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Parenting: The worst thing ever?

A new study says that parenting is "worse than divorce, worse than unemployment and worse even than the death of a partner."
A new study says that parenting is "worse than divorce, worse than unemployment and worse even than the death of a partner." (Jose Manuel Gelpi Diaz / Istock)

One morning, about two weeks after my daughter was born, I sent an email to a friend. It was meant to be an update, but it ended up being one big, giant complaint.

My twins, who were 2 at the time, had "gone nuts," I wrote. My husband and I were stressed, tired and "at each other's throats." I was forgetful, weepy. Nursing was going very badly. And to top it all off, I had a head cold.

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The good news: Having done this once before, I had sense enough to recognize that "this too shall pass."

"I'm just trying to get through these first few very difficult months with as little collateral damage as possible," I wrote. "Ice cream is helping!"

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I thought of this email, and that hazy, nerves-at-attention, out-of-body feeling that accompanies so much of those newborn days, when I read this month about a new study proclaiming that parenting a baby was pretty much the worst thing that could happen to a human being. Ever.

"In fact, on average, the effect of a new baby on a person's life in the first year is devastatingly bad," a Washington Post article about the study said. "Worse than divorce, worse than unemployment and worse even than the death of a partner."

Yes, this study said, having a baby is a fate worse than death.

Those of you without children might be asking yourselves, "How can this be?" And those of you whose children are grown up — able at least to complete a trip to the toilet without screaming, "CAN SOMEBODY WIPE ME??" — likely are scoffing, too.

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But I have to say, those first months (read: two years) of having kids were some of the toughest of my life, and I think my husband would say the same.

I know this is not universal; some people have a very easy time transitioning from a child-free life into a baby-centered one. But just from my own experience, I can see why nearly 70 percent of the parents surveyed in that study said their happiness decreased in the first years after having a baby.

Sleep deprivation is the biggest culprit, no doubt. The loss of autonomy is jarring. Wildly swinging hormones are also probably a factor.

But I also think part of the problem is that no one really tells the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth when talking about having kids. Maybe we don't want to seem as if we're not in love with our babies or like we're not grateful beyond measure for the miracle of their existence. In many cases, we tried for these babies, prayed hard for them. How dare we experience ambivalence?

So we do the conversational equivalent of posting a photo of a sweetly sleeping infant, after cropping out the piles of laundry on the bed beside her.

Consequently, few of us are prepared for the sucker punch of new parenthood. How could we be? The people who'd gone before us knew full well what was behind the milk-stained, sleep-deprived, bewildering, unrelenting curtain. But all they told us about was Emerald City.

Still, worse than losing your job? Worse than a loved one's death? That just seems to me to be a horse of a different color.

Having small children is tough, but it ain't that bad, folks. In fact, most of the time, it is altogether wonderful.

Sure, I don't sleep as much as I used to. But I have never laughed as much, never loved as hard. The three little people who wrecked my body, destroy my house and obliterate my short-term memory? I want to know everything about them, give everything to them.

They are my passion. They are my very best things.

Now that I'm five years in, if I could talk to those study subjects, I would share with them the whole truth: Those early days of parenting tyrannical munchkins are like a tornado. Some days, you'll feel like a house fell on you.

But there's no place like a home full of happy, healthy children.

You will get through the gray days and you won't believe how colorful your life will be.

This too shall pass. Ice cream helps.

Tanika Davis is a former Baltimore Sun reporter who now works as director at a communications firm. She and her husband have twin 4-year-old sons, a 21/2-year-old daughter, a perpetually messy house and rapidly appearing gray hairs. She also needs a nap.

Her column appears monthly.

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