Removing Angst

I always wince inwardly just a little when I tell a new acquaintance I’m a stay-at-home mother, that I don’t send my kids to preschool, that I breastfeed my 18-month-old, that I allow frequent desserts, etc.

Not because I think they’ll make disparaging comments–they never do.

Not because I think they might be thinking something disparaging–everyone is entitled to think what they want, and getting worked up about what others might be thinking but aren’t saying is silly.

No, what I worry about is that in expressing a decision we’ve made, I am automatically forcing them to justify their own, different decisions, which can tank the conversation. Mothers who work outside the home generally tell me that I’ve got the hardest job, that I’m doing something amazing and worthwhile, and other affirmations; occasionally one will tell me that she just couldn’t do it. We then exchange compliments and supportive comments. It’s rather stilted and artificial, though, because we’re afraid of coming across as judgmental to the other person.

This is probably more of a female problem than a male problem. I doubt very much that my husband worries about these things when chatting with other men. It represents progress, too; open Mommy wars are not fashionable, which is surely a good thing. What I have described, however, is still a set of constraints imposed by our inability to distinguish “something that is beneficial” with “something that should be normative.” When I say, “I love having time to take walks with my children,” there is a whiff of “I am giving my children a benefit that you, Working Mother, cannot.” When a working mother says, “I’m glad I can help provide for my children,” there’s a hint of “And you are not providing for your children.” For this reason, we usually do not say these things to each other.

Most of us recognize in other contexts that there is a substantial difference between “This is good” and “This is good in a way that nothing else can be.” We also recognize that most decisions are made on the basis of many factors, and that one answer is not right for everyone. We are, moreover, not usually so emotionally invested in choices that aren’t related to parenthood. “I used to live there, but the traffic was too bad for me,” we say breezily to someone who’s moved to our old town because of the great amenities available. We have different values and priorities, as well as different ways of living out our values and priorities, and we don’t really think it’s a slap in the face to make known these differences.

At some point, perhaps, a couple of parents watching their kids on the playground will need to feed their babies. One starts breastfeeding the baby; the other pulls out a formula bottle and says, “Ah, I didn’t want to be the kid’s only source of nutrition; it really helps that my husband can do some of the nighttime feedings.”

“Yeah, it is annoying getting up a few times a night,” agrees the breastfeeding mother. “But I like being able to feed the kid wherever, whenever, without worrying about what sorts of supplies I brought, or cleaning up bottles.” And they go on with their conversation, happy to share what works for them.




Reblogged: ‘How to you know you’ve found “the one”‘

Interesting discussion of how you know a prospective spouse is “the one.” It comes from a Christian perspective, which I share. I would note:

1) A relationship characterized by liking, respect, and trust is a good one; a relationship characterized by fear, resentment, and contempt is not. Note that I did not say “love” because people in bad relationships use that word all the time to mean various things that are incompatible with a good relationship, and ultimately a good marriage.

2) I’m not sure I agree that location of meeting has much to do with the quality of a relationship, but I do agree that you want to see your intended in situations that are NOT the idealized date setups. It’s pretty easy to get along when you’re eating out or hiking. How are you going to deal with exhaustion, poverty, sickness, or other stressful situations? Wedding planning can actually be helpful, here, as it tends to show how people deal with big projects. I know my own wedding planning brought out some of my weaknesses, and also showed my then-fiance’s organization, diligence, and calmness.

3) Family can suck, be awesome, or (most probably) offer good and bad things to the couple and the relationship. It is quite true that one’s family of origin has an enormous effect on a person, but what is key is seeing how they deal with it and with their family. Do they treat their family with respect, but set boundaries where appropriate? Are they able to recognize dysfunctional ways of communicating and work toward developing healthier habits?

3) I don’t think that people who are not great communicators are thereby shut off from marriage. But two people in a relationship need to figure out how to communicate with each other in a way that satisfies each other. Does your prospective spouse need to cool off for some hours after getting mad before addressing a situation? Then be prepared not to jump all over him or her when you would like nothing better than to talk and talk and talk the matter over. Are you too sensitive, perceiving slight where none was intended? How can you adjust your radar?

Finally, I note that, just as there are many ways of being healthy or unhealthy, there are also many different kinds of good and bad relationships. It is always good to look at happily married couples and see what they’re doing right, but ultimately you’ve got to make and remake your relationship with your significant other.

a meek & quiet spirit

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[photo by Ashley Crutcher Photography]

It was a sticky day in July. Campers would be arriving in just a few short hours and there was a lot to do before then. As we sat at brunch, I could tell he was nervous. “What’s wrong?” I asked after we prayed over our rice bowls. “I don’t know if he actually told me ‘yes’ straight up,” he said. Luckily he confirmed the answer at some point, because as we were in the throes of gearing up for another week of camp, he excitedly looked at me and asked: “Will you be my girlfriend?” Of course I said yes. We had been talking seriously for weeks. We had very similar goals, interests, and sense of humor. This was just the next sensible step on our journey to become one.

