I'm Pregnant With My Third, Is That a Disaster for the Climate?

Every kid adds an additional 20 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions to be produced each year. But does having fewer children help solve global warming?

I’m pregnant with an eco-disaster.

My belly is currently growing larger with not my first, not my second, but my third child. My husband and I have already produced enough offspring to sufficiently replace each of us, making the decision to have one more seem, in this day and age, almost self-indulgent and excessive.

I am bringing into the world a demand for an additional 20 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions to be produced each year – assuming this child is like most other Americans. We’ve chosen to create another life, which means more than just additional sleepless nights for us. There will be consequences which ripple from the glaciers in Antarctica to the shores of Pacific islands.

As excited as we are for our third child, I cannot go more than a few days without being reminded by the media that the best way to fight climate change would be – or would’ve been – to have fewer children. Having one less child than I do, or choosing to have none at all, would have reduced my carbon footprint by 58 metric tons of carbon dioxide each year, according to the authors of one recent study published in Environmental Research Letters. Researchers argue this move far outstrips every other green practice, be it buying a hybrid car, eating a plant-based diet, or purchasing green energy.

This concern about population size is warranted. The planet is expected to house over nine billion people by 2050, tripling the world population from a century earlier. This explosive growth has taxed the earth’s resources like never before, and coupled with our fossil fuel reliant energy systems, has jeopardized the stability of our earth’s climate. People living in the developed world, like me and my children, are responsible for a much larger share of carbon emissions than those in the developing.

But taking a family-planning approach to climate change is a distraction, one I worry could lead us further away from solving the crisis.

Despite the emerging warnings about the consequences of reproduction, most Americans – 95 percent – want children, only one percent less than did in 1990, according to survey data. Americans describe their ideal family size as 2.6 children, the same size it has been for the last 40 years. And when families are done having children, they primarily cite financial reasons – the economy or the cost of raising a child – not environmental ones.

On the whole, couples will tend to have the family size they want, or at least the one they can afford, without regard to the environmental impact. The decision to have children remains too deep, too intimate to invite climate scientists into the bedroom.

So what do warnings about the environmental consequences of reproducing and recommendations to have fewer children accomplish?

While each of my three pregnancies seems to last a lifetime, I have spent most of my life not having children. Living in the developed world, I have found that not having children is relatively easy – a quick trip to the doctor’s office and a small pill have guaranteed that I am pregnant with my third, not my seventh, child.

By contrast, going vegan, buying a hybrid car, building a composting toilet, or recycling rainwater would’ve been considerably more difficult endeavors. Less subjective ones, as well. I could easily tell friends we had planned on having four children, but decided to stop at three because of the environmental consequences, when the truth was we made that decision upon realizing how much work children are.

Despite recent attention to reducing fertility rates, the number of births in the United States has generally been below the replacement rate since 1971. Nevertheless, our impact on the environment has grown. Recommendations that tell young adults that the best thing they can do is exactly what they are already doing provide a false sense of accomplishment when no substantial changes have been made. Instead, they risk perpetuating an unsustainable status quo.

Having one less child than we might have otherwise will not solve the pressing need for widespread reduction in our per capita carbon emissions. The carbon footprint of an individual should not be ignored, but the choices any individual person or family makes will have little impact on global average temperatures.

With the United States withdrawing from the Paris Accord, the most pressing action for adults to take is not reduce the number of the children they have, but rather to lobby their elected officials to take seriously the threat of climate change and to pursue policies that will reduce our country’s carbon emissions. The best way to reduce a carbon footprint is not accomplished at the individual level, but at the societal level. One family recycling, composting, or foregoing one more child will not have the same impact as comprehensive policy changes.

Children are the reason we must act to stem the impact of climate change. If we devalue them, we risk devaluing what we are fighting for. If I am forced to choose between my air conditioning and my children, I would gladly give up any semblance of human comfort for their protection. Choosing between fossil fuels reliance and future generations should be equally as easy.

With great fecundity – or even mildly above average fecundity – comes great responsibility. My husband and I chose to bring an additional life (who brings with him or her additional consequences) into this world. I have no illusion that the life of my unborn child is justified by the possibility that she might be the one who grows up to “solve” climate change for humanity. I do not believe my child’s life needs to be justified. But each of my children do serve as a constant reminder that my duty to preserve and protect our planet’s future, and in doing so to create a better world for all children, is greater still.

Dreaming or Doing – The Perils of Pinning

I wonder about all this time and effort brainstorming, designing, and planning. What about the doing?

I recently read a laugh-out-loud article in Real Simple magazine that depicts the Pinterest version of the perfect morning. In it, author Raquel D’Apice peppers in fake links to made-up DIY projects like “simple felted dryer-lint slipper tutorial” as she satirizes the frenzied follies of motherhood.

It got me thinking about my reluctance to enter the Pinterest world, which has felt less like a polite refusal and more like bracing myself against a torrential storm in a doorway, appendages sprawled out like Spiderman. Everyone’s Pinning, right? Why not give it a go?

It’s not for fear that I won’t like it. It’s for fear that I’ll really, really like it. I already have more than enough half-finished projects kicking around my life: painting that trim in the bathroom, crafting that hot air balloon stencil painting for my daughter’s room, opening those boxes we haven’t unpacked since leaving the condo, building that asparagus bed, writing that memoir, reupholstering that chair, finishing my second child’s baby book seven years later…the list goes on. But the twitching response is building to an alarming crescendo.

People have raved about Pinterest’s gardening boards, parenting boards, meal planning boards, style boards, home decorating boards, and, of course, cat-themed boards. I wonder about all this time and effort brainstorming, designing, and planning. What about the doing? The follow-though? The roll-your-sleeves-up-and-get-to-work execution of a task?

