Adventures in Baby Having

It’s already been two years since I first found out I was pregnant. This is astonishing.

I can still remember exactly how it felt to have that petrifying fear first grip my body, and then refuse to let go for nine(ish) months. It was scary—not just the whole childbirth process (the physics of which I still don’t understand—partially because I choose not to think about it for too long), but the whole motherhood thing. Scary, scary motherhood.

I didn’t worry that I’d screw up my kid. I came from a bunch of weirdos, and I still turned out pretty decent. Kids are kind of resilient. It was more selfish than that.

I worried that I’d screw up my life.

Two years later, I ask Josh, “Remember how afraid we were when we found out we were having a baby? Do you think we were right? Did any of that stuff come true?” And he shakes his head without hesitation. “No. Definitely not.”

I started reading Bringing Up Bebe recently, and though nothing about the book is really monumental just yet, one little sentence kicked me in the face. Druckerman talks about the idea of  “the culture of total motherhood” in America.


That’s what I was afraid of.

“Total motherhood.”

Do you know what being a “Mommy” sounds like? It sounds like spending your day absorbed in “binkies” and “diapies” and “onesies” and “potties.” It sounds like doing all kid things all the kid time.

Two years later, I realize that hasn’t happened. Which isn’t to say it couldn’t happen—I know plenty of families that dine only at restaurants with ball pits and haven’t seen a non-animated movie in years. But in my house, sort of on purpose but mostly by accident, this hasn’t happened. Little Josh can hang. He’s like a little friend who’s smaller than us and a little limited in communication, but he eats what we eat and enjoys our sense of humor and is fine playing in his room while we do our own thing. He tags along to friends’ houses, he wanders hip art galleries, and he doesn’t mind the occasional late dinner. There are parks and picture books and crayons and Legos, but they don’t fill the entire day and I enjoy them in small doses.

I worried about bringing someone new into a family without having ever met him. I dated Josh for three whole years before I decided I knew enough about him to live with him. I didn’t have that luxury with Little J. He just sort of… showed up. What if we didn’t get along? What if he demanded chicken fingers and mac and cheese every night, refused to listen to anything but Mary Had a Little Lamb on repeat, or wasn’t satisfied unless the living room was covered with ugly chunky plastic things from Babies R Us? But little ones… they seem to be sort of flexible. He’ll eat avocado toast or a mild curry. He bops his head to The XX and Fleet Foxes. He’s content with a ball and a stack of wooden blocks. Or a tissue box. Or a crumpled piece of paper (literally).

It’s kind of nice that he fits in so well with us. It’s also pretty considerate of him to be so easygoing. It makes it easier to continue in the adventures we started before this new baby-adventure came along. Just this weekend, we went on a quick trip to the hardware store and spur of the moment, decided to stop at a Mexican place for margaritas and guacamole. It was nine at night (well past bedtime), and we hadn’t planned on it, but Little J went with the flow. The little adventures still happen, and it reassures me that the big ones can, too.

Two years later, despite all the rough bits, it’s really nice to have him here.

Photo of one of Liz & Josh’s recent adventures, from their personal collection

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  • Yes, thank you Liz. This gives me hope and keeps me wishing our little one will decide to come soon (yeah, we are going through that journey, as much as I like not to think about IT too much… like him who shall not be named).
    For some reason I was never scared that we would stop having adventures (and notably travelling) once the kid (s) come, they will just come along, and reading Liz makes me see it can be done.
    Also… the total motherhood concept made me think of an interesting article that Lauren from better in real life talked about yesterday about the overprotection and “spoling” of kids and how that is affecting them in comparison to other cultures.

    • Liz

      Yes, I read that New Yorker article! It was really interesting (if sort of dismal).

      • meg

        Right? I was so excited when she decided to have her eight year old take out the trash. And then she told us he was actually 13 and wasn’t skilled enough for it (head desk).

        • Erin

          I KNOW! My response to her taking it away again was /another/ headdesk. Why were you cleaning up the mess he made? He’ll learn to put the lid on tight after picking up the trash!

          • meg

            That’s what I said. That’s a mistake you don’t make too many times in a row. They’re CHILDREN, not stupid. (Or in this case, teenagers.)

        • Yes! This part KILLED me! Even worse? When her husband basically just shook his head and laughed about it. So much head-desking.

  • A-L

    This post is reassuring for those of us terrified of total motherhood. In fact, I’m glad there’s a name for it. Though this doesn’t cover all the fears I have concerning motherhood (cost being the other big one), it raises a topic that should be discussed. How someone can have a child and does not have to give up everything that they are. Because that’s very nearly how I view it now. I’ve been staying on birth control until I feel ready to give up almost everything. But not having to give everything up sounds so much better. Thanks for posting!

    • meg


      • The only examples of motherhood I had growing up were those that gave up everything and were completely defined by being mothers. And I have 8 aunts plus several best friends of my mom…. So I thought that was this sort of inevitable, unavoidable thing that would happen to me. As such I’ve dreaded becoming a mother while at the same time really wanting to have kids!

        THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR THIS STORY! I often feel completely alone with my views – from name changing to motherhood and APW is the only community I’ve found where I don’t feel like a total freak.

        Meg and the APW team, I <3 you.

    • Chiming in from the “total motherhood” camp. There are some of us who don’t feel we’ve given up anything we cared about when we submerge into mothering. No wrong about it, no right about it. We are all different people. Please remember in this discussion that some of us actually find ourselves there at the other end of a toddler’s hand. One that keeps handing us detritus, by the way.
      Oh, and I’m back at work, at 55, as VP of blah blah blah, managing a team of people. Even “total motherhood,” when the littles are little, doesn’t have to preclude a demanding and satisfying high-powered job later.

      • Liz

        I think this is a good point, but I wonder if I would then really call you a “total mother,” there, Lisa. It’s like the housekeeping stuff we’ve talked about on here before. If you’re not just doing what you’re “supposed” to do, but instead doing what you LOVE to do, I’ve got no arguments.

        I think I’m thinking about the mothers around me who regularly use the word “sacrifice” in talking about their relationships to their kids.

        • I sacrificed nothing. I got way more than I gave. I agree, some people are built like that around motherhood, some are not. Isn’t necessarily tied to how “good” we are with kids either. I would add, also, that one can’t necessarily predict how it will play out once the baby actually arrives. For some of us, motherhood and the concomitant hormones are almost like taking psychedelic drugs, unpredictable, overwhelming, mind-altering. In some cases, even addictive.

          • ElisabethJoanne

            “For some of us, motherhood and the concomitant hormones are almost like taking psychedelic drugs, unpredictable, overwhelming, mind-altering.” And that’s what scares the child-free among us. Meg posted about how she doesn’t expect being a mother to change her, at her core. But then so many people say it does change them, which is fine. But then some of those people say they couldn’t predict it, which is not fine.

            I like how I am now. I don’t want to volunteer to possibly go into a mind-altered state for a number of years.

        • Blue

          Why does “sacrifice” have to be a bad thing?

          I feel like I have sacrificed a ton to take care of my family (which is admittedly complicated by severe disability). I don’t think this makes me a better person than anyone else, (if that’s the perceived problem with the way “total mothers” project) I just think it is the reality of our family.

          In fact, for me, acknowledging how I feel about the things I have sacrificed, is what helps me cope with them. Yeah, I grieve for some of the things that aren’t going to happen for me anymore/anytime soon, but I firmly believe that you must play the cards you are dealt. I haven’t lost myself just because some aspects of my life have changed (in a big way). But I am living a different life than the one I imagined.

          • Liz

            This is where we get into semantics, I think.

            Because there are certainly specific doors that are no longer open to me as a result of having a baby (and as a result of the choices I’ve made in response to having a baby). That’s with anything, though.There are specific opportunities that are no longer available because I’m married, because I live in Philadelphia, because I chose to get my degree in education. I don’t consider any of them (including the concessions made for baby) “sacrifices,” even if they make me a little sad. My life is very far what I’d planned for myself, but I haven’t lost MYSELF when I lost my grip on The Plan.

            If I were to change who I am and what my large picture goals are, I would call that a “sacrifice.” A painful one.

            Once we get into labeling things “sacrifices,” we inch toward a slippery slope of martyrdom and blame. If there was anything in my life that I considered a sacrifice for my son, I would spend a lot of time thinking about why I gave up something so precious and why I count it so painful.

          • Blue

            I think you are right about the semantics – I was using a more broad view of sacrifice. I am still definitely myself, despite the things I have given up, which as you point out, can be the result of any choice we make. Maybe I should rethink my word choice, because I certainly wasn’t thinking anything remotely in the area of martyrdom, and will gladly jettison “sacrifice” if that’s the conclusion.

            I guess where I see the difference that I was trying to articulate, is that those changes to the plan are sometimes also the result of choices that we didn’t make, and acknowledging the grief about them helps with the coping. To me that feels like/sounds like a sacrifice – but one that I accept, and doesn’t change who I am, but it has changed my large picture goals – or maybe just made me redefine them.

