Whether planned or not, the birth of a child has a significant effect on the feelings and behaviors of the parents. Parents of newborns no longer have as much time or freedom to pursue their own interests or relationships with each other or outside the immediate family. Despite being forewarned, firsttime parents are usually surprised and disconcerted to discover the amount of time (24 hours per day, 7 days per week) required and the change in lifestyle that having a child entails (Alpert & Richardson, 1980; Sapiro, 1990).
Because a child competes for their attention and often dominates their lives, the parents' personal happiness and satisfaction with their marriage frequently suffers (Wallace & Gotlib, 1990). Mothers in particular complain that they are tied down by children and that children limit their ability to work outside the home and achieve financial stability (Jacoby, 1982; Roper Organization, 1985). In a study by Thompson and Walker (1990), one-third of the mothers who were interviewed reported that they derived no meaning or enjoyment from motherhood, and another one-third had mixed feelings about it. These negative responses should, however, not be interpreted as meaning that parenthood is without rewards. A child brings love, joy, and meaningful-ness to most mothers and fathers, and the process of bringing up a child can have a positive effect on the development of both the child and the parents. For example, Lowenthal, Thurnher, and Chiriboga (1975) found that the parents they interviewed evaluated the task of rearing a child as having been a source of growth and maturity for them personally. Be that as it may, full-time parenting is admittedly hard, time-consuming, and often frustrating work.
Like all behaviors, effective parenting is a combination of natural endowment and relevant experience. Some people seem to be "born parents," whereas others are clearly unsuited by temperament or ability to assume that role. At best, the latter do only a mediocre job of child rearing, whereas the former seem to know instinctively what to do in either calm or crisis. As much as it may seem to be innate, good parenting is a learned skill. Still, it cannot be learned exclusively from lectures and books. Effective parenting is, to a great extent, the result of growing up around people who know how to be parents—observing what they do, and applying those practices to the rearing of one's own children. It certainly helps if the child is attractive in physical appearance and behavior—good looking, healthy, and regular in eating and sleeping habits. Thank goodness, most babies are cute and appealing; otherwise, the task of rearing them would probably be even more difficult than it is.
Even under the best of circumstances, and with the best of intentions, child rearing is something of a juggling act. All parents make mistakes, but one should not despair. The resilience of children, coupled with the willingness of parents to learn from their mistakes, usually results in children who are fairly acceptable to the family and to society as a whole.
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