If allowed entry, I could see myself tumbling right down the rabbit hole – broadening my horizons wider and wider as I drift along random redecorating Pin tangents until I’ve dreamt up enough collages to construct an entire neighborhood, let alone my tiny half-bath. My Pin-to-completed project ratio would be dismal.

I’m guilty of allowing myself to be lured by the deceptive charm of a project that is born, lives, and dies entirely in my imagination. If I throw enough vivid detail at it, it seems real(ish). My book, for example: I can imagine its cover, a title, the foreword I’ll beg of an accomplished author acquaintance. I can listen to podcasts and TedTalks on writing a best seller, research how to find an agent, and how to market a memoir.

Or, I can write it. I can decide to fit it into my life – carve out time, pore over my outline, and let it flow.

So what holds people back? The inability to delay gratification? The need for instant results? Laziness? Or is it apprehension that threatens productivity? Are we worried about outcomes being less than perfect…not living up to our expectations? Or worse, becoming a Pinterest Fail? For shame!

You’ve seen the “Nailed it!” montages, yes? The Pinterest projects gone so, so wrong. I first found them on Facebook, of all places. They feature photos comparing the perfect Pinterest project to real attempts made by actual humans. Envision the effort to bake and decorate that perfect porcupine birthday cake (ouch), or cook those owl-face eggs (better just go ahead and scramble ‘em). And how about those sweet yellow ducklings nestled on delicate cupcakes that look more like they’ve been left to melt on a hot sidewalk next to their regurgitated late-night happy meals. I could indulge for hours (mostly because I’m avoiding the first sentence of my sixth chapter in the memoir). Commiseration is comforting.

More than likely, there’s not only one obvious excuse for stalling and procrastination. We’re also busy. Really, really busy. A BBC article cites busyness as the current “indicator of high success,” yet task-completion apparently wanes when our brains are stuck in this spinning hamster wheel mode. Our time management skills worsen and we prioritize the trivial over the important.

For all this keeping busy, the amount of time spent working (at the office or from home) in Europe and North America hasn’t actually increased in recent decades. We just feel busier, stay busier, act busier (even outside of work). Sort of like how my dishwasher does some stuff for an hour and a half to our dishes but leaves the cups smelling like a wet dog.

I know I’m fabulously adept at acting busy. I can create any number of seemingly imperative roadblocks to finishing crucial tasks. When I need a distraction, I can call on the weeds in my vegetable garden, or research for my contract work, my kids’ endless wishes, or home construction projects, or even get a few more hours of sleep when I could be busting out 75 words per minute on my book.

Or, I could turn to that mountain of unfolded clean laundry that spends its days on my bed and nights on the couch. Ha – I kid, I kid. What other than laundry would I dole out as a consequence for sibling squabbles? Exercise also rarely steps ahead in the pecking order, unless of course we count lugging ye olde laundry mountain around the house.

Although the BBC article argues we’re only under the guise of being more busy than generations past, the trend of time spent parenting has been steadily increasing for years. We prioritize being with our offspring, and our little ones are plugged into more activities than ever before. Many parents feel we have less to offer to ourselves when we’re so lovingly dedicated to childrearing.

A parent pal of mine admitted she can only plan day-to-day, sometimes hour-to-hour, because the adulthood juggle-struggle is real. She can’t think ahead to next soccer season or even next week when her daunting to-do list for this afternoon demands her full attention. Amen.

In my marriage, my husband and I have organically settled on roles, for better or worse. He works the steady full-time job with benefits and a retirement plan, and I work creative part-time, flexible jobs while shouldering the bulk of childcare, cooking, housecleaning (toilets are NOT terrariums!), and general management involving all the normal coordination associated with family life.

Don’t get me wrong, Papa doesn’t receive a cigar and whiskey when he walks through the door. He changes diapers, cleans up after meals, cooks waaaaaay better than me, and we almost always pay the rec department to have him coach his own kids in sports. I just have more hours with the kids and at home.

My husband has the enviable ability to hyper-focus, and he really gets stuff done. During weekends or evenings when he’s upstairs banging boards into place and hanging sheetrock, his mind seems nowhere else. He assumes I’ll pick up the parenting slack in his absence. And I do. When he works, he works. When he relaxes, he relaxes.

When I work, I work and attend to dozens of other interruptions. When I relax, I relax and probably try to finish some of that leftover work. I’d like to believe it’s my true zest for living life to the fullest that propels me and not the hamster wheel spazz-brain.

As I’ve contemplated this theme, I’ve come to realize that in order to actually accomplish one goal, six or so others need to be pushed to the back burner. This is the reality of it, and I am trying to accept it, while also blocking out the guilt of neglect.

A friend recently asked me, “How are you so productive, lady?” I had just reworked an essay for the umpteenth time (during daylight hours no less). Before me, a crossroads: On the one hand, I could’ve silently basked in the glory of her kind perception like that mom who spends all day posting photos of her perfectly portrayed world. Instead, I answered honestly. “I ignored the runts for two hours.”

A few years ago, when they were still in the danger zone of consuming pennies, this wouldn’t have been possible. But they’re nine and seven and fairly self-sufficient. We were hanging out at my mom’s condo in the village. They scootered, biked, found kids in the neighborhood to play with, and watched a show on the tube. To fend off that lurking weight on my conscience for choosing writing over my kids, I remembered an article that attests this type of parenting helps nurture your children’s imagination and problem-solving skills. Winning!

Seriously though, something always has “to give.” If I make three batches of homemade jam from berries we’ve picked ourselves, guess what’s for dinner? Jam. When I spend hours preparing chicken pot pie with buttermilk drop biscuits for a special meal the night before my husband’s mouth surgery, guess what happens to my promise of helping him “snap lines” (construction talk)?