          • Liz

            I completely understand what you’re saying, too. (I get so hung up on words!!) I would never want my son to hear me say that I “sacrificed” for him, but I can understand how using that word makes sense in your own mind in processing the choices you’ve had to make.

        • Or the ones who “martyr” themselves to the cause, who complain about what they have to give up to have their baby. They scare me.
          I have no complaints about women who stay at home, become total mothers and love it, mainly (possibly) because I dont have a lot to do with most of them. I do have problems with the ones who then negatively compare themselves to women who work or who dont have children – those are the women that make out they are sacrificing everything for their kids, and it makes me sad.

      • meg

        To be fair, there is NOTHING I love more than taking care of kids, and nothing I’m better at. Literally, nothing. It’s my number one gift, and I have a lifetime of training to back it up. So will I love being around my baby? I’m SURE I will y’all. Am I going to give everything up/ submerge myself/ etc? No way. It’s not how I’m built. So, there is some knowing yourself too. I’m built to be gifted with kids, but not for submersion. This is very very possible, I know many people built just the same way (brilliant with their kids, happy with daycare), we’re just currently getting lost in the cultural shuffle.

        • Mmouse

          I’ve spent the last decade of my life surrounding myself with young children. Early childhood development is my passion & I love spending time with kids. I know I will enjoy building Legos, coloring, and listening to silly kid’s music when my child is born. BUT I also enjoy many other non-child centered activities and look forward to continuing those with a child around. I like Liz’s message that “total” motherhood is giving up things you love because you “can’t” enjoy them with a kid, not that mothers enjoying spending time (even lots of it) doing “kid” things.

        • Ambi

          Wow, you just echoed something I have always thought about myself: that, very literally, dealing with babies and kids is what I am best at in the world. It has really caused me a lot of pain, honestly, since I don’t have kids, am not even engaged (in my early thirties), and worry that kids may not be in the cards for me even though I really want them. But I have always thought that, since I know how much I really LOVE kids and how good I am with them (sorry, that sounds awful, but it is true), that I just naturally WOULD be one of those “total motherhood” women who completely throws herself into raising them. Reading these posts for the last two days has made me wonder if maybe I should try to restrain myself from that because it would be healthier for me in the long run. Now I am seeing it as being something related to the way people are naturally built, and I plan to (eventually) just go with the flow of what feels right.

      • Thank you for that, Lisa.

      • I love your comment Lisa, with all my heart. While Total Motherhood might not be for everyone, it *is* for some people and it’s no less valuable than Partial Motherhood (or whatever one might like to call the alternative.)

        • meg

          Oh, lets not call it partial motherhood!

          • Liz

            Half-assed motherhood? ;)

          • Class of 1980

            Half-assed motherhood.

            Hilarious. ;)

          • half-assed motherhood works for me.

  • Al

    I watched a coworker of mine turn into the total mommy this year and we actually had a little argument about Bringing up Bebe. I was telling her about the whole “pause” before going and getting the baby just to make sure they cant soothe or quiet themselves. ANyway the convo didnt get too far because hey she was holding a 4 month old and I am childless and I didnt want to be arguing about that (mainly not to give myself bad kaharma in the future). Anyway I related a lot with all of the French childrearing things – not so much with the body image things during and after pregnancy. Its just really interesting to see in America how we have become TOTAL mothers…

    • The pause totally worked for us. Jess started sleeping ‘throught the night’ (which, btw, is 5 hours in the medical world) by 3 weeks. And the pause is why.
      A friend in our baby class’s baby was waking up every 2 hours all night, so I told her our expierence with the pause and so they tried moving her to her own room for one night and waiting before getting her, and the baby slept for 9.5 hours in a row. It’s totally, totally a thing worth trying.

      • 5 hours? You’ve got to be kidding me. It’s just cruel to call that “the night.”

    • Liz

      I’m always frustrated when those without children feel shut out of the discipline conversation.

      Lots of us have experience working with kids, some of us are even educated in it. Experience as a mother doesn’t equate with motherhood expertise.

      • meg

        I really agree with Liz. I’ve done childcare since I was 11, it’s how I put myself through college, I know kids very very very well. The idea that motherhood changes everything. Well, I’ll keep you posted. My eyebrows are raised.

        But mostly, I hate the teamification of women. The fact that women who are not pregnant feel they can’t give me advice when I ask because “What do they know?” Plenty! They’ve been alive awhile. I trust them. What’s the problem? We’re all on the same team if you ask me, just with various experiences.

        • first milk

          Oh god BLESS YOU. Oof.

        • My most valued advice comes from Amanda. She hasn’t had children but she KNOWS children better than anyone I know.

          • (oh, there you are Amanda. Hi! I didn’t spot you there when I commented. )

      • Jaime

        Right? I don’t have children, but I’ve been a teacher for 8 years and worked with kids for even longer. But I couldn’t possibly know anything about kids. Nope.

        • Liz

          A larger portion of how I parent is related to my experience teaching than it is to these last 18mos I’ve had a kiddo on my hip.

          And that’s not to say those who AREN’T teachers have no say. Just one example of how someone might have something valuable to say without having that “motherhood” card in her wallet.

          • I dont have kids yet, but by goodness I have learnt a LOT about them by reading books, websites like offbeat mama and talking to friends who are teachers, early childhood educators, nurses and midwives. And by talking to people who are parents themselves.
            I’m actually starting to feel fairly confident that if I were to have a child, I would be able to raise it in a well-adjusted way.

      • p.

        Thank you for saying this Liz. I’ve been told that “I can’t understand because I don’t have kids” before and I never fully why the comment bothered me so much. But you put it perfectly: it shuts me out of the conversation — and as someone who is still considering whether or not to have kids, I would really like to be part of the conversation.

        • I think you can’t totally know what it will feel like/be like for you to have a child, until you have one. (Just like it’s hard to know exactly how you will feel about being married until you are).

          But that’s a totally different thing than being part of a discussion about parenting or children. Lots of folks who don’t have children have a lot more to contribute to a discussion of either of those topics than I do with my few months experience with one particular kid. And being interested in a topic is as good a reason as any to be in on the conversation.

          • Yes. I agree. I think it’s also true that you can’t really know what it’s like having kids until you have your *specific* kid, and all their individual challenges, strengths, and experiences. There’s great power in knowing a child inside and out.

            That said, it can be an Achilles’ heel. The outside perspective of a teacher or friend can show you what you can’t see, simply because you’re too close. Both perspectives are relevant and useful, and all the more reason for all to be included in the conversation.

          • Totally agree!

      • MDBethann

        Thanks Liz! It’s nice to know that at least some parents value the opinions of those of us without kids.

        I’ve been around kids a lot – I babysat and worked at a daycare (toddlers through 6th grade) when I was in high school and college, and I’ve had years since then to watch my friends and family with kids – I may not have my own kids yet, but I have played with them and observed them. I can see what has worked with some kids and not with others. As an impartial observer, I might actually catch something a parent doesn’t see. But I am always careful to couch my comments or insights as “I noticed this when I worked at a daycare,” or “I have a friend who does X” so that it comes off as an observation rather than “what would a person without a kid know.”

      • Yes! I’ve changed more diapers than most new parents (eldest of 5 kids, giant Irish-Catholic extended family), but because I don’t have kids of my own, I don’t know anything. Pish posh, I say!

  • Oh, god, the anxiety I had while pregnant that we’d ruined our lives! It was terrible. Mine centred in part on how we’d be stuck and never travel again.

    And I sit here on day 2 of Jess’s first international road trip. We’re headed in to Glacier national park, because why not break in a 3 month old baby’s passport? We’re going to Mexico in November for a wedding, and to Toronto in February to vist my sister in grad school. She will have travelled in 3 countries before her first birthday. And I’m pushing for Europe next summer.

    Because this matters, to me. To us. Travel is part of what defines our family. And J’s part of that now, so were making her start young so that long car trips is her normal.

    The anxiety isn’t all gone yet, but driving through spectacular mountain scenery and watching bears amble (too close) to the car and eating pizza in our hotel bed like we always did help. A lot. I may have cried a tiny bit about how good, how new normal I felt. Sure, I nursed her in a restaurant over lunch, but that was no big by now.

    Now she’s stopped nursing and I can get another 3 hours sleep before her first boarder crossing. The new normal is turning out okay, and I’m so greatful.

    • Jashshea

      I could have just exactly’d this, but i think it’s super super awesome that you take the baby all over the world. Good stuff! It’s so easy for me to mentally accept that “baby doesn’t stop your life,” but hearing the HOWS of people actually doing it is really helpful.

    • Toronto, eh? You’ll have to say hello!!!

    • Snow Gray

      I took my first trip at 2 weeks old, started traveling internationally at a young age, and it was one of my favorite parts of growing up. All the travel growing up has encouraged a love of travel in me as an adult, and I think it was pivotal in forming who I am now.

      So don’t be afraid to bring your kid along – as Liz says, small people are pretty flexible, and it just might make them into better adults.

      • My parents took my sister and I to our vacation home on Prince Edward Island every summer since we were young (I was 9 months old the first time I went). 12-14 hours in the car with two small children. Yikes.