I love reminiscing and talking about the beginning of my relationship with my…

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The Culture-Bound Nature of Happiness and Parenting

Most of the happiest countries in the world are found in Scandinavia this year. The society is stable, there’s a strong safety net, there’s little crime and corruption, overall health is good….Let’s be more like Scandinavia!

The first question that may occur to you is how can I, a non-Scandinavian, be more like a Scandinavian in my non-Scandinavian society? Ought I to vote for and promote social policies mirroring that of the Nordic countries?

But there is a more fundamental question to be asked before we attempt to remake our society in the image of our happy northern Europeans. I am an American. Does being a happy American look like being a happy Scandinavian? I would be prepared to bet that my values do not precisely line up with Scandinavian values, and that which they may perceive to promote happiness may not do so for me. In other words: happiness, dependent as it is upon a complicated mix of internal and external factors, is subjective in definition and perception, as well as in expression. Maybe the reason for the high happiness score is that Scandinavians are taught not to whine about their place in the world. (I am not suggesting that this is true, by the way, merely pointing out the limitations of any survey in ascertaining so nebulous a concept as happiness.)

The same is true of parenting, which is extremely culture-bound, as described in this quote by Nicholas Day in his book Baby Meets World:

“Seemingly every culture before our own has had a single acceptable way to raise a baby. These cultures wouldn’t have cared about the new scientific findings: they already knew how babies worked. Their answers were all very different, mind you, but they had this in common: all the other answers were wrong.

“Such confidence makes sense. If you have to raise a baby, not study a baby, you’d better settle on an answer, and as long as you have settled on an answer, you may as well be certain about it. Pretty much everyone has been very certain. But if everyone has been very certain, and everyone’s certainty has been very different, you start to suspect that there aren’t that many certainties after all. There’s no one true path. Or put another way: the one true path is forked.”

Day notes that babies thrive under all sorts of conditions that would horrify foreign onlookers, and provides a wholesome reminder that the received wisdom of our time and place is not universal and will certainly change.

I do not suggest that we put our children in cages and feed them scraps (tempting though it may be sometimes). Children need some very basic things to thrive–safety, love, regular human contact, food, shelter, medical attention. There are, however, a myriad of ways to supply these basic needs, and while we will of course prefer some to others it is worth repeating that other ways of doing are not necessarily harmful.

While talking to other mothers, I see a reaction against the so-called “Mommy wars” that pit practitioners of breastfeeding against formula feeding, daycare against parental care, public vs. private vs. homeschooling, and so on in the hope that their parental choices will be validated by their superior offspring’s success. I think we are starting to recognize that raising a child is not like developing and manufacturing a product under “best practices.” However, our own assumptions about what is the best way to do something are still there, and so deep that we often cannot recognize our own prejudices.

Day himself falls victim to this sort of credulity when he describes how marvelous breastfeeding is, and what great pains (literally) his wife suffered to breastfeed their first. The truth is that when parents have access to formula and clean water, the benefits of breastfeeding are pretty small and transitory. (Reading about Day’s wife’s mastitis and abscess, and reading about his son’s poor weight gain in his first year of life, I wanted to tell Day to just crack open some formula and stop the torture, already.)

This is remarkable, because most of Day’s book is such a clearsighted exposition of the fact that babies can be raised in many, many different ways without suffering harm. One would think rubbing them with cow dung or strapping them to cradleboards would be a bad idea, but the babies do okay.

This is the problem I have with books that promote Chinese tiger-mothering, French etiquette-enforcing, Danish something or othering, or other “international” methods of rearing children. I am sure that some cultures do better than others at bringing up children to be humane, decent, wise, responsible, diligent adults, and I’m sure there are some social choices that make it easier or harder to be a parent (or a child). But our perpetual (and deeply human) search for The One True Way to parent our children is ultimately doomed to failure. That’s okay; your kids will probably be fine anyway, unless they live in a particularly unhappy country.


Harmony in Family Life

I see that I used the word “harmony” twice when reviewing Mercer Mayer’s Little Critter books. Oops. However, harmony in family life is an important concept because it means so much more than “things are moving along without catastrophe,” or “we’re not squabbling with each other.” Harmony isn’t even just peace, though peace is wonderful.

Consider what singing in harmony means: We aren’t all singing the same notes. Some of us are singing one tune, some another; some are singing high, some low. It is thrilling. Likewise, a family in harmony does not ask that each individual member’s uniqueness be quashed for the sake of conformity; each family member is free to be himself, but all of those unique people living together creates something beautiful.

My former pastor told us that when each of his children was born, his family wasn’t just added to–it changed into a whole new family. The dynamics alter with each new person. I believe that he’s right, and I love it.

No family “song” is perfect, of course