Take-backsies for the second evening in a row, because I’ll be cleaning up my culinary genius crime scene until bedtime. When I draft a piece to submit for publication, guess what happens to my contract work? Backburner city. When I play a three-hour round of my favorite childhood board game with my kids, guess what happens to the box next to “grocery shopping” on the to-do list. Unchecked. Looks like it’s jam again for dinner.

Life is full of “pulls.” I try to remind myself how incredibly fortunate I am to trip over the mundane. My family has food to eat and a home that’s safe and warm. We have our health and bonds of love. We don’t have real problems. Yes, life can feel harried and chock-full, but rarely disastrous. So I’m freed up to dream, plan, brainstorm, and when the stars align, resist self-limiting thoughts enough to get a job done.

That’s when it’s time to proudly proclaim (in earnest or with humor), “Nailed it!”

You're Going to Be a Different Mother to Each of Them

Every firstborn I know has a story like this. Mine has me on a train at two weeks old, on my first official field trip. My parents interpreted my newborn foot twitching and eye blinking as signs they had a budding zoologist on their hands. It’s the only thing that can explain why they carefully assembled a baby bag on a sweltering August morning (I have no idea how they kept my formula from spoiling) and boarded the three of us on a train to Penn Station for the hour’s trip into Manhattan, followed by an hour-long ride on a crowded subway. Destination: Bronx Zoo.
From what I am told, it was all going swell until the elephants. My father held me up to face the animals. He sweetly told me what they were, (not the scientific classification, I hope) and added, “They are gray, Linda, gray.”
At that point, a man standing next to us with his older kids began to laugh. My father, experiencing the self-doubt that soon becomes a parent’s faithful sidekick, felt the need to justify himself: “She can see colors!” he said indignantly, and we went on our way to the lions.
Fast forward 11 years. I was now the big sister of the family. One afternoon, my younger brother burst through the front door with more than his usual excitement. His kindergarten class was going on a trip, and he bounced around the living room with all the details. My mother was standing at the kitchen sink. Surprised he was making so much noise, she walked into the room, drying her hands. She watched him jump from the couch to the chair, shouting, “We’re going to the zoo!”
After a few seconds, it sunk in.
“You’ve never been to the zoo?” she asked.
“Nope!” he said. Then he went in for the easy lay-up:  “And we’re going on a train!”
I heard my mother tell this story often. She had a knack for timing and making people laugh. But at the end of it, I always sensed there was a little sigh. Maybe a tiny regret that they had been so single-minded with their firstborn and wished she’d had a little more left for that third kid. Or at least hadn’t been so surprised to hear he’d never been to the zoo. Or on a train.
It happened to me, too.
My first son’s baby book could have won a Pulitzer. It is a perfect record – in excruciating minutiae – of his first two years. My second son’s baby book is half as long, even though he reached the same exact milestones. When my daughter came along, she had two brothers who were barely out of toddlerhood and a mother and father who, on their best days, were in survival mode. Her nearly blank baby book taunted me most – more than forgetting to pay the mortgage or letting the laundry pile up into a health hazard. I kept promising myself I’d catch up and fill it in.
When she was 12, she found it on my bookshelf and noticed how measly the contents were. She took it upon herself to fill in the missing lines with the most rudimentary facts.
“How old was I when I sat up?” she called from the next room.
“Five months,” I cheerfully guessed. I didn’t dare add, “give or take a month.” And now I tell that story with the same sigh I heard in my mother’s voice when she told hers.
Maybe, instead of feeling guilty that we didn’t keep up our laser-focus as we added babies to the family, it’s okay to say, “I loved you all differently.” After all, I wasn’t the same person on my initial ride on the parenting roller coaster as I was when my third baby landed in my arms. The first time I was white-knuckled, and every decision felt do or die. By the third, I rode with my hands high above my head but also aware of all the things I had to let go. It was different ride every time.
Though I could hope to be a good mother, I wasn’t the same mother. There was always enough joy for all of them – it was just different joy. And plenty to go around. True for that firstborn, who gazes cynically at the elephants through two-week-old eyes that can only see 12 inches in front of her face, and for that last one, who can’t believe his good luck when his chance comes to get to the zoo. On a train.

Finding Peace as the Mother of a Rainbow Baby

My experiences, even the painful ones, have brought me exactly to where I want to be in my life. I have a loving husband and three beautiful children.