        But they did it and everyone survived and we loved it. My nephews now come along and you can bet my kids will, too. If you do it enough, a wonderful, adventurous life will be normal for your kids. And won’t they be lucky for that?

  • Sarah

    This “total motherhood” totally freaks me out — good to know there’s a name for it. I’m not married (for the next two days) and still in the phase of deciding whether we will ever want children. Total motherhood is what scares me away. I know people who you can no longer have a conversation with about non-cild things. My sister (and her hubbie and 1-yr-old) are going to Mexico for my wedding and said they would just hang out at the hotel for the three days that aren’t wedding — so the kid won’t have to go out of his comfort zone. Ummm, you’re in Mexico. Mexico City. You’ve never been here before, so wouldn’t it be a shame if you never saw anything outside of the hotel? It makes me so happy that you say you can have a kid and not give up your life. Because I’m not willing to give up my life.

  • Erin

    Oh, this post is so lovely and reassuring. I’m 31 years old and newly married – I want kids. But I’m also an adult who’s acquired hobbies and friends and also goals that include travel with my new husband. I worry about what will happen to those things once we have a kid. Are we doomed to 5 (or 7 or 8 or 9) years of all-kid-all-the-time, without seeing new things in new places or making food that might be too spicy?

    Something like this is something I really needed to hear. And now I desperately want A Practical Baby, or something like it, a site devoted to being a mom and a family without the TOTAL. Does one exist?

    • Liz

      Aha! Catch 22 there, dontcha think? If you’re not a “total” mother, would you write an entire blog about baby? Probably not.

      I write about motherhood periodically on my personal blog, and there are a few other moms that share about their children, but their blogs unfortunately (fortunately?) aren’t “baby blogs.” Some include Peonies and Polaroids, Life According to Celia, Desert Fete, Subrosa Project and Marie Eve. (apologies to any lovely ladies I’ve forgotten)

      • meg

        Indeed. And Liz answers yesterday’s question about why I’m not going to run A Practical Baby.

        Liz also just gave you a list of some of my favorite women in the (real life) world, and the ones that have supported me in every step of my journey, so I can’t recommend reading their sites enough. That and LIZ’S site. Obvs.

      • Liz, I was a fan of you blog even before we got pregnant, so I was excited to see this comment, hoping for a couple new (sane) blogs to add to my RSS reader… but I follow them all already! Looks like we have similar tastes. Keep up the brilliant writing, on all your favorite topics, not just baby. It’s the “real life that just happens to have a kid in it” stuff that makes me hopeful for our future :)

      • Erin

        Thanks for the suggestions, I’m off to check them out!

      • I want to EXACTLY this a million times. Exactly.

      • (thank you Liz. x)

    • is quite sane (and heavily moderated to keep it that way).

      • Contessa

        I find offbeatmama to be a mix of interesting and offbeat ideas and ideas that are so far offbeat that I shake my head. It is a refreshing change to the carefully curated birthday parties and photo shoots of some parenting blogs but I can’t read too much about parents who travel the country in a van with their baby, collecting food stamps and crocheting baby hats to sell at fairs. I get anxious and frustrated. I suppose it’s like all blogs, take the views in moderation.

        • Oh definitely. But I think the point is that not everyone is going to identify with everything that’s posted, and that’s okay. is the sort of thing I really stick around for there.

        • Heather L

          I agree here. That article put me off, as did one about eating your placenta (that also advertised beads that were supposed to help with teething, and not by chewing on them). The amount of woo on their site makes me really uncomfortable as does the anti-vax sentiment of many of their users. Plus IMO it seems to really emphasize attachment parenting and total mothering.

  • Contessa

    I jumped headfirst into total motherhood at 22 and since I didn’t know who *I* even was yet, it didn’t matter that I lost myself at the time. Luckily my boys were pretty kickass companions. It seems like the universe saved me from myself on that one. Now that my boys are 10 and 13 we have a lovely balance. They do their thing, I do my thing, and we do our thing in turn and life is good.

    • Liz

      Well THIS is reassuring, as I look around at friends who’ve done the same. Let’s hope they make it out alive like you did! ;)

    • Kimberly

      I did the same thing at 23. I sort of knew who I was, but hadn’t really had any big life experiences (other than becoming a mother, of course) from which I could grow and learn. I just had motherhood, which did make me grow and learn in certain regards. When my son was 1, I got my first “real” job and since then I’ve become a better version of myself. I think more independently, I stand up for myself more, and I have learned when to be selfish, all of which have made me a better parent.

      Still, I pretty much revolve around my children, but they are toddlers. You kind of are a planet to their sun until they get big enough to explore their own universe. I still have nights to stare at my stars, but I soak up the sun as much as possible.

  • Anu

    I really loved reading Bringing up Baby. Hilarious observations, and I loved all the stories of the neurotic New Yorker vs. the calmer put-together French moms. Though can I say their creche (daycare) system makes me completely jealous? The menus those little French toddlers are eating would be just fine for my lunch today. I couldn’t help feeling that it would be difficult to replicate the same success in a country like the US with competitive mothering and lack of institutional support. But we shall see when I have kids I’m sure.

    • The thing I loved about “Bringing up Bebe” is that it’s just as much a sociology book as it is a parenting book, and thus really casually readable. It was also very reassuring that the stuff in the book works, and confirms a lot of what my husband and I think about babies (in part because it turns out our respective parents raised *us* in pretty French ways, especially regarding food). I do agree with other reviews that say it’d be difficult to totally replicate some of the French ways simply because we don’t have free care provided by people who all do the same thing, BUT I still think a lot of it can be done (the cadre idea, the “it’s me who decides”, etc).

      Kids are smart. They pick up what they think they’re being told (“you are a little god” versus “you are part of a family, and do not run the world”).

      • Anu

        Yeah the food stuff I actually feel I have a good chance of replicating, because I eat everything (well, almost everything) and think I would have a good chance of communicating that enthusiasm about food to my kids. My parents rule while growing up was that I had to have one or two bites of everything and then I was free to just eat the parts of the food that I liked. But there was no making of special meals for me (for the most part) and I ate whatever the rest of the family ate or didn’t eat at all. I’m also glad that my parents never made a big deal of my not wanting to eat or force me to eat.

        My boyfriend is a fairly picky eater though — not in the ways you’d think though. He hates ice cream (in fact any sort of creamy dessert), chocolate, coffee, cherries (?) or any other fruit with pits, soft cheeses or nuts. It’s sort of a genius plan if your aim was to never eat any desserts ever since it’s so rare that a restaurant menu will contain a dessert that he likes. Luckily he’s not picky about meat or vegetables or most dairy because I would find that really hard.

        • meg

          David is a picky eater (super taster, actually), but we COOK everything, and unless we have a kid with biological eating issues we expect them to eat everything too. Just because one family member does not is no excuse.

          • MDBethann

            So with you on that one Meg. It’s one thing if a member of the family has a severe food allergy, but otherwise, everyone gets the same meal and has to eat it. Again, like you, we cook everything and plan to keep doing so, which I guess makes it easier in a way. And I figure if we start them eating all sorts of food at a young age, they won’t know any different, right?

      • This is interesting:
        “Kids are smart. They pick up what they think they’re being told (“you are a little god” versus “you are part of a family, and do not run the world”).”

  • Jashshea

    My group of friends and I have a thing we call “grown ass man/woman…” If we’re on vacation it’s “I’m a grown ass woman on vacation,” etc. It means you can do what you want (sit by the pool while everyone else has lunch together, stay in one night if that’s what you want, etc) and no one can get fussy about it and you don’t have to feel guilty. It’s the theme of our wedding as well (Grown Ass People Getting Married or GAPGM). It’s similar to shame blasting.

    Thank you for being a grown ass woman with a baby/kid. I’ll bet your kid is super cool and it’s good for us not-yet-parents to see that you don’t have to be a mom like everyone/anyone else is a mom. Unless you want to be.

    • meg

      Ah, I use that phrase all the time too.

    • I always used the phrase, “. . . because I’m an adult,” but grown ass woman has a much better edge to it.

    • Taylor

      Yes! this is my favorite response when people question my decisions that are none of their business. “Why am I doing things this way? cause I’m a grown ass woman, that’s why.”

      I have also found it extremely relevant in planning my wedding. I assure my mom that my guests are “grown ass people” so they can make their own hotel reservations, choose their own attire dress, bring their own hairspray/sunscreen/chewing gum etc.

  • As someone who had babies in the 80s and 90s, let me just say to you, don’t let the pendulum swing too far the other way either. Parenting has ALWAYS been an exercise in sorting through dogma. Parenting philosophies are politics in disguise, hiding trust in authority, trust in the goodness of man, and feelings about interdependence, deep inside. You have to realize that if you want a finely-calibrated approach, you are going to have to make it up as you go along.

    Why is it like this? Two reasons. First, civilization and technology. Had we none, mothers would be with their babies until they could fend for themselves, or survive under the care of the older kids in the cave. Or village. Done and done. But we’ve introduced technology that allows for planning and distance, and therefore cast doubt on the animal methods. Without ever having settled on the right ways for humans.

