked it.
I recently received a pretty provocative inquiry from one of my followers, Megan, and I’m hoping you all can shed some light on this for her, because I’m unqualified to do anything other than make uninformed and judgmental speculations. Which of course I’ll do anyway.
Here’s Megan’s question:
So this is something that I think about a lot lately. You hear a TON about how hard it is to be a stay-at-home mom, how a lot of women who left the workplace say it’s the hardest thing that they’ve ever done, nobody appreciates them, blah blah blah. But then I also know a couple of moms who work full time from their house for an external company, and who ALSO watch their kids all day. So my feeling on it is that someone isn’t telling me the truth. Either being a stay at home mom isn’t really that hard (or the ones that say it is are making it way harder than it needs to be), OR the work-from-home moms are working about 10 minutes total at their money-earning jobs while they’re running around after their kid all day. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle, but I’ve been wondering about this apparent dichotomy for a while. Since you seem to be pretty fearless* about talking about these things on your blog, I was wondering if you’d ever given any thought to it, and if you’d consider writing a post about it.
Feel like I’m stepping into the lionness’s den with this one, but here we go! To start, some abbreviations:
- stay-at-home-mom = SAHM
- working-from-home-mom = WFHM
We’ve all heard (repeatedly) that being a mother is the toughest job in the world. We’ve all known at least one SAHM who cannot go without a nanny and/or a maid (or is that an LA thing?), and still manages to look like a frazzled wreck by the end of the day. We’ve all heard horror stories of new moms not being able to shower for 3 days at a time or going to bed and realizing they didn’t brush their teeth all day. We’ve all seen these greasy-haired wits-end zombies falling asleep standing up at the grocery store. And I don’t dare roll my eyes or shake my head, because I’m 99.9% sure that would be me if I joined their ranks. But I do question how these same women find a spare 8-9 hours to do some clear-headed, high-level corporate work.
To be clear, I’m not saying it’s hard to believe that women with kids can work 8-9 hours (or more) a day – AT AN OFFICE. In fact, many working moms I know say the office is a pretty nice 8-9 hour break from their kids. And when they’re there, most of them are happy to disconnect a little from their homelife to throw themselves full-force into projects that don’t involve removing fingerpaint from white carpeting.
What I AM saying, and what Megan is saying, is that in the face of such overwhelming evidence (and reminders) that being a SAHM is a rather difficult full-time job requiring full attention, how can they hold down another full-time job at the very same time, in the midst of all that chaos? What could REALLY be going on in that house all day? Let’s examine the options:
- They’re parking the kid in front of Nick Jr. for 6 hours and letting them nap another 2 to squeeze in a full 8 hours of work
- They’re only working about 4 hours, but since most people are so wildly incompetent at their jobs, the super-efficient WFHM produces the same volume and quality of work as some of her peers can in twice that amount of time at the office
- They work as much as they can during the day given the kiddie interruptions, and make up for lost time by hitting the Blackberry hard after Dad gets home, determined not to receive any special treatment as a WFHM.
Frankly, they all sound pretty awful. Someone’s getting shortchanged here, whether it’s the kid, the company, or the WFHM herself – right?
Maybe not; there’s a lot of variables here. Some WFHM’s are probably built with superhuman abilities. Some kids are self-directed, well-behaved and solid sleepers. Maybe the Moms who’ve chosen the WFHM route have done so because they know they’re better equipped to handle it than some of their SAHM counterparts.
And maybe part of the reason that those who choose to remain SAHMs feel so overwhelmed, is that they don’t have the distraction of work or a break from the insanely constant demands on their attention. Or perhaps the expectations are higher – you’re expected to be nanny, chef, laundress, maid, chauffer and maintenance crew if you’re home all day, while WFHM’s may have more opportunities to hire out for tasks that they strongly dislike or aren’t good at. I also suspect that our stress levels swell to fit whatever room we’ve made for them. If being a mom is your sole occupation, you’re going to squeeze the full load of stress into that. If you’re a working mom, you’re going to divide your stress between the office and home. The strange thing is that from the outside, the latter of these is the only one that seems to get any credit.
