Has technology ruined children's childhoods

Parental frustration - I want my life back!

The woman wears designer jeans, a colorfully patterned T-shirt, high heels. A huge leather bag dangles from her arm. Visually, the mother of three could pass as an urban professional woman. As someone who sips prosecco in a group of carefree childless people who make fun of those whose everyday life revolves around diaper brands and school problems. The impression is deceptive. Only the slim silhouette, the beautiful shoes and the apartment in Zurich's Seefeld district are left of the life before. During her first pregnancy, Eloise Mertens (name changed) dropped out of college. Now her three boys are between two and seven and she is 31 years old full-time housewives.

At first she didn't tell her friends of yore much about the children. At the beginning you can pretend that you are interested in the latest popular philosophical tome, the hot affairs among friends and all the individual parts of the new Prada winter collection. At some point, however, there is a lack of energy, and sometimes the right words. "After a hectic day-to-day life, I'm dog tired and drained," says Eloise Mertens. “When a friend calls from earlier in the evening, I am seized with horror. What should I tell him? " That she refused to buy the boys toy guns, but that they made a machine gun out of branches? That the liberally raised offspring give her orders and want nothing to do with compromises? That everyday life becomes dull, at the latest with the second child, because it can become repetitive? That their work is seldom praised?

The happiness with the children is often huge and cannot be compared with anything else. “On days like this they rush up to me, throw themselves into my arms, show me what they painted for me in kindergarten or school. The next moment they throw building blocks at each other and scream around. When the complete harmony turns into arguments and tears out of nowhere, I sometimes wonder how I could even get involved in this madness », says Eloise Mertens.

The question of whether children make people happy or not is currently a concern of the experts. The discussion started with a study by US behavioral scientist Daniel Kahneman, who asked 900 Texan mothers about their favorite pastimes. The following were mentioned most frequently: doing gymnastics, shopping, cooking, making phone calls, watching TV, reading, listening to the radio and eight other activities, including washing and cleaning. Childcare followed in 16th place.

In the USA and England economists, sociologists and psychologists are devoting themselves to the topic. The British economist Andrew Oswald compared tens of thousands of British mothers and fathers with childless women and men in a large-scale study and came to the conclusion: «Children do not make us unhappy; but they don't make us happier either. " His research also showed that mothers are less happy than fathers, single parents less satisfied than mothers with a partner. Babies and toddlers are the greatest burden. The lower the household income of a family, the greater the dissatisfaction of the parents, and the negative effects increase significantly with each additional child.

The US sociologist Robin Simon goes even further in her statements. Whether married or not, with one or more children: "Parents are more depressed than non-parents." An attempt by the Scottish publication "Journal of Happiness" to reinterpret the facts ("Most parents are happy") ended in the meek correction that the scientific data had been misinterpreted. The corrected conclusion: "The effect of children on the satisfaction of married parents is never significant in a positive sense."

So much for the clear result. Little is known about the reasons why children are less happy than previously thought. The topic also seems to be taboo among parents. "Anyone who confesses that there are days in everyday life when one would like to undo the meticulously planned step of having a child will be in a bad way," says Nicole Althaus, founder of the "Mamablog" and today editor-in-chief of the magazine “Wir Eltern”. In all other events that radically changed life, difficulties in adjusting would be considered normal. "But mothers and fathers, whose existence is turned upside down, have to constantly pretend that happiness is oozing out of their pores."

The mother of two girls says that leads to such stupid statements as "I may have a pot belly because of the birth, but I love it because it gave birth to life". According to Nicole Althaus, that is “total nonsense”. You don't think an appendix scar is great just because it reminds you that you have been relieved of abdominal pain. Only if the downsides of the new role were openly expressed could the rampant mania for salvation and happiness be undermined. In the USA, mothers are already blaspheming about the stress factor of children. On the web portal Badmommyconfessions.blogspot.com, “bad mothers”, as they call themselves, confess their hair-raising fantasies (“you should pour drugs and alcohol into them”). Every second comment is accompanied by the two remarks: "It is a huge relief to finally be able to say things like this" and "I still love my children more than anything".