    Second, because there is so little data, we’re unlikely to ever settle on mutually agreed upon right methods. There’s unlikely ever to be better data, as no one wants to experiment with actual babies in a way that might cause them suffering. As a result, you are going to have to use the next best things to data; attention, perception, thought and calibrated instinct.

    I recommend reading original studies, where you can find them, on child emotional and intellectual development. Then watch your baby. The real Bringing Up Littles is the one you write for you and yours. And it will come from synthesizing multiple sources.

    • Liz

      Oh, yeesh! I hope it didn’t come off as my trying to encourage folks to live according to some parenting book.

      • Contessa

        Nope. Just that maybe everyone should do their own research on development and then live their own parenting book according to what works for their family and what works for their own kid.

        • meg

          Or not read the studies ;) It’s fine to be the kind of parent who doesn’t read studies too (though Lisa’s right, if you’re going to read anything, for gods sake read about actual child development). But there is a lot of pressure to be the kind of parent who reads everything, sorts through it all, and comes up with a plan these days. And throughout the ages people have just parented. That’s fine too.

          Personally, I’m not reading a hell of a lot. I’m BUSY y’all. And that’s fine too.

      • No, you didn’t come off that way. And by “you” I meant all the commenters and readers of the site, by no means was I talking strictly to the original post. My comment has been building up inside me over a month of reading reactions to that book, and over 25 years of being a mom:).

    • This might come off the wrong way. Probably. I so far have taken to parenting much the way I took to religion; pick the things that I like/work for us from one book or another and let the rest slide.

      • Liz

        Totally. A HUGE problem with arguing about parenting “styles,” is that doing one thing (co-sleeping), doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily do the rest, right? (breastfeeding til 4)

        It’d be like asking, “What’s your marital style?” WHAT?

        • “My marital style is being married. What, isn’t that how you do it, too???”

          *sips beer*

          Or, I’d imagine, “My parenting style is attempting sleep while keeping my child fed and somewhat happy.”

          *sips beer*

          • That’s *exactly* my parenting style. With a little bit ‘try and stop one child killing the other child’ thrown in.

            *sips beer*

          • There is lots of sipping beer in my parenting style. Ok, sometimes I guzzle.

      • Agreed. I like reading things about parenting (within reason) because they give me ideas of things to try or bolster my resolve about the decisions I’ve made. (Bringing Up Bebe was good for, among other things, The Pause and for reinforcing the idea that you do not have to entertain your child 24/7.) I’m a fan of whatever works for you (and if it’s worked for you, I like to hear about it!)

        I also really loved the “There is No Perfect Parent” idea. (For those who haven’t read the book, in France, instead saying you are a “bad mother”, the thing women usually say is “There is No Perfect Parent”). I think language is very powerful and there is certainly a lot of cultural noise in the US about being a “bad mother”. There is No Perfect Parent is a lot healthier way to look at it, and I’ve been trying to say that to myself at times when I feel like I’m not doing as awesome as I’d like.

    • Lisa: I really appreciate your voice in this conversation. I’m preggo with the first, and thinking about the kind of parent I want to be. It’s mostly my parents kind of parent, ’cause I think they did a dang good job doing just what you say: finding the balance. Invested, but not over-invested. Engaged, but not smothering. But from all that I’ve been overwhelmed by in hearing parents talk, reading articles, listening to others, is how much so many of us really want to *get it right*. Which is obviously a problematic yearning, but it’s there nonetheless. I hear many women my age worried about the Millenials being co-dependent or helicopter-parented… But the parents of the Millenials were responding to another kind of parenting. The parenting that came out of the 40’s and 50’s, where doctors told mothers to not hold their babies too much or touch them too much, lest they SPOIL them (eep!).

      So I hear you. This idea of the “total mother” has come from somewhere. It’s the next generation trying to “get it right”. I’m pretty sure my generation (which includes me!) will do some things spectacularly well, and will find some other way that the balance is out of whack.

      • Liz

        I think maybe two different conversations are going on. Some of us seem to be reading “total parenting” as a parenting “style,” when others (myself, included) are using it to mean that one defines oneself by being a Mother. I’m not talking about helicopter parenting or attachment parenting or whatever the cute phrase is for the latest fad in parenting style. I’m talking about women who are forced into a Mother mold that removes all other aspects of their personality.

        Much in the same way that we talk about “Reclaiming Wife” from the connotation that once you get married, you cease to be yourself, we need to reclaim that word mom so it doesn’t have this idea that once you’re a mom, you’re only a mom and you MUST wear mom jeans and drive a minivan and be constantly pulling clumps of grape jelly out of your own hair. If you like mom jeans and minivans, that’s cool (I’m stuck cleaning grape jelly out of my hair often, though it’s not something I enjoy). But if you feel forced to adopt them as a part of your new role, that’s tragic.

        I’m not talking about bringing babies out for margaritas and playing Fleet Foxes for them as a parenting style, I’m talking about maintaining my own interests apart from my new role as a mom.

        • I think it’s funny that as a woman without children, I often feel disconnected from the women I know with children because I try to treat them as women with other interests. Maybe it’s just because I know the wrong women with children. And it’s not as if I’m avoiding talking about their children either, I just think not everything is about them. Occasionally I feel this reaction to me as if I don’t know anything because I’m not a mother. Which as someone who has so far unsuccessfully tried to become a mother, is sometimes wearing if not painful.
          I like the idea of Reclaiming Motherhood and connecting as women who want to be women and wives and mothers and whatever else we want to be, full of complications and goals and desires and opinions.
          Thank you for this post.

  • This was really well-articulated. I’ve seen/known parents who exemplify this, but never knew how to say, “way to still be the same person you were” without seeming like I was insulting those who go full-blown into parenthood in a different (but wonderful for them) way. I have an inkling that I will be in the former camp, and so you and these other parents I come across seem to be the ones to watch, and thus this was a great read!

  • Ambi

    I haven’t read the book, but this really reminds me of my future mother-in-law’s parenting philosophy. Her friends and family were appalled that she and her husband didn’t completely bend their lives around the baby (eventually babies). Instead of creating a perfectly quiet home for naptime, she continued to vacuum, watch tv, have friends stop by, and do anything and everything else she would usually be doing, and the baby learned to sleep with a bit of noise going on. Instead of special baby food, the baby ate what they ate. Instead of weekends full of baby-centered activities, they continued their usual weekend outings and just brought the baby along to the football games, camping trips, and dinners out. When talking about how she parented, she usually says something like, “well, he came to live with us, not the other way around.”

    Also, I’d just love to give huge fistbumps to my girlfriends (all of whom are relatively new moms) who I had several drinks with last night. Due ot Meg’s post yesterday, I was even more aware of just how awesome it is that we are able to talk about so much of this openly and honestly. My friends were discussing pregnancy (one mom loved it, two hated it, and one mom hated it so much she will never do it again), our bodies, marraiges and relationships (topic of the evening: trying to let go of control and allow your husband to care for the baby in his own way when you would do it differently), working, nipples (apparently, there is a LOT to talk about about boobs and nipples after you have the baby), worries and fears, and about 100 other things. Anyway, I’m just saying that I am now very aware of how awesome it is to have friends like this who will talk openly about pregnancy and motherhood. I never quite realized that they were saying things that aren’t heard in the mainstream media, but now I do, and I really appreciate it.

    • Liz

      To be honest, that’s how I was raised. And most of the women I talk to- that’s how they were raised, too. I’m not sure why when I got pregnant my immediate thought was the parents around me and not my own, sane upbringing.

    • meg

      I’m with Liz :) The reason I loved the book so much is it’s exactly how I was raised.

      And I think you’d love the book if you’re looking for a light summer read that prompts discussion (I didn’t read it because we were having kids, just because I was really interested). I just really found the French idea that the child is joining the family, and they have a responsibility to learn to fit into that family, very comforting and sensible (and actually very trusting of the baby as it’s own person). It’s probably a testament to American individualism that we don’t tend to think that way at all, while other cultures do.

  • Wow, this just made me feel eleventy billion times better about being a parent. I hadn’t really been able to put my finger on my reticence about the whole baby idea, when I know I do want kids (eventually). It’s really reassuring to see women for whom “mother” is just one part of their identity. Thanks!

  • goodheart

    “He’s like a little friend who’s smaller than us and a little limited in communication”

    might be my favorite line of the week. we’re a no-children-by-choice family, but we love hanging out with a friend’s son who fits this description. he’s such a cool little guy, even though every once in a while he’ll have a meltdown since his vocabulary isn’t quite big enough to express what he needs.

    this also helps me understand why there are some kids whose company i do not care for — just like big people, not all of us will be friends. it tends to correlate with how the parents treat them as well, in my experience. (caveat: i’m not a parent, so it’s harder for me to say which child rearing approach will produce a kid i *want* to be my little friend, but i have some suspicions that kids of “total moms” wouldn’t be as easy to me to relate to).

  • My mom has often told me that beyond wanting us to be happy she wanted us to be the kind of kids that other people wanted to be around. Total Motherhood probably doesn’t allow for that, no?