What do you guys think – are WFHM’s not really working a full day? Are SAHM’s overdramatizing? Or is every mom and kid just different, and some can have it all while others will always struggle just to get through the day?
*PS, I love that Megan thinks I’m “fearless”, when in reality, I’m quivering on weekly tightrope between speaking my mind and being ex-communicated from every friend group and family circle I have. As Drew is fond of saying, “The ironic thing is that you’re going to alienate so many people with your blog, you’re actually going to have to have a kid so someone will love you!” Oh, Mister Maybe! So clever.
[photo credit: thissideoftypical.com]
After decades of common belief that Life Without Kids was life unfulfilled, a wave of studies produced a good amount of evidence that the Childfree were more satisfied with their life choices, and experienced greater levels of happiness. Perhaps a little overzealous at this turning of the tables, some of them used this like a weapon in defensive rants against the “breeder” lifestyle. But over the past month there’s been a new flood of articles purporting exactly the opposite – that parents are happier. And thus we’re back to the Childfree getting “you’ll regret it!” and “children are the greatest joy” and other choice BINGO remarks.
Why are we all so defensive about our own happiness, and judgmental about each other’s?
Maybe we’re ALL happier now, and shouldn’t we ALL be happy about that?
Before being voluntarily Childfree became an acceptable choice (though some might argue it’s still not), there were a lot more reluctant parents out there. People who had kids to please their mother-in-law, fit in with their friends, fulfill some societal role, or simply didn’t realize there was an alternative lifestyle available. But now, advances in more convenient birth control and better educating teenagers has decreased the number of accidental pregnancies.
And now that there are more options, and better ways to control outcomes, it stands to reason that of the people now having kids, a greater percentage of them really want those kids. And are thus more likely to actually enjoy their time with them and feel that it’s been a rewarding experience. By the same token, as the number of people who decide to remain Childfree increases, this is off-setting the number of people who are childless by circumstance and are (understandably) very unhappy with the hand they’ve been dealt. Sounds kind of utopic, right?
So why are we still fighting each other for the Happiness crown?
We should be striving for an equal 50/50 split on the happiness scale
As much as I complain about the every-kid-gets-a-trophy thing, this is one debate where I really hope there’s no winners or losers. Why should we be rooting for people to be unhappy with their life choices? So we can point our fingers and say “told you so!” or just sit back with a smug smile and enjoy? Sounds healthy.
I want as many happy parents out there as possible. Because happy parents tend to be engaged with their kids and less likely to allow them to scream at the top of their lungs for dessert while you’re trying to enjoy a nice Chinese chicken salad at the Cheesecake Factory. And parents should want the Childfree to be happy too. Because when they’re truly happy with the lifestyle they’ve chosen, they’re less compelled to publically sneer about baby showers and make a huge fuss over society’s glorification of motherhood.
Luckily, as the dialogue around this subject becomes louder, and women are waiting longer to have babies, people are really taking the time to think this through. And when having a baby becomes an educated decision rather than an impulse or societal requirement, everyone wins.
Why does it matter so much who’s happier anyways?
From the Fence-Sitter perspective, I’ll say it’s because we’re looking for an easy answer. I’m doing a lot of things to try and figure this out – blogging, processing sage advice from you guys, listening to friends and family, reading articles, books and other blogs, talking with Drew all the time and even soliciting advice from the cats after a glass or two (or bottle) of Chardonnay. [You can probably guess where they weigh in.]
But of course, what I’m really hoping for is some incredibly studious looking doctor/researcher figure to leap from the shadows with a clipboard and tell me that without a doubt, I should go for Option [insert right answer]. That I’d be a fool not to, that all the evidence points in its favor, that my happiness and life satisfaction are virtually guaranteed.
Not gonna happen, I know. And meanwhile, the Happiness War has done nothing but distract me, making me think there might be an empirical answer if I just wait for the right evidence to appear. But at least there’s a silver lining in knowing that as long as we make the choice that’s right for us, the latest flip-flopping of evidence reassures me that we’ll probably be happy.
(photo credit: quizilla.teennick.com)