The saying, often heard in the USA, «I love my children. I hate my life »very few people in Europe say. Julia Heilmann and Thomas Lindemann have no problem with that. The transformation of their existence, which underwent a drastic turnaround with the birth of their two sons, took place in the much-acclaimed book “Kinderkacke. The honest parenting book ”is described as follows:“ The sex life is bad. The in-laws are annoying. The money is tight. The friends don't get in touch any more. " The two speak of an inner and an outer struggle, which they wage in the field of tension between "noise, dirt, fatigue, love, hate and a new position within society", and create funny terms like breastfeeding dementia and paranoia.

Parenthood is characterized by completely false expectations, believes 38-year-old Thomas Lindemann, who works as a feature editor for the German newspaper “Die Welt”. "The fluffy, good children with their cool-looking career parents are omnipresent in advertising, in the cinema and on television," says Lindemann. "Thousands of educational books signal that capable parents can solve any problem: this is all lies and deceit." In truth, there is no longer any room for vanity and togetherness, the ego is pulverized, freedom is a thing of the past. Not to speak of professional life. Because he wants to be a good father and partner, he has halved his workload. "The result is that nobody in the editorial team takes me seriously anymore." As a man, you become invisible if you don't fully focus on your career. Most colleagues take two months of parental leave, says Lindemann. «But seriously take part in the education, the whole annoying everyday life? Only I am that stupid. "

His wife, once the ambitious manager of an art bookstore, asks: "Who am I, and if so, why just mother?" For months she talked almost exclusively in boisterous language, then it became too stupid for her, which is why she is mostly silent today - “when I'm not yelling at husband or children”. "I not only feel uninteresting and humorless: I have become one too."

Mentally lame and physically tired: The existence as a "host animal", as his wife calls herself in the meantime, is at the origin of the decline of eroticism, according to Thomas Lindemann. “It all started in the antenatal class,” he recalls. "There they presented us with a knitted uterus made of pink wool: it looked like a monster." Over time, those areas of the body that were once referred to as erogenous zones would also become trivial. "They just have nothing to do with sex anymore." As a father and husband, he often struggles against the need to just run away and never return.

The success of their work suggests that the young couple's courageous revelations are balm for the souls of many mothers and fathers who are quietly suffering. Released last year, “Kinderkacke. The honest parenting book »already sold 80,000 times.
For some readers, however, such mothers and fathers are a provocation. An article in "New York Magazine", which addressed the negative consequences of children on the self-image and everyday life of their parents ("All Joy and No Fun"), resulted in several hundred responses. While some praised the parents quoted for their sincerity, they scolded others in a sorry and unworldly manner. "Next time you buy a cat that causes less work," wrote Becky from New Jersey. "Ever heard of a nanny?" Asked Jonathan from Chicago. Those who already have grown children, sometimes four, six or eight, also spoke up in large numbers. Basic tenor: It does not speak for today's generation if a little self-abandonment leads directly into a crisis.

"Fifty years ago nobody would have asked whether children would make their parents happy," says Zurich psychotherapist Anna Sieber-Ratti. “As a father and husband, I often fight against the need to run away and never return” people saw having children as more of a duty to fulfill than a natural occurrence. ” At that time, the offspring were integrated into everyday life, and reading a single education book was enough to keep you up to date with the general state of affairs. The educators proclaimed rules that also relieved the parents: obedience, orderliness and calm.

Today childhood is seen as a privileged, sheltered time that includes empowerment and quality education. The little ones need to be shaped, encouraged and stimulated. That costs nerves, money and, above all, a lot of time. 71 percent of respondents in an American study said they had less than six hours a week for themselves, and they all wished it was more. At the same time, 85 percent of those questioned suffered from the feeling of spending too little time with their children.

“Today's mothers and fathers are very committed. In connection with their parenting role, however, they also have greater expectations, ”observes Anna Sieber-Ratti. The combination of many demands, including career, self-fulfillment, love and family, corresponds to an ideal that is difficult to achieve. Worse: the wishes are sometimes contradicting each other, the identity crisis is more or less programmed. The evolutionary psychologists put it this way: Reproduction continues to correspond to an important human need. At the same time, raising a child collides with other needs that are very important today.

In everyday practice, Anna Sieber-Ratti repeatedly sees parents looking for help who already feel pressured by very mundane challenges. "We live in such a top-heavy society that even a disposable diaper sticking shut can become a problem," says Anna Sieber-Ratti.

You know how Photoshop and remote controls work, but you never learned how to heat milk on the stove, confirms Giuseppina Tagliaferri-Visconti. She was no god, no aunt, all urban friends were as young as she was, but childless when she became a mother for the first time eight years ago. She didn't know where the nearest playground is or how to fold a stroller. "Because of my awkwardness, everything took three times as long, life with the baby became a forced labor."