    • Jaime

      I think our moms came from the same school. My parents have told me that their philosophy was to raise a child that other adults wouldn’t bitch about having to be around.

      Whenever some new total motherhood article comes out, my moms response is always, “But god, wouldn’t that just be so annoying to other people? And to yourself? When the hell does mommy get time? And what about the father?”

      Sometimes people tell me that when I was little, I was acted like a small adult. I don’t know if I would go that far, I was allowed to do kid things. But my parents just did their own thing and I came along, so I was exposed to things earlier. I was expected to act a certain way, so I did.

    • meg

      I mostly don’t want to raise any fools. I’ve told David, if our kids want to grow up to be super genius rich people, that’s on their time. My job is to raise civilized adults. If you have time for ballet after you’ve learned to say please and thank you and eat at the table, I’m all for it. But we know which comes first.

      • “if our kids want to grow up to be super genius rich people, that’s on their time. My job is to raise civilized adults”

        OH MY GOD, YES.

        • Luckily please and thank you and eat at the table ARE NOT THAT HARD:) How those simple things can be neglected I have to wonder. Even us “total mother” sorts can believe in good manners for goodness sakes. And regular bedtimes. And eat food that isn’t beige. And be nice your grandmother. And on and on and on.

        • Laura G

          Yes, absolutely. My mother once told me that when her friends were going on about “raising good kids,” she looked at them and said, “I’m trying to raise good adults.”

          I like to think she succeeded :)

          (My mother’s a smart-ass, I’m a smart-ass, and I kind of hope my eventual kids are smart-asses, too)

  • steph

    This post made me smile. I first thought of my best friend and her mother, and how BFF’s mom is an awesome example of how one can be a GREAT mom without taking up the “total motherhood” mantle. And how BFF’s mom continuing to be who she was and enjoy the things she enjoys has made my BFF such an interesting person with a wealth of interesting and fun childhood experiences :)

    Then I also thought about my own mom. I’m realizing that even though she was the 1979 version of “total motherhood,” she still did it her way and in a way that was authentic and meaningful for her, and still imparted to me the best of who she is — her loyalty to her friends, staunch belief in accepting people for who they are, and passionate love of the beach and baseball being several quick examples that pop into mind. And realizing that being “A Mother” was as important to her as consciously opting out of motherhood is to me. And that the important point is about making a CHOICE that feels authentic to you.

    I feel like my point is maybe a bit off topic and I apologize for being rambly. But seriously, great post :)

    • MDBethann

      I love your post, I know what you mean, and I think you are spot on topic. Hugs :-)

  • Thank you thank you thank you. And – do you want to hang out?

    Friends and family weren’t totally surprized after I got married that I still did my own thing – went on weekend adventures alone, would still have girls nights out, and kept up with my same old weird hobbies. Lately though, I get astonished gasps when I spend a day off on my own or decide to go on a day trip with 10 month old giggle butt in tow. Yes, I love my little man, but I also love being me – which hasn’t changed too drastically after being wife-d and mom-ed. I think adapting little man to the actual life I lead will serve him far better than baby proofing who I am.

  • Another good book recomendation, or at least one I’m enjoying so far, is ‘Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids: Why Being a Great Parent is Less Work and More Fun Than You Think’ by Bryan Caplan. It’s in part about nature vs nurture via twin and adoption studies and he makes a good case that your kids aren’t like moldable clay as much as flexible plastic – basically, that if you’re a good human odds are good your kid will be too, no matter what you do, so you may as well relax and enjoy yourself. So far I’m really enjoying it.

    I’m tired of books that make me feel like a failure already.

    • Liz

      I just don’t read parenting books. In fact, Meg and others had to TALK ME INTO reading Bringing Up Bebe.

      They’re just depressing, aren’t they?

      Good to hear there are a few that aren’t!

      • I basically read all the books, ever. It’s a character flaw.

  • daynya

    Thank you, Liz! As I mentioned on Meg’s post yesterday, Total Motherhood is what terrifies me about becoming a parent. We are on the fence right now about whether to have children or not, and the number one thing that I am afraid of is losing myself and just becoming genericmom. I LOVE me, and my fiance, and our relationship. I don’t want to lose any of those things, or our alone time, or adventures. What I dream of is a small friend to have adventures with. You have inspired me that perhaps I *can* have what I dream of, so thank you so so so much for helping me realized that just because I don’t see my friends striking out and laying the path I want to walk, doesn’t mean I can’t do it my own damn self!

  • KB

    I think for me the fear of Total Motherhood is comparable to the fear of getting married (Total Wifedom?) – that you’ll somehow lose yourself in this other person and (I feel this is SO KEY) *you won’t be happy about it.* When commenters are like “Wait a minute, Total Motherhood isn’t so bad,” they’re totally right – I believe there are people out there who were born to see the world through the role of being a mom, just like any other career or lifestyle choice. I personally think that it’s not the fear of Total Motherhood, but that it’s a zero-sum game, that you HAVE to be Total Mommy in order to raise healthy and well-adjusted children. That and eventually I’ll turn into “Mommy” and totally forget who KB is. Just from being a human being, I know that’s not the case – but it’s hard not to fear becoming either Total Mommy or Totally Selfish (and Therefore Bad) Mommy.

  • Cass

    Hmm, I know the spirit of the last 2 posts aren’t meant to be critical, but I find it bordering on being so. I think there is nothing wrong with “total motherhood” if that’s what makes you happy. And nothing wrong with “keeping your adventure”. I don’t see why it has to be either or. Motherhood is a pretty grand adventure in itself. If you rock, then likely your kid will rock, too.

    • Liz

      Like I mentioned in a previous comment to Lisa, if “total motherhood” makes you happy, then it’s not what I would consider “total motherhood.” What I’m opposed to isn’t the idea of Chuck E Cheese or spending your day reading picture books, I’m opposed to the idea of sacrificing your happiness because you feel you *need* to and that’s “what motherhood is.”

      It’s almost exactly like the discussions we have around housekeeping. If you love mopping floors, go on girl! But if you feel you NEED to mop floors in order to be a “good wife,” and it’s sucking away a piece of who you are? NOT GOOD.

      • Ambi

        This is really interesting, and I have such a hard time untangling these two ideas. On the one hand, I agree that it isn’t good or healthy to dive into “total motherhood” out of some sense of pressure or obligation, if it isn’t what you want. But at the same time, I don’t really know if talking about it in terms of what you “want” and “what makes you happy” really captures it, for me. I have a friend who pretty much embodies “total motherhood” in the sense that her entire life and identity and time and energy and money are all solely focused on the baby. And I don’t know if I would exactly say she “loves” it – she IS tired and IS stressed, and it isn’t exactly the same as cleaning-as-catharsis. But it is who she is. She was like this about her dog before she had a baby. She was like this about her pregnancy. Just in general, she tends to be a worrier and planner and someone who really needs order and control, so it is fairly natural that she has approached motherhood that way. She has two baby monitors, including the breathing pad sensor thing. She (still, after many many months) records exactly how much her daughter eats, how long she sleeps, how many diapers she goes through, etc. She holds the baby almost constantly and does everything herself- although she has loving family and friends offering help, she can’t really step back and let other people take care of her daughter. She constantly researches developmental milestones, educational toys, nutritious foods, etc. She is, in my opinion, pretty much the definition of “total motherhood.” But honestly, I can’t imagine her any other way because it is just a part of her. I kind of feel like she was a “total mother” before she had any kids, if that makes sense. This current parenting trend/philosphy just lines up with her natural personality. BUT, what I find interesting is that I don’t think she would say she loves it or even likes it. She’s exhausted and anxious. But maybe it’s that “total motherhood” kind of appeals to people who are naturally that type of personality to begin with? She was a “helicopter student” and “helicopter wife” and “helicopter dog owner” long before she was a “helicopter parent.” To me, I feel like she is also trying to do what will make her happy and calm and comfortable, but based on her own natural personality traits, she is seeking that happiness through extreme care and control and preparation.

        • Liz

          Live and let live, right?

          Maybe it doesn’t make her happy, but it seems like she’d be worrying and fretting and wringing her hands anyway; the baby just allows her the outlet.

          Nowhere in this post did I say anything about how others choose to parent- I’m surprised it’s being taken that way. For *me*, a huge fear in getting pregnant was that now I’d need to be All Mommy All the Time. Some women don’t have that fear, I guess- just like some don’t have any negative connotations wrapped up in “wife.”

          For me, this big fear didn’t end up having any basis in reality, which is awesome.