I shrieked. I shrieked so loud that I startled my husband Brian, who was sitting in the next room enjoying his New Year’s tradition of watching “The Twilight Zone” marathon. I didn’t mean to be so loud, but as I stared at the stick, I could barely contain my excitement.
I exited the bathroom quickly and assured Brian all was okay. No, I didn’t spot a mouse, I reassured him. I was having a baby! We were having a baby. We waited so long for this moment.
Brian and I had been married for over three years. We didn’t want to start a family right away. At 34 and 39 years old, we weren’t exactly youngins. However, we wanted to have all of our “ducks in a row” first. Home ownership and job security were just two of the goals that we sought to accomplish. Regardless, we knew that the clock was ticking. We knew that we couldn’t wait forever. It was time.
We were blessed.
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I almost felt too blessed. By the time my first trimester was over, I was feeling great. Everything looked good and I had no morning sickness. What else could I really ask for? The next step in our journey was to find out the baby’s gender. I couldn’t wait.
It was April 29, 2008 – a date that will be engraved in my mind forever. For weeks and days before, I entertained myself during daily commutes with a countdown. I stared religiously at my cell phone calendar. At last, I didn’t have to wait any longer. The day was finally here.
The plan was for Brian to pick me up after work and we would go for the anatomy scan. Secretly, I didn’t need a test to tell me what I already suspected: We would be having a boy. I knew it. I could just feel it.
While on the table, I became agitated. Brian was late, as usual.
It wasn’t his fault, though. Parking in NYC is always tough. When he finally walked in, all was forgiven. He even had his lucky green tie on, which was a nice touch.
“Your baby likes to hide,” the sono tech said right before she ran right out of the room. She mentioned something about getting the doctor to “take a look at something.”
There was something wrong. I just knew.
“I think I found something wrong with the baby’s heart.”
Those words would haunt me forever.
After a visit with a pediatric cardiologist, Brian and I went home in complete and utter shock. I never in a million years thought this could happen to my baby. However, I was right about one thing.
We were having a boy.
The heart defect was called Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome and it was serious. In a nutshell, our baby’s left ventricle was severely underdeveloped. There was no cure. He would need three palliative surgeries and eventually a heart transplant.
In the days that followed, I began to blame myself. The doctors didn’t know a great deal about the cause but they did know it had a genetic link. I tortured myself in trying to find out the real cause. I had many theories. One of them was the age factor. Should we have waited so long? Did our selfish decision result in a horrible birth defect?
The pre-birth guilt was nothing compared to the pain that I would feel after. On September 8, 2008, I gave birth to Liam. They took him right away to the NICU. I was absolutely shattered.
A baby full of tubes, lots of hand sanitizer, and the unnerving sound of machines. That was life in the NICU.
I kept a vigil with my baby for that first week. I couldn’t believe the nightmare I was living. Mostly, I couldn’t believe the nightmare Liam was living. My own heart felt as if it was being ripped out piece by piece.
He was doing well, they said. In a few days he would be coming home.
He never did.
The pain of losing a child is unfathomable. I felt as if I was living in my own personal hell. I didn’t think I wanted to go on.
I wanted to die.
In the months that followed, Brian and I kept vigil at the cemetery. It was the only way that we were able to spend time with our newborn baby.
We also met other bereaved parents at both support groups and the cemetery. Some of them went on to have other children. Moving on was the farthest thing on my mind. How did they?
Around the holidays, we spotted two parents at a grave. They had another child with them. Their angel had a little brother: a rainbow baby. I looked at Brian and cried. I immediately knew what our next move was to be: We would have another child.
This time, we weren’t waiting.
11 months later our tears would turn to joy upon the arrival of our baby girl. Two and a half years later, another boy would join her. We were blessed yet again.
In the age of parenting on social media, there are a few questions that seem to come up in mommy groups the most frequently:
“How old were you when you had your first?”
“How old were you when you had your last?”
“I am over 35 and pregnant, should I be worried?”
It will always be a touchy subject for some moms.
At this point in my life, I take nothing personally. I don’t question. I don’t engage in debate.
Most of all, I don’t blame myself for waiting.
The reality is that what happened was not our fault. It didn’t have anything to do with age, ethnic background, or anything else.
Brian and I just happened to get unlucky. In meeting other grieving families, we realized that we were not alone.
My experiences, even the painful ones, have brought me exactly to where I want to be in my life. I have a loving husband and three beautiful children.
I have learned to live with the heartache of a bereaved mom.
That doesn’t mean that it is easy now. At almost nine years later, it never will be.
My living children are fully aware that they have an older brother. Sometimes they get angry. Other times, they are sad. I realize that all those emotions are normal.
Not that it ever will bring my son back. However, he does live in my heart and soul.
I am so grateful that I was chosen to be his mother.

The Third Is Logarithmic

It was late September. Sunshine filtered through the dirty windows of the pediatric exam room. Dr. Cohen, sinewy and nasal, was perched on his rolling stool, avoiding my goldfish eyes. At the best of times, they give the impression I’m startled, that day they were wide with anxiety. Jack, my third child, was 10 days old.

“He’s very noisy,” I said, as Dr. Cohen’s stethoscope left circles on my baby’s yellow back. Looking at his notes, he told me Jack looked great and encouraged me to put him by the window in the sunlight to shake the jaundice. The simplicity of this suggestion, as if my son were a potted plant, confounded me.

When my husband, Dom, and our older sons, Max and Oliver, had come to take us home from hospital the week before, I’d noticed a rash on Max’s arms. He was five and didn’t seem bothered by the scratches. A doctor I didn’t recognize was called in. “You and the baby need to be quarantined until you get that checked. It looks like chicken pox.”

My knotted brain recalled Max being inoculated for chicken pox but I couldn’t be sure. It was too late to call the pediatrician. A crazy 24 hours ensued with tears and confusion. It turned out to be poison ivy from a preschool nature walk, but by that time I’d lost my footing and was struggling to regain it.

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Dom was back at work. Left alone for a moment, Jack was mauled by his brothers with a ferocity that left me pleading. Max was developing anxieties that matched my own, except for an irrational fear of automatic flush toilets. Jack was only quiet in my arms. Oliver, who was two, felt usurped and flicked his food even though he was hungry. The fridge was empty, bottoms needed wiping, diapers needed changing, and I seemed to be botching it all with a steady stream of tears.

I nodded at the doctor slowly, not saying that I barely recognized myself, that I was sure I would be here forever, and I was scared. Sensing, perhaps, that I needed something more, he added, “After two children, the third is logarithmic.” He mistook the breath knocked out of me as a laugh. I switched him a smile, so hungry for reassurance and yet terrified that, in spite of failing math, I actually understood him.

I looked up the word logarithm. It had something to do with an exponential increase. In the dark chasm between wake and sleep, mathematical equations taunted me, pinning me down and demanding something I couldn’t give.

I’d never seen the beauty in math. I found myself back in Mrs. Scott’s classroom, her red hair clashing with her peach pantsuit, as she tapped out algebra on the blackboard. I exasperated her. We both knew it. I shrunk into my seat as she approached my desk and leaned over to help the girl next to me. Sullen, I looked down, saw the ink on my fountain pen and sensed a power shift. With one flick, the ink bloomed on her behind. My chest swelled at being the bad girl for once and getting away with it. In my sleeplessness, the remembrance of defiance and shame twisted together like a knot I couldn’t untie.