Daughter Anna is eight years old today, her little brother Luis four. The initial disconcertment about Snugly and Buggy has meanwhile given way to an attitude towards life that other parents also know well enough: the dictates of reason. “A hideous word,” says Giuseppina Tagliaferri-Visconti. Reason, the 36-year-old thinks, is the opposite of all the youthful qualities that were once so important: fun, spontaneity, a thirst for adventure. As a matter of common sense, the interior fittings are first turned upside down and then the lifestyle: The apartment is increasingly like a play castle, the marriage bed is degenerating into a playground for the whole family, the clothes have to be less beautiful than waterproof.

Instead of sleeping in and having a prosecco brunch today, we go to the forest on Sunday morning so that the children can get to know nature. They also strive for sustainability, the waste is strictly separated and disposed of together, and in the sense of lived modesty there is only tap water to drink at home. After the second child at the latest, the brain clears itself out of all the nonsense. One becomes more conservative. For the good of the children. "Views that I previously considered intolerant make sense to me today."

If someone had prophesied to them five years ago that they would soon have a life as a dreary average consumer, they would have declared the person crazy, says Julia Heilmann. “Since the children came,” her husband adds, “my wife and I have dealt far too often with things that are absolutely of no interest to us: pension insurance, buying a house, ugly family cars. That totally drains your progressive self-confidence. " However, this crisis will pass: "At some point you will accept that the kids have turned you into staunch citizens who go to bed at 9 p.m. and put coasters under your glasses."

Viola Tami also has two young sons. “For a long time, my ego was in the top three of the priority list. But I've lost it over the past four years. Just like dealing with myself. " How do I feel in the morning, how at noon and how in the evening? What could become of me Do the toenails need to be repainted? "Everything used to be very carefree." The 29-year-old actress and presenter describes her life before starting a family as follows: "Working, traveling, continuing education." Today: "Baby swimming, Robinson children's circus, play paradise."

If she met her old friends once a month, they would pop the third cork at midnight. She looks worriedly at the clock and thinks about the next morning: "At seven I have to go out with the dog, then feed the little ones and get dressed." At the time when she returned from the exit earlier, she is leaving for the zoo today. «We now have an annual subscription there. Ask me anything about the development of young animals: I know. "

Nevertheless: She trained the baby pounds away in record time, the blond hair falls shiny over the shoulders, the complexion is flawless. She doesn't look like a neglecting woman. Mothers stayed women. However, today it is no longer just the exterior that is registered: does she also cook with organic food? How nicely are your children dressed? How perfectly tidy is the apartment, how great is the relationship? You question this strange competition, but you are right in the middle of it: “I used to be free to decide where I want to belong. Today I automatically move where there are children, mothers and fathers. "

Slowing down everyday life is a challenge that can make you restless, believes Corinne Schacher Ehrat. Her older son is three years old, the second 18 months. The academic was fully employed until her mid-thirties. Accustomed to a tight daily program and tackling problems strategically, in their current everyday life sometimes chaos and an exhausting snail's pace prevail. “It is impossible to go to the playground and quickly go shopping because the little ones examine every pebble and leaf on the way, take off their jackets, put on their jackets, want to quickly walk past the fountain, discover a chestnut, are thirsty , Are hungry, have to go to the toilet ... »

The knowledge that toddlerhood is temporary is a relief for them. Soon there was a desire to return to the job. The 37-year-old has recognized that looking after children cannot be compared with everyday working life. Which office colleague would throw himself to the floor screaming if something was wrong? Today she finds a lunch break with work colleagues incredibly relaxing. "Because then eating has nothing to do with cooking, pureeing porridge, tying bibs and cleaning up afterwards."

All the mothers and fathers surveyed agree that the great moments of happiness with the children are not always worth mentioning. "For this reason, they may not be scientifically significant," speculates Corinne Schacher Ehrat. Nevertheless, they are there every day: a hug, a new formulation, howls of joy when they see you again in the evening.Thomas Lindemann puts it this way: "There is only one thing more stupid than having children: not having children."

Julia Heilmann and Thomas Lindemann: Children's shit. The honest parenting book. Verlag Hoffmann und Campe, 221 pages, approx. 26 francs