          • Ambi

            Oh, i didn’t take it as you saying anything about how others should parent! I was just exploring (rambling about) what “total motherhood” means – and I guess it means different things to different people. And I think whether you view it as a negative depends on how you define it, and where you naturally fall in the spectrum. You are exactly right about my friend – she would be exactly the same way over a house plant, and the baby just gives her a bigger outlet. I guess my point was that, MAYBE, that is true for most mothers? That they are pretty much who they were before, just amplified a little bit? I mean, I have another friend who has always been extremely efficient, no-nonsense, practical, and hard-working, and that is how she is as a mom. That’s how she runs her family. I have another friend who has always been much more laid-back, take the path of least resistance, it’ll all turn out okay – and that’s how she has been as a mom, too. So, and I am just kind of exploring the idea here, but maybe it isn’t so much that women change drastically and become “total mothers,” its that a lot of women had those personality traits before and applied them to other areas of their lives, and when they become moms it just gets amplified and is more visible in our mommy blog culture? I guess to me, I kind of like that viewpoint because it assumes that you will still be the same person after baby, and you don’t suddenly have to adopt ANY new kind of philosophy or approach to life, whether that be “total motherhood” or “free-range kids” or whatever.

            BUT, I absolutely never for a second thought that you were trying to tell anyone else how to parent. I’m just really enjoying the theoretical side of this conversation and exploring the ideas!

          • Class of 1980


            I totally get what you said. How could individual personality not impact your style of parenting? Also, background impacts it.

            I didn’t have children, but I already know I am slightly toward the total motherhood side if you’re talking about researching stuff to death and keeping close tabs on children.

            I’m like that with my cat with no apologies. Relentless research helped me to cure some health problems she had. I guess I associate it with just giving a damn. I’d do the same for a child, obviously.

            On the other hand, I believe in the child having personal responsibilities and the parents keeping all their own interests. We don’t need to make life dreary!

            I never saw my mom give up her personal interests and that worked for us. She was happy and we admired the stuff she did. Still do. I always thought of her as an individual; not only my mom.

            On the other hand, my parents were extremely laissez-faire with us, and the failure of that is where both myself and my sister get our love of structure for small living things. We both turned out more like my grandma, as far as being more involved.

            I guess I think I would have been a little “total motherhood”, but really, I’m probably very balanced. Anything is going to seem “total” compared to my parents. ;)

    • meg

      The last two posts are personal. I was telling you I was pregnant, and what was going on with me, full stop. Liz is writing a personal post about her adventures in child rearing, full stop.

      This debate about how to mother, and if those of us experiencing one thing are shutting down people experiencing something else, is exactly why I’m not ever going to run a parenting site. That said, when I talk about my own experience here, I’m going to do so unapologetically and honestly. My pregnancy experience is somewhat outside of what is considered the cultural norm, and I’m not going to apologize for that. If total motherhood makes you happy, great. If you became a new person when you became pregnant, great. That’s not my experience, and this isn’t a parenting site, so the occasional posts we do run will be from the writers experience only. If that doesn’t work for you, that’s also great! It’s a big internet, and there are TONS of good parenting sites out there, many that cater to total motherhood.

      • Ambi

        Whoa, I had no idea I was saying anything that would upset anybody, and I definitely apologize if it came across that way. Honestly I’m a little surprised and confused about how my comments could be viewed as any sort of attack on each of your (obviously personal) posts – I never meant it that way at all. I was basically thinking outloud about the idea of change versus being who you’ve always been. It was not meant to be personal in the least, nor would I try to tell anyone how to parent.

        I guess I realize that my example of my friend had specifics in there that I was trying to use to paint the overall picture, and taken alone it could seem critical of those specifics? If so, that isn’t what I meant, and I definitely apologize. My friend is a great mother and I was not implying that she shouldn’t be doing the things she is doing. My point was simply that she is doing it one way, based on her natural personality, and my other friend is doing it very differently, based on her natural personality, and therefore I think a lot of these “parenting philosophies” really just boil down to what kind of personality the parent had before the baby was born. That’s the only point I was trying to make, and it doesn’t imply that any particular approach is good or bad.

        • Liz

          Hey, Ambi-

          If you take a look at the thread, you’ll notice Meg was writing in response to the original comment at the top of the thread (the one by Cass).

          • Ambi

            Ooof, palm to forehead!

            I felt bad because I know this whole area is very personal and frought with emotions, and like body image and other issues, it can be difficult to talk about. I know we talk about the fact that people who aren’t moms are entitled to participate in these conversations, but as someone who doesn’t have kids, I feared that I’d stepped on an invisible emotional landmine.

            So, ooops. :) sorry for the mistake. I guess I’ll take this opportunity to say y’all are doing a kick ass job of moderating – you have definitely found that balance that keeps people civil while allowing for vibrant debate.

  • This post could not have come at a better time. We are thinking about having a baby next year but feel this horrible cloud over us that it will “wreck our perfect life built for two” and that “we must rush around the world and do all the things we want to do first before BABY”. It sounds ludicrious as I type it. Damnit. Liz, your post meant so much.

    The worst part though was I was telling a friend the other day about our desire to be parents her immediate reply was “another one bites the dust”. What the heck is that about? Just because we become parents doesn’t mean that we embrace total motherhood.

  • Kara

    I will say…not all kids go with the flow, especially at first, no matter how much their parents are that way, or how bad you want them to. Your child may well have meltdowns if you keep them out past their bedtimes, or want every awful plastic toy in sight. Doesn’t mean you’re a bad parent, just that your kids have a personality that’s different than yours…that said, don’t think this means that you have to give in on everything!

    • meg

      This is TOTALLY true, as remarked upon in my intro. Liz has an low key kid in a lot of ways, clearly, bless her. Not all kids are like that at all. But this isn’t a manifesto on how to parent (or a parenting blog). It’s a week about people’s personal stories about marital adventures, and this is Liz’s story. It’s only universal in its particularity.

  • this post is great. fiance and i are planning to go off of birth control after our wedding in about two months and one of the recent conversations we had was “it’s so weird…there will be this whole other PERSON in the house and we don’t know them yet.” thanks for making me feel a bit better about that.

    i find posts about avoiding total motherhood super reassuring, but also there’s part of me who is scared because i feel like if i don’t delve into total motherhood i somehow won’t get the full benefit of total immersion or something. have to remind myself that the love and enjoyment of your kid isn’t diminished by staying yourself and i will probably actually enjoy my kid MORE

    • Liz

      Don’t get me wrong! I love, love, love spending time with my kid. He gives me an excuse to go to the park and read picture books and build lego towers and today, we’re entering the scary foray of making messy cookies for dad together.

      But that stuff- enjoying his babyness- doesn’t preclude my enjoying a margarita at 9pm on a Saturday.

      • totally! that’s why this is so nice to hear!

  • KateM

    Love this post. As the oldest of 10 and babysitting as my primary source of income for many years I have a pretty good idea of how kids work, and while I try to keep my mouth shut because I don’t have kids, it kills me to see friends who are up every 2 hrs because they will not let their child squawk, never mind actually cry. And it creates habits which lead to the kids featured in the New Yorker article. You would think that with 10 kids my mom of anyone would be the example of total motherhood, but she had her own stuff going on. As infants we tagged along and didn’t really interrupt my parents social life much, although they did recognize that if their 2 yr old skipped their nap and then were kept out until 9 pm they were going to have a melt down and took that into account. Also with 10 of us, you literally do not have the opportunity to make each child the center of their own universe. Could you imagine the ensuing chaos? Also, my parents always put their relationship ahead of us kids. It is counter intuitive for me, but the more healthy families I am around, the more I see that as true.
    I don’t worry so much about my having kids, I worry more about my friends and our relationship dynamics. I have a couple of girlfriends that I am no longer close to because 1) they never leave their children with their husbands (I want to puke every time I hear a woman say, I don’t think my husband can handle having the kids all day) 2) some of their children are terrible. I don’t want my kids around that on a regular basis, and learn that behavior. Sane parents are hard to find in this culture.

  • I imagine this precious child as an unpretentious hipster, maybe with a monocle. And I love this article.

    • Liz


  • Erin

    First, I would like to preface by saying that I am not a parent. I have thoroughly enjoyed the conversations and hope to have my own children someday. I have a twin sister, and we were brought up with the same privileges and opportunities. Sometimes, it isn’t just the parenting style that makes children grow up one way or another. I have become very independent and self-sufficient; making overall good decisions. My twin sister is a wonderful, intelligent woman, yet made a few mistakes along the way and as a result is still financially dependent on my parents and living at home. Children will choose their own way someday, no matter the style of parenting. I feel that we can only do the best we can do and hope to raise happy, healthy children.

    • meg

      Oh god, as much as we can avoid “style of parenting” concepts, I’m happy. This is just Liz’s story of her her current marital adventures with a kid, and her personal story. Kids are their own people. You do your best, but they grow up as themselves in the end, god bless.

  • Class of 1980

    Did anyone see the You Tube video of the school bus monitor being bullied by the kids on the bus? If you are my age, the first thing that comes to mind is that it NEVER would have happened when we were growing up.

    It all seemed very “Lord Of The Flies” to me. I marveled at the existence of kids who have no recognition of adult authority.

    Back in the nineties, I read an article where a pediatrician talked about seeing a huge difference in his preschool patients over his 20 years of practicing medicine. He had noticed that children under five had become drastically less emotionally mature compared to before. They had more meltdowns and less ability to cope.

    He started asking a lot of questions of the parents about how they handled their children. One sentiment kept coming up over and over. These parents were coming home from work tired. On top of that, they felt such guilt (their own words) about not seeing their kids all day, that they hated to tell their kids “No”. They felt that it put a negative spin on the few precious hours they had together.