Daylight again and I swung Jack in his car seat, trying to quieten him. I was back at the pediatrician even though the jaundice was gone, Oliver should have been napping, and Max had developed a fear of the exam room’s red-eyed automatic paper dispenser. Jack’s cry picked up, piercing me, more than discomfort, it seemed like anger. Something had to be wrong.

“He’s very noisy,” I said. “Hard to settle. Could it be colic?” The word I wanted to use was “neurological,” but it felt like a betrayal. What I didn’t say was I was struggling to make sense of anything. The doctor, mildly detached, inhaled, “He’s doing fine.”

Why was it so impossible I had a healthy child? Healthy children? Why was that so hard to accept? I could not answer the questions I threw at myself. I couldn’t shake the fact that it was greedy to have had a third child.

“We’ll get through this,” my husband said. Dom is patient and funny. “They will grow up.”

It was a joke, but it hurt. Growing up required a level of nurturing that felt impossible, a level of foresight I didn’t have. In the third week, I was back at the pediatrician, dark circles under my eyes.

At dusk, Dr. Cohen called to check if I was okay. I was giving Jack a bath.

“I’m fine,” I told my husband, the gray grout around the tub blurring. “Tell him I’m fine.”

“She says she’s fine,” I heard him say.

“Get her to give me a call,” he said.

Instead, I dropped the baby. It was mid-October and Jack was just shy of three weeks old.

Searching for air, I suggested we take the kids to Ardenwood to pick pumpkins. My husband went to get the car. I’d put the baby in the car seat and snapped it to the stroller base. I’d corralled the older boys down the front stairs. I’d positioned the stroller outside on the wide top step. I’d turned to lock the door.

The stroller rolled, creeping at first and then faster. The car seat unsnapped, fell, and flipped upside down on the concrete. My hand moved to my mouth but it was someone else’s gasp I heard. A woman walking past on the sidewalk. I was split in two. One of me standing frozen on the top step, spewing hot breath into my cupped hand. The other leaping, wild, seven steps in one go to reach the car seat and turn it over, terrified at what I might see. Jack, twenty days old, was upside down – a tiny race car driver in a roll cage. The older boys stood, sensing something had just gone seriously wrong. My husband took charge, driving to the emergency room. I rubbed Jack’s forehead gently with my thumb, cloaked in shame, certain a bruise was ripening.

“Jack’s fine,” Dom reminded me after we were discharged with no signs of trauma. He made forgiveness look so easy.

I’d like to say that with three boys spanning the full stretch of elementary school, there are things I get now and math is one of them, but that’s not true. Jack’s fall still confounds me. It seems impossible he was unscathed. In all my sleeplessness during Jack’s first year I felt something was wrong, and I was right. It was me. Taunting myself with a question I was too afraid to answer: was I worried for my children or was I worried for myself? In the end, we are one, intrinsic parts of the ongoing and complicated equation of family.

Giving Up on My Baby's Happiness Helped Me Find My Own

My goal as a parent shouldn’t be to simply stop my son’s crying and make him happy. Instead, it’s my mission to make my son resilient.

I was at a one-year-old’s birthday party with some friends from my college days when one of them posed a perfectly innocent question.
“How are you doing?” he asked.
“It’s really hard,” I replied, surprised to hear my voice quivering and feel tears welling up in my eyes, “when I just can’t seem to make my baby happy.”
He looked at me skeptically. “It’s not your job to make him happy,” he said.
I scoffed at my childfree-by-choice friend in my head. What did he know? He didn’t have kids or even want them.
How could I not feel responsible for my four-month-old’s happiness? Perhaps it was because I had spent so many years – and endured numerous fertility treatments – desperately wanting to be a mother.
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Maybe it was the not-so-subtle hints I got glancing at the titles of popular parenting books: “The Happiest Baby on the Block”, “Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child”, or “Brain Rules for Baby: How to Raise a Smart and Happy Child from Zero to Five.”
Or was it just Americans’ well-known obsession with being happy that somehow rooted itself deeply in my subconscious?
According to Jennifer Senior’s 2014 book, “All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenting”, parents today are confused about what role they should play in their children’s lives. We’ve outsourced many of the former jobs that parents used to provide for their offspring: schools teach them math, history, and job skills; doctors provide medical care; and the agricultural industry grows their food.
What purpose is left for modern parents? As a first-time mom of a very fussy baby, I was still trying to define what motherhood meant to me. The simplest task I could identify was making my son happy.
Colicky, challenging, spirited. These are the words I could have used to described my son. Experts say that colic – excessive crying – lasts only for the first three months of an infant’s life. But my son apparently didn’t get that memo. Until he was 15 months old, he would cry for a half hour a day for no apparent reason.
He hated being put into the car seat and hated getting taken out of it. He hated having his face washed and his diaper changed. He hated not being held, but was still cranky in my arms. Yes, he smiled at us, laughed and played at times, but overall, he just didn’t seem happy. He was definitely not the happiest baby on the block, and I was pretty miserable myself.
When my son turned eight months old, I had my first inkling that perhaps my childless college friend was right. My son had been born with blocked tear ducts that were not clearing up on their own. In order to open them up, a doctor had to plunge stainless steel rods through his ducts while a team of nurses held his head in place and his arms down.
It was not a particularly painful treatment, the doctor told me, but it was very scary for him. I could tell from his screams during the procedure (parents were not allowed in the room) and the way he clung to me when we were reunited.
“How did you make sure he wasn’t traumatized for life?” my mom asked, when I described the treatment to her over the phone.
I felt horrible about the fear and stress he had endured, and my mother’s words only made me feel worse. I had failed to protect my son from this experience. No wonder I couldn’t make him happy in his daily life.
I vented about my guilt and sadness over the procedure to a free therapist-facilitated mothers’ group that I attended weekly.
“A parent’s job isn’t to protect your child from negative experiences and emotions,” the therapist told me. “A parent’s job is to guide children through those negative experiences, so they can eventually work through them on their own.”
A light bulb went off in my head. I had found the purpose of my motherhood. My goal in parenting shouldn’t be to simply stop my son’s crying and make him happy, like so many book titles suggest. Instead, my mission became to make my son resilient – a concept becoming more popular in psychology and parenting circles to describe the ability to weather all the hardships life can throw at you.
Focusing on building my son’s adaptability entirely changed my parenting, and my mental state. Teaching resilience helped me survive his transition to toddlerhood, showing him that we don’t always get what we want and that we have to do things we don’t like sometimes – like changing diapers, getting in and out of the car, or going to the doctor.
My new parenting aim also enabled me to re-prioritize my needs. My son might want me to be his 24/7 playmate, but I had to teach him that Mommy needs 15 minutes to scarf down her dinner. I even gathered the courage to put him in part-time daycare – and lovingly support him through the accompanying separation anxiety – to give myself a break from the strain of being a stay-at-home mom and pursue my passion in environmental communications.
Having just two days a week to focus on writing articles and press releases rather than obsessing over temper tantrums and naps left me refreshed and more patient with my son. I was beginning to feel like a whole person again and a pretty good mom – a mom who was teaching her son important life lessons in resilience. I was happy, even if my son wasn’t always “The Happiest Toddler on the Block” (yep, that’s another parenting book title).
One morning, when my son was two, we were driving home from getting groceries.
“Mommy, Daddy was a boy and now he a man?” he asked, reflecting his recent interest in human developmental stages.
“Yes, honey,” I replied.
“And I a boy now and then I be a man?” he continued.
“Yes, that’s correct.”
“Ahhh, I don’t want to be a man,” he whined. “I want to be a boy forever!”
“Why do you want to be a boy forever?” I asked.
“Because I love it,” he said.
It turns out that despite my concerns and hand-wringing, my cranky little child was happy after all. Probably because I was finally happy, too.

