This one comes to us from our friend, Samuel Son.

We just threw a sixth birthday party for my third and youngest (and last) child. It got me thinking that in the last ten years of my life, raising three tiny human beings, I had been tempted to drive away to Costa Rica–or the bordering state–drive off a cliff or jump in front of an Amtrak more times than I can count. I don’t remember my existence before the kids. Those years of freedom appear like foggy dreams. I don’t remember the last time I had two straight solitary nights, or went dancing with my wife. “Children are our future,” Whitney Houston sang. If Houston was honest, she would have used another verb: “take.” With three kids, I don’t have a life.

A friend recently announced that she is pregnant with a fourth child, and then broke out into tears. She couldn’t play it off as tears of joy, because she was bawling. Congratulating her felt like cruel and unusual punishment, but then what do I say? “I just have to go through my grief period before I can celebrate my unborn child,” she confessed. She is a spiritual director, and wisdom is found in the acceptance of truth, jagged though it may be.

There are moments, of course, when my slave work for the three tiny taskmasters seems worthwhile, but they are, as admitted, “moments,” short and infrequent, like shooting stars–you will miss them if you don’t pay attention. I like to sneak into their rooms once they are knocked out for the night. Their faces under the soft moonlight, tempered by the shades, are angelic. Children, when quiet, are actually quite cute.

But when they awake, they return to their monstrous wildness, the story of Jekyll and Hyde, only in reverse.

When I first read the story of Cronus devouring his little deities like dainties in my 7th grade English class, I was appalled. Murder of an enemy out of rage is within the sphere of possibility. But cannibalism of one’s children is beyond evil. But after years of parenting, I would at least argue for leniency towards Cronus if I had to defend him in court. And the story of Zeus giving birth to Athena after a splitting migraine doesn’t sound ridiculous anymore. I pop ibuprofen at least once a week–although my 40+ year-old joints might be in league.


Multiple studies have finally blown the myth of children bringing happiness. Good to know that I’m not the only one unhappy being a parent; misery requires company. Studies from Baylor University, the University of Texas at Austin and Wake Forest University have numbers to show that parents are not happier than couples without children. When a team ranked different activities on happiness, watching children rated low, right next to vacuuming, an activity that gives pleasure only to OCD people.

More interestingly, the U.S. has the largest “happiness gap” between parents and non-parents compared to 22 industrialized countries. America makes parenting, which is hard in itself, harder. Matthew Andersson, assistant professor of sociology at Baylor University, pegs this larger happiness-gap to “relative lack of workplace packages of policies such as paid sick time, paid vacation, flexible work hours and paid maternal or parental leave.” So countries with generous packages fare better? “In those places, parents might be slightly happier,” says Andersson. “Might be slightly” are such anemic words.

I have another hunch. Isn’t the success culture of America spoiling our child rearing? In this land, where we became a nation by fighting for it, we are our successes and failures. There is no other ground for our identity. So we are driven to succeed at work. The same drive bleeds into to our parenting. Now with child rearing, its double whammy. To be successful in raising children, children themselves have to be successful. The home has become yet another place I have to prove my right to be. So even at home, we can’t quite be ourselves. We have to be the “super mom” and the “presidential dad.” You can’t be Obama, but heck, if Obama can raise such well-mannered and successful children while running this sprawling behemoth country, then you should do better, or at least match him at your own home, your fiefdom.


Ian has to dribble the soccer ball like Messi, Elina must have Yo-Yo Ma’s touch in Cello, and Dylan, now that he is six, has to get serious with his studies, because his kindergarten performance will determine his destiny. And they must all succeed so I can feel good about myself. The day after Dylan’s first quarter, his teacher emailed the parents explaining that in kindergarten, the max score is 3, and not 4, since the point is to get the foundations of education, reading and mathematics. Some other parent had already beat me to the question; thank God.

“There’s an incredible anxiety around parenting here (USA) that I just don’t feel in other countries,” says Christine Gross-Loh, author of “Parenting Without Borders,” a comparison study of modern parenting cultures in developed nations. Our unhappiness results from our collective anxiety over our children’s college and future prospects, and by our merciless judgment of each other. We rank parents. “By the judgment you mete, shall you be judged.” Judgment of others is always self-judgment. Legalism in our living rooms. Legalism is in the milk we feed our children.

Parenting is in need of grace.

The day after Dylan’s birthday, all three kids woke up thirty minutes earlier than the alarm. They washed and dressed themselves. Ian was eager to finish his book, “Hatchet.” Elina practiced Cello, Suzuki level 2, her bows still screeching at intervals. Dylan played with his new Thomas the train. I put extra layer of Nutella in their sandwhiches. They came down when called. We ate breakfast with amity that felt like world peace. There were no skirmishes over imaginary countertop borders. I drank milk Dylan didn’t finish.

“This is a nice morning,” I noted. They all agreed and were as surprised as I was. It was pure grace. A moment I did nothing to create. Nothing for any of us to do except gratefully relish in it.

“Can we do this tomorrow morning?” I asked. They nodded.

Tomorrow morning was the very opposite. Elbows violated international borders. Grace can be neither manufactured nor trapped under the weight of expectation.

That grace-filled morning shed light on why I enjoy them best when they are asleep, and it’s not because they are not talking back. Rather, in that stillness, I see them as they are, not as my projects for justification, but as human beings with the breath and spirit of God filling their lungs. It’s easier to recognize grace when I am not frantically bellowing commandments. I kiss them on their lips.