    Now, I know it doesn’t have to be this way. My own sister got a divorce and raised her daughter by herself while working full-time. She saw most parents around her giving in to all their kids whims and never being consistent with boundaries. It drove her crazy, and she took a different approach.

    She spelled out the rules and the consequences early on and she never wavered. Her daughter wasn’t left to wonder. She learned very young that she could plead her case and mom would listen, but she could never avoid the consequences. This made for a much more peaceful childhood and adolescence.

    Her daughter once skipped school when she was 15 to drink wine with two girlfriends. When my sister found out, she grounded her for the summer, plus no Internet. This was devastating because my niece already had summer trips and activities lined up that she was looking forward to. The loss of these activities caused my niece to tell her mom that it made her depressed. My sister told her that she brought it on herself. She told her that she had just begun to give her some freedom, but she had demonstrated she wasn’t ready for it.

    The other two girls were grounded for a couple of days, but nothing further happened. They kept badgering my niece to ask her mother to let her go out with them, and my niece said “You don’t understand. When my mom lays down the rules, that’s it. Talking won’t change anything.”

    My sister worked for a couple who wanted to give their children everything. When their oldest son wrecked the brand-new sports car they gave him in college, they went out and bought him another one. There is so much of that nowadays. My sister was very careful to avoid spoiling my niece with too many material items. She was given what she needed, but never got the message she was entitled.

    My niece is 28 this year. She is in no rush to marry. She’s kicking ass at work and owns her own home. She just never had angst about growing up and being responsible, and I give my sister a lot of the credit for refusing to go with the tide.

    • MDBethann

      Class of 1980, I was nodding in agreement the entire time I read your post. I worked at a good daycare in high school and college and babysat for some of those families as well and saw a lot of behaviors that you describe. There was a HUGE difference in the kids’ behavior at home vs. at daycare – at daycare there were clear rules about what was and wasn’t acceptable behavior. At home, their parents’ were so busy running their business that they didn’t set boundaries for the kids and they could do pretty much what they wanted. As I watch other parents interact with their kids, it can be very evident at times which parents don’t set boundaries and which ones do.

      My in-laws, for example, have 2 adorable and well-behaved kids. They have lots of “stuff” but they also have boundaries. Instead of having a meltdown in Disney World when he was 5 and tired, my nephew turned to his parents and said “I need a nap.” What 5 year old does that???? Did he get fussy at times too? Yes – he was 5. But his parents have made clear to him and his sister what is acceptable and what isn’t. They go with the flow – colds, bumps, etc – eh, they’ll survive.

      I think what some parents forget (or maybe don’t want to think about) is that there will come a day when they won’t be there to take care of their kids and fix things and the kids need to have skills eventually to take care of themselves. If we do everything for them and make their lives easy and without consequence, they’ll get a rude awakening in the big world some day and won’t know how to handle it. The world has boundaries and rules and guidelines, it’s how a civilization works and survives and it does not cater to every individual’s whim.

      I say all this as someone who comes from a family where Dad worked at home until I was 8 and Mom was a stay-at-home mom until I was 10 or 11 and my sister was in school full time. But even though my parents were very involved and present for my childhood, they didn’t do everything for me, they set boundaries for me (I apparently liked to say “I hate obey” when I was a toddler), and there were consequences when I did something wrong. I like to think I turned out okay – master’s degree, a good job, and I owned my own place by age 26 and things have only gotten better since then.

      • Class of 1980

        Yeah, if there are no boundaries and no repercussions, that kid is going to have a very difficult time in the grownup world.

  • gemma

    Thank you! I’m 27 weeks along and cried the day I got my positive result…does this mean I can’t read my books? (I love reading and never want to give that up?) Or sleep for more than 2 hours at a time? (I love my sleep!). I didn’t want to give ‘myself’ up. I thought I would never make a good parent because I can be selfish with my time but it makes sense that there is a balance. I have a friend who still cosleeps with her almost 2 & 1/2 year old and while I think she is insane it works for her.
    I honestly don’t know what I’m trying to say but thank you. It makes me feel normal to read stories and the comments because that is what I would love to have.
    Hopefully the baby agrees!

    • Dalia

      I think it changes over time. Right now, I’m trying to help my 6 month old “find his naps.” LOL. He is squawking a bit but no amount of nursing, playing, or rocking will substitute for the sleep he truly needs right now- so I’m laying him down unless he starts screaming. The beginning though IS pretty crazy. I was up every two hours to nurse because, I don’t care what any expert says, that’s how often babies need to eat and/or get changed if they are breast feeding. But then again, he slept a lot during the day so I had plenty of time to watch Gray’s Anatomy, read, and do whatever.

      Now he is awake almost ALL DAY while he sleeps most of the night. And the naps that do happen are just teases. But I digress, my point is that no matter how crazy it is, especially in the beginning, you can and should make time for the things that you love to do.

  • Carrie

    I think about my mom, who tried to do a Total Motherhood thing for a few years because she thought she was supposed to, and realized it was driving her up a wall. She went back to grad school and pursued a job she loved. She also had adult friends, adult conversations, and adult hobbies (like singing in a rock band). She was and is a great mom. I think a lot of people fear that if they don’t make everything about their kids 24/7, then they’re being neglectful and hurting their kids. I can confirm that wasn’t AT ALL true in my mom’s case. She loved us, took care of us, did fun kid things with us, was there when we needed her. Her family was the most important thing in her life — but that didn’t mean it was the ONLY thing in her life.

    I liken it to marriage in that way. My husband is the most important person in my life, but our marriage would actively suffer if he were the ONLY person in my life. Obviously kids are different because they aren’t independent — but I do think a similar principle is at work.

  • Rowan

    One of the things I’ve been thinking about parenthood lately is that you don’t get what you want, you get what you get. I have this image of a kid – a female version of Josh Jr – laid back and easy going. With curly red hair and freckles. Who plays by herself and picks up her books. Who eats all the brussel sprouts we put on her plate without complaint.

    I want that kid but who knows if that is who I will get? I do agree that parenting is part of it (holding the line and not negotiating) but a large part of who a kid is is immutable. It is easy for people to say parenting is easy when they have easy kids. Not everyone has easy kids and it is not only to do with parenting.

    I’m just not sure I can really jump in to this parenting thing until I am ready to get what I get and I let go of that little girl.

    • Liz

      I wanted that same little girl! (really- I thought I was having girl, and I made my husband pinky swear she’d have red hair) Luckily, this blonde little boy was cute enough that I wasn’t too disappointed. ;) But really, that is a bit of how it worked. I fell so madly in love with this boy (and his terrible temper- inherited from me- and his tendency to scatter whatever food he’s eating throughout the house) that the bookworm redhead little girl doesn’t matter so much. Maybe we’ll get her on round 2?

      This, for me, wasn’t intended to be a post about “Parenting is Easy!” because. No. (As I typed this comment, he just poured a bowl of chickpea salad in my lap. Thanks, bud.) This is a post, to me, about figuring out how to keep the stuff that’s important to you while adding other important things (like babies) to the Big Picture Adventure.

    • meg

      Yeah, as we mentioned in the intro this is JUST an update on Liz’s experiences and marital adventure, not a manifesto on parenting. Not every kid will go out to eat at 9pm, that’s just how it is. But this is Liz’s adventure story, and it’s a good one.

  • I worried most about total motherhood during the newborn period because, during that initial three months or so, I was a total mother. You kind of have to be. I worried that I had made a terrible mistake and that it was never going to change and that my life was over. In retrospect I can see that the potent cocktail of sleep deprivation, wildly fluctuating hormones, semi-isolation while caring for a near-helpless creature was responible for those feelings.

    I slowly found myself again and understood that I could still be myself and that things were different, sure, but wonderfully different. We do different things now because we want Zoe to experience them and we want to watch her experience them. But like Liz, after Zoe goes to bed- it is our time.

    • Liz

      Those first 3 months are wicked, man.

      • Ambi

        THIS is one of the biggest things my girlfriends discussed last night! We talked about the “amnesia” mothers supposedly get about pregnancy and labor in order to voluntarily go through it all again. They ALL aggreed that, while they have slowly developed a bit of that pregnancy/labor and delivery amnesia, they have NOT yet developed any sort of amnesia to numb the memory of the first three months.

        Also, just as far as nuggets of wisdom go, I was a bit surprised when I mentioned that I was afraid of childbirth, and they all agreed that pregnancy is much worse than labor and delivery.

        • meg

          I personally find your last sentence so encouraging I’m going to keep it as a mantra. God, the first three months. I’m not a newborn person really, so it should be interesting. But, all things pass.

          • Ambi

            Yep, I thought it was encouraging too. Of my group of friends, there were vastly different labor experiences (15 hours delivered vaginally, 18 hours and then a C-section, 5 hours delivered vaginally, and an emergency premature labor and delivery that lasted less than 3 hours), and despite the fact that they very different experiences, they all said that pregnancy was harder than giving birth. Even the girl who loved being pregnant and had an “easy” pregnancy agreed with that.