Does Changing Careers Make You Selfish or Selfless?

The bay of boredom starts with a thought, an idea, a little voice inside your head telling you there has to be something more than what you are doing.

The bay of boredom starts with a thought, an idea, a little voice inside your head telling you there has to be something more than what you are doing, how you are living, and how it isn’t anything like you imagined it would be at this point in your life.
Or maybe it is what you imagined, but you never realized what you thought necessary for “happiness” was as far off as what you thought parenting would be like, because we all know that first year of parenting is filled with experiences we never thought we would have.
Maybe you’re not satisfied with your career, but you make amazing money. Maybe you even like your work, but the dullness and colorless everyday tasks are making you feel a little too ordinary for comfort. Maybe you are tired of the ordinary, ready to make a big change.
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If only you could get past the fear and anxiety that is the unknown. If only you could stop the unknown from plaguing every impulse to escape into a career or hobby you know would be the root of the contentment you have been looking for all along.
If you let fear stop you from achieving something that would fulfill you – that would make you feel like your presence really mattered – you will never find contentment. You will never find satisfaction. And if you don’t find regret, it will find you.
I know there are a lot of rational fears behind going for something completely different, something that pays for the food on the table and for your kid’s activities. Your job allows you that irreplaceable cup of Starbucks every morning, and those shoes you love but didn’t plan on buying.
It also allows you to feel important, even if that means seeming more important to others instead of knowing you are doing something important – that thing you’ve dreamed about doing since childhood that you never had the guts to do because you were told it wasn’t worth your time or worth a college tuition, that thing that would never be viable no matter how hard you tried.
Your parents told you to go for the money, pick the major that was the best bang for your buck. You did that, and where has it gotten you? It’s gotten you to the point where you’re building a career that you think about leaving every morning as you wake up to yet another day of busting your ass for someone else. You cringe on your hour-long commute to work alongside all the other worn down faces doing the same exact thing, living the same exact way you are, hoping and wishing for more.
You can’t help but wonder if they’re dreaming of leaving their job, because that’s all it is to them – just a job. Have they been just as engrossed as you have been in this prospect of making a transformation? A transformation into something scary…something at which they know they could fail, but decide to explore it anyway.
Are we really content? Or are we all just women and men and moms and dads roaming through the passage of life that has become our existence? And if we aren’t content, should we do something about it even though we have mortgages and daycare costs and our kids’ education to save for?
Our own parents are getting older. We need to save for that, too. It all starts to sound a little selfish to us and frankly too hard, too much work to start a new journey this late in the game. Raising these kids makes us lazy when it comes to our own happiness and well being. And let’s be honest here. We wouldn’t be able to have that Starbucks or buy those cute shoes if we were spending all our money investing in something from the bottom up. At least not for a while.
But can you put a price on investing in yourself? On becoming the woman you always strove to be and knew you could be?
Sometimes we aren’t content with being mothers alone. Sometimes there’s more that we want to do, be, and become. Even though women have come a long way, it seems that the world still expects us to be okay with raising our children while they’re little, when they need us the most. But that, for me, is when we most need an outlet – a career, a hobby. Something to remind us in those moments of darkness, when we feel that we are worthless as women, that we have worth.
Now that we have had our kids, they have changed and molded us into selfless, more motivated women. We should all feel free to do us, in the way we want to do it, with no shame, no guilt, and no regret. We do the best we can for our kids, but sometimes doing what’s best for them is doing what’s best for us.

Why Not Passing My Passivity On to My Daughter Is Top Priority

How much will she miss out on if she doesn’t ask? The unasked-for promotion. The raise. How much will she shoulder?

