A reader reponds to Maiken Scott’s article from May 29, “Do kids help or hinder happiness? Maybe that’s the wrong question,” in which she looks at a study evaluating the effect of parenthood on the happiness of men and women.
This essay is in response Maiken Scott’s article from May 29, “Do kids help or hinder happiness? Maybe that’s the wrong question,” in which she looks at a study published eariler that month evaluating the effect of parenthood on the happiness of men and women.
I currently work at a non-profit childcare center which enrolls children as young as 18 months and as old as 13 years. I am not a parent, but am deeply engaged with and committed to the act of raising children.
Before I started my current career, I worked as a mason’s assistant, industrial insulator, retail associate, and server. The satisfaction and happiness these jobs brought to my life came through see ing a physical structure at the end of the day, or seeing a customer leave happily. Those jobs provided a feeling of “a job well done” on a daily basis.
For childcare, at the end of the day, a job well done means everyone going home with a smile on their face, a greater ability to regulate emotions, a better understanding of symbolic functions, or a step towards a new motor skill. In reality, many moments of the day are full of tears, forgetfulness, and an inability to regulate emotions in an appropriate way. What psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls “flow” — a state in which a person is fully focused on and immersed in a challenge, that is invigorating but within reach — can certainly be found in a teacher’s and parent’s daily challenges.
Caregivers and parents, the people who thrive on the unpredictable challenges that relationships with children offer them, are bound to experience “flow” if they are truly engaged with and care for their children. Masonry, insulation, sales, and service are all career fields that, without a doubt, have their “flow” too. The difference between my job as a substitute teacher and the jobs I used to have is the basis of my work relationships. The jobs of parents and caregivers are based in trust, companionship, guidance, and compassion for others — all of which are inherently social acts.
At the end of the week, seeing a finished patio or a well fabricated casing gave me a good feeling. Seeing a happy family enjoy the food I served to them, also, left me feeling well. But seeing a child stop and think before she or he acts, mentally examining her or his social situation and all of the emotions tied to it, gives me a kind of satisfaction that is beyond myself. Seeing a child revel in their own satisfaction and their own ability to help themselves and others is what my “flow” leads to on the best of days.
Jennifer Senior got it right: Meaningful relationships with children help me to avoid being bogged down by existential questions. But I also believe that there is something much less intellectual involved. Our inherently social nature as humans — which has allowed us to evolve and grow in such incredible ways — must be involved in our willingness and desire to take the daily frustrations that relationships with children offer us, in exchange for the long-term benefits of the satisfaction we feel in raising the next generation.