            As far as the first three months, all I can say is please be open to the offers from friends and family who want to help. One of my friends took us up on the offers to bring her family meals, watch the baby while she napped or showered or ran errands, etc., and several of them did not. Talking about it last night, they said they felt bad asking for help. This is so frustrating to hear as a friend who offered a million times, and was never given the opportunity. So, my only little nugget of advice about the first three months is that, if friends and family offer to help, they are offering because they really want to help, and you shouldn’t feel bad for taking them up on it.

          • Class of 1980

            I am seriously wondering if the reason so many are saying childbirth was easier than pregnancy is because of epidurals.

            I never heard anyone say that until the nineties, when epidurals became standard. I can still remember how shocked I was when all the new mothers started saying the birth was so easy. They all had epidurals. Being awake to experience the birth, yet feeling no pain makes a big difference.

            In my mother’s generation, they put the women to sleep. In the seventies and eighties, natural childbirth with no pain control was all the rage. And even when it was fading, there was a gap when epidurals were not standard procedure.

            I think epidurals are fabulous.

          • Ambi

            I have no idea about the epidurals, although if that’s the case I definitely plan to get one :)

            Also, just thought I should qualify my earlier statement – they all said pregnancy was worse than giving birth, but they also said that the giving birth was a lot . . . messier . . . than they expected. I’ll leave it at that, but the concensus was that the movie and television images of birth (even supposed reality shows) do not accurately portray how messy and gross it really is. So, there is that . . .

          • Class of 1980

            Ambi, the fact that they talked about how messy it is, but not the pain, makes me think they all had epidurals.

            I find it kind of funny that they were surprised by how messy it is though. ;)

          • Ambi

            Oh, they did have epidurals (except for the super-fast emergency premature birth). We’ve talked about it – they definitely did. I just have no idea whether that is why it seems that women are now saying pregnancy is harder (since I think you are right, the pervasive attitude is that childbirth is the hardest thing you will ever experience in your life – but that just wasn’t my friends’ experiences).

            As for the messiness, I was trying not to be very graphic in the comments, but the real surprise was the vomiting. They all threw up, some of them a whole lot. They were pretty much prepared for everything that was going to happen at the other end. :) But, to paraphrase my friend last night, no one on TV ever shows a woman with puke all over herself.

    • Yes, yes, yes to this. Those first few months are all consuming.

    • Class of 1980

      Oh. My. God. I ended up going to stay with my sister a few days after her daughter was born. It was horrific. The baby had colic and cried constantly, and my sister was bursting into tears every day because she couldn’t get enough sleep. She needed help, so I went.

      We had a system where my sister would breastfeed her baby and cuddle her for the one hour afterward when she was still happy. Once the colic kicked in and the crying would start, I would take over. It was awful. Nothing you did would stop the crying. Her husband came home every day to find both of us wiped out on the sofa still in our robes.

      I left after a couple of weeks and when I came back to visit two months later, everything had settled down into a routine, the colic was gone, my sister radiated confidence, and everyone was happy.

      I highly recommend having HELP in the early days and adopting the mantra of “This too shall pass”.

      • Gigi59

        Ohmigosh…My mother hated me (she was glad to say after I was an adult, bless her!) when I was newborn. I had colic and they were half a continent away from any family. I screamed all day until my father came home from work and I fell asleep as soon as he held me!

        Yep, I’ve also spent many weeks helping cousins, sisters-in-law and just friends get through the first few months. Definitely don’t try to do it yourself – get help.

        • Class of 1980

          We used to tease my niece about what a terror she was and she would say … “I couldn’t help it!” ;)

          Man, I don’t know why your father holding you made a difference with colic. Nothing we did made any difference.

          • Gigi59

            I don’t know. He told me once that he thought all babies acted like that and it didn’t particularly bother him. Maybe it was just a huge dose of calmness…and I was probably exhausted by then, too.

  • Taylor

    Thank you so much Liz, meg, and all of you other lovely commenters for exposing me to a new narrative on motherhood I’d never heard before. That one can be a person first, and a parent second, and not have to sacrifice ones own desires and passions and identity.

    But on the other side of that, I am anxious that my future hypothetical kid would be the one to sacrifice. I remember having a lot of resentment at my mom, who, in the beginning years of starting her own law firm, often failed to get me to dance class on time. (And dance class was my *thing* man. Missing it or being late broke my little heart)

    Kids need their own thing as much as adults do, I think, and I worry that I won’t be able to find a situation in which I can live my life as an adult woman who also happens to have a child, AND my child can find a passion and thrive in it.

    It is very comforting to know that you can still be yourself and have a baby. Still, I am totally ambivalent about kids and has no strong feelings one way or another about having them. I’ll probably have them because I know it is important to my partner, who is incredible with children–I never thought I would become a parent until I saw him interact with a child in a way that does not at all come naturally to me, and knew that if I had a kid, at least Dad would get it right.

    So I am wondering, in the midst of this ambivalence, what happens when the baby you’ve managed to have while remaining yourself grows up a little and develops strong interests, and you want ever so dearly to support that little person and their interests so they can be their own person too…how do you balance that?

    • meg

      “So I am wondering, in the midst of this ambivalence, what happens when the baby you’ve managed to have while remaining yourself grows up a little and develops strong interests, and you want ever so dearly to support that little person and their interests so they can be their own person too…how do you balance that?”

      See to me, that’s the DREAM. I’m mostly interested in having kids that become their own people with their own interests. That’s the fun bit, right? That’s why you suffer through the other bits!

      • Taylor

        Oh this is absolutely the dream for me too! for sure! I just dwell on the fear that some day I am going to be like my mom, rocking it out at my career so hard that I forget to take my hypothetical little girl to dance class so she can do *her* thing

        Or that if I make my hypothetical future child’s passion a priority (which I definitely hope to), then my own passion will have to take a backseat.

        Someone please tell me that I can have both

        • Mollie

          Hun, its not a zero sum game. You’ll be OK :)

    • Dalia

      I totally relate to what you’re saying- there is a reason that people are over-parenting these days and it’s probably a gut reaction to some of the ways they were treated when they were little. I think where some of our parents made a mistake is not always recognizing that we were little people with feelings. The “children are resilient” bit was perhaps overblown. Also, there was this large-scale movement towards completely nuclear families with little help from grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc. I think growing up in an extended family with different models of how people can be and relate to each other helped to ease some of the edges of my childhood. And if you don’t have that or interested friends, don’t be afraid to hire someone (if possible) to help out if you need an hour to yourself, to drop off the kids to their own interesting hobby, or just to read with no interruption.

  • Food for thought, there’s a woman running for president of Iceland with her newborn baby.

    • MDBethann

      Now THAT is incredibly awesome. I hope she wins!!!

  • Marisa-Andrea

    As a brand new “mom” four months, “total motherhood” is my fear along with “not enough motherhood” (’cause that’s what I’M calling it lol). When I became pregnant, I became aware of mommyhood pressure in a way I hadn’t before. Yes, I knew that culturally we put enormous pressure on women as mothers to be the perfect mothers, total mothers, etc and even while I was pregnant, I was emotionally and mentally preparing myself for the battle I knew I would have in the world as I negotiated the decisions I would make for myself and my child. I mean, women as mothers are judged on a daily basis, in a public way for every. Little. Thing. Like any mother, there were things that were big deals to me (holding my baby, making her feel physically and emotionally secure) and not so important (using distilled Gerber water to mix formula or making sure she wore matching socks) BUT what I was totally UNprepared for was that one of my harshest critics would live in my own damn house. When I had a terrible time breastfeeding due to really really really bad and conflicting advice from lactation nurses and physical trauma that eventually made it impossible for me to continue and me deciding that worrying about how my baby was going eat not being something I wanted to worry about, I didn’t expect that it would be my husband and partner who would throw me under the bus. I simply had no idea that my husband and father to my child expected me to be this “total mom” who never wanted to spend time to herself or not being around her baby (’cause sometimes, I don’t. I’m human.). So while I deal with the cultural noise and societal pressure, I find that fighting the pressure my husband so much harder. It’s much harder to just say eff it, I’m going to do what I want. And negotiating the guilt that comes along with it because the criticism is from my PARTNER instead of outside folks who, at the end of day, I really care nothing about, eats at me in a way I was totally unprepared to deal with.

    I support “total motherhood” if that’s what you want to do. But I just hate it when people make me feel like I’m a bad person because I DON’T.

    • Oh, man, that sounds tough. I feel pretty lucky because whenever the ‘total motherhood guilt’ voice starts, my husband talks me down.

      Seeing as you are bottle feeding, maybe try leaving your husband with the baby for a weekend and letting him enjoy total immersion? And see if he doesn’t change his mind? This baby thing is TOUGH. I’ve had pretty bad PDD, and the thing that every single doctor and nurse has told me is that I HAVE to spend time away from the baby each and every day. At least 20 minutes. And for me, that alone time is actually more important than sleep, so sometimes I take it at 1 am, but I still try. Because I am a bad mother when I don’t.

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