“I sure wish I could have a rice cake,” my daughter says quietly from the backseat. She is newly five, but has already mastered the female art of passivity.
It is unfair, perhaps, to call this a female trait. But she is my only daughter, and the only one who does this out of my sample size of three.
“I want a rice cake,” my three-year-old son will demand. If I’m lucky. More often, let’s be honest, it’s “Where’s. My. RICE CAKE!”
“Mommy, can I please have a rice cake?” my seven-year-old son will politely ask.
And my daughter will sit, quietly, muttering about her unmet desires.
It bothers me, more than it should, that she doesn’t just ask for what she wants. She is not a subservient child generally. She barrels rather than walks. She can be heard down the block when her brothers take something from her that she was using. Or that she was thinking about using. So her refusal to ask directly for things is even more incongruous.
In the front seat of the car, I ignore her. She didn’t ask for anything, so she gets nothing.
“I’m so hungry,” she resignedly moans. “I wish I could have something to eat.”
“You haven’t asked me for anything,” I say, feeling tense and slightly ridiculous as her brothers sit happily chomping. “If you want a rice cake, ask me for a rice cake.”
It bothers me. Because it’s bigger than a rice cake. How much will she miss out on if she doesn’t ask? The unasked-for promotion. The raise. How much will she shoulder? The quiet piling of household detritus. The building resentments.
It bothers me because I do it: “I wish we could keep this foster cat.” “Don’t you think a planter would look nice here?” “Anything is fine.”
And, even bigger, the simmering unasks. The “I’m tired of being the only one who cleans up around here. Why am I always the one who stays home with the kids when they’re sick? I’m so overwhelmed.”
A few months ago was particularly rough. It was filled with sick kids and a sick me, unexpected emergency house repairs, figuring out summer camps and schools for next year. It was filled with all those extras of parenting that tend to fall to the wife. And one after another, indeed they fell to me.
I do not work full time. My husband does. And so I expect the extras to fall to me – I do. But I hate the expectation of it. The assumption that these tasks are mine and mine alone. That no discussion is needed when a child is home sick, when 10 hours of figuring out how to repair the house is suddenly folded into my 20-hour work week on top of caring for our three children.
I was my daughter in the back seat, feeling sorry for myself because no one was giving me the rice cake. “Sure would be nice to get a thank you,” I found myself muttering, my resentment over the withheld treat growing, all around me the sound of crunching, the scent of popped rice.
Why not just ask for help? For acknowledgment? It’s right there. Everyone around me is asking for it and getting it. What am I so afraid of?
I worry that my husband will get defensive. I worry that I will have to shoulder a grudge about his response. I worry that I will hurt feelings, step on toes, come across all wrong.
Until one day, I don’t anymore. I put the kids to bed, come downstairs, and blurt more than say, “I’m feeling unappreciated. I feel like there’s been so much extra stuff this month. And I’m fine with doing it, but I need some acknowledgment.”
“I appreciate you!” my husband says, shocked at the outburst. “I’m sorry. I appreciate you.”
He beckons me toward the couch. I sit with him. We talk about it. We talk about what I need. And it is enough.
Now that is months ago, and it’s no longer enough. We are back into our habits. I still find myself modeling this behavior for my daughter, sighing as I pick up a discarded sock. “I wish people would pick up after themselves.”
She sees me say it. She absorbs it.
Today, she will wish for a rice cake. I doubt she will ask for one.

How to Give Yourself a Timeout After a Mom Meltdown

We don’t want to set a pattern of uncontrolled emotions for our children. How do we handle those moments that push us over the edge?

It should come naturally with adulting. Yet, somehow, it doesn’t. Having a kid or two only seems to make it worse. Much worse. I’m talking about being in control of our emotions when things aren’t going quite as planned.
When the to-do list is a mile long, the toddler is pounding on the floor like an overzealous percussionist, the baby is screaming like a fangirl at a Justin Bieber concert, and you’re trying to get out the door with a diaper bag, a car seat and what’s left of your sanity, you may find yourself in the throes of a mommy meltdown. It may involve slammed doors, really loud words, ugly crying, and eating your way through a sleeve of Oreos. When the dust settles, it always involves guilt.
Honestly, if the story of my life were a three-line meme, it would read: “I was a Zen person. Then I had kids. The End.”
I’m not being facetious. It’s like kids know exactly which buttons to push. They’re like the glassy-eyed scientists in the movies who know the sequence of switches to launch a nuclear missile. Except, in this case, Matt Damon doesn’t swoop in to disengage the warhead just as the world is about to explode.
Momplosions happen, and the only audience is a couple of bewildered kids who wonder why mommy is acting so strange.
We don’t want to set a pattern of uncontrolled emotions for our children. How do we handle those moments that push us over the edge?
While I’m no expert, life experience (my kids are a bit older now) and research have brought to light some practical ideas of the before, during, and after of these mommy meltdowns.

Take some things off your plate

Don’t roll your eyes just yet. Yes, I get it: Your family needs clean undies. Yes, dinner needs to be somewhat edible. Yes, you have to make that Target run when you’re down to the last diaper. But not every single thing needs to get checked off that list. Take a long hard look at your to-do’s and give yourself permission to start hacking. I know it sounds distinctly un-American to not have your child play a sport or go to a ballet class. But maybe this season your child misses Peewee Soccer. Give library story time a pass and read books at home in your PJs. You know your schedule. And you know what can be nixed. The world may see you as slacker mom. But there are little eyes who see so much more.

Ask for help

It’s humbling. It’s embarrassing. It makes you feel stupid. But, sometimes, it’s okay to retire the Supermom cape. Ask a friend if she can watch your kids once a week (and do the same for her). Divert your Starbucks fund to hire a house cleaner once in a way. Ask your mom-in-law if she can watch the kids while you treat yourself to a quiet moment. Sure, the kids may be a bit sugared up when you get home, but it’s so worth it.

Accept that you’ll be late

There’s a special edition of Murphy’s law for parents. Just when you’ve strapped the three-year-old into his car seat, he will declare he needs to go potty. Mommies the world over have testified to this strange phenomenon. For someone like me who is paranoid about being on time, accepting that I’ll be late was a huge challenge. But the sooner you realize that it saves your sanity, the better. At first, you’ll wince and smile apologetically while you explain your tardiness. Then you realize there’s a whole tribe of you who chronically late and sleep deprived and that it’s going to be okay.
Even after you’ve done all that you could to avoid potentially explosive situation, it happens. You feel like you’re going to go over the edge any minute. You recognize that you’re at the very point of no return. What do you do?

Give yourself a time out

Time outs aren’t just for little people. Hand the kids over to your spouse or put them in front of a screen – and take yourself out of the situation that’s making you break into hives. Here’s the thing, though: You need to use the time to re-calibrate, and to embrace the emotions of the moment. Just like your toddler in time out is not allowed to play with his toys, stay away from your favorite toy (your phone, perhaps?). Staring at a screen is just going to raise your blood pressure and make you more tired. Give yourself permission to breathe. And, no, you can’t fold the laundry while breathing.

Don’t express it

That’s right. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to vent to get it off your chest. Research shows that expressing anger while we are angry actually makes us more angry. But you didn’t need a study to tell you that. You’ve seen that once the lid is off and the words are being poured out, there’s no stopping the flow. So, wait it out. When you speak to your child later, you’ll be disciplining from a place of controlled emotion, rather than anger.
Despite your best efforts and all the pro tips in the world, there are going to be times when you say things you don’t mean. You feel like an ogre – and not the cute kind from Shrek.

Own it

Get down on the floor, look your child in the eye and say you’re sorry. Parents mess up. And parents apologize. We pick up the pieces and try to do better the next day. And the next. Our kids may not know how we tried to stop the yelling. But they will remember that when mom messed up, she always said she was sorry. That’s a precious lesson we can teach our children.

Learning to Live With Two Moms

It was a constant battle between the two moms in me: The grouchy, yelling, impatient mom and the kind, tolerant and understanding mom.

“You were a great mom,” my grown son smiles and assures me. “Yeah, we had some rough times but that happens with all kids and their moms. It’s just part of growing up. If you hadn’t fought those battles with me, I’d probably be a mess now!”
It doesn’t matter how many times I hear from my sons that I was a good mom, I still look back and wonder: Could I have done it better? Of course, hindsight is 20/20 but I know I was an impatient mother, a “yeller” instead of an “asker,” and rarely did I wait for a response before I bellowed out a follow-up command.
“Pick all those toys up and put them in the bin NOW!! Dinner is almost ready and that den better be clean if you want to eat. Do you hear me?” I barked.
“But mom, we are just–” they’d implore, trying desperately to explain why the toys couldn’t possibly be picked up before dinner.
“I don’t want to hear anymore words from your mouths!” I’d snap. “The only sound I want to hear are those toys landing in the toy bin! Now do it!”
They were so young, only three and seven, but I had a full-time job, a chronic illness, a house to keep, animals to feed, and an over-worked husband coming through the door any second. I had no time for excuses. Finally submitting and tossing the building blocks, wrestling figures, trucks, cars, and tools into the toy bin, they would plant themselves in their assigned seats at the table, dejected and teary-eyed.
Why wasn’t I the kind mom, the patient and loving mom? Could I not have listened to their plea and granted them a few more minutes to put the final touches on the “biggest shopping center in the world?” They had been working so hard, but I’d hear none of it. I had things to do and a tight ship to keep on course. There was still homework my oldest needed to complete, baths, story time, and finally bed, accompanied by all the usual shenanigans to stay up a while longer.
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Even back then, I felt the guilt seeping in as the clock hands edged closer to midnight and I shoveled yet another load of laundry into the washer. It was the first quiet moment I’d had to myself since before leaping out of bed at 6 a.m. to see my husband off. I’ll do better next time and be more tolerant, I’d promise myself through the tears of remorse. Visualizing their little faces, deflated and broken, combined with blurts of “you’re mean mommy” and “I don’t like you” broke the heart of the “good mom” who lived inside me.
She was the mom who would have handled the messy den debacle with words of compassion and understanding. “I know you boys have been working really hard on this. Wow, is that a two-level shopping center?” she’d exclaim proudly. “Yeah, and there’s even a gas station, mom! It’s really cool!” they’d reply with twinkling eyes and grand enthusiasm. “Well, even construction workers and project managers like your dad have to stop and eat dinner, so why don’t we carefully slide this shopping center under the window so nothing happens to it and you can continue working on it tomorrow, okay? It’s time for dinner now so hurry along and come to the table,” she’d say walking into the kitchen to plate up their food.
It was a constant battle between the two moms in me: The grouchy, yelling, impatient mom, trying desperately to accomplish the impossible, unable to relax and enjoy her children; and the kind, tolerant and understanding mom who always found time to appreciate and encourage her kids while managing to balance home, family and career without a hitch.
On days I felt completely defeated and certain I was the worst mom ever, I’d recall a favorite quote by Maya Angelou: “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” I had so much on my plate back then and looking back now, I wonder how I managed as well as I did.
My sons are grown now and I have a terrific relationship with them both. We’ve shared fond memories of their childhood and talked about the not-so-great one’s too. They know there’s no such thing as a perfect mom, and I’ve come to realize I’d set myself up for failure striving to be one. But through it all my children felt my deep and abiding love for them and know I did my best.
I think we all have two moms inside, and on any given day, each does the best she can. And when they know better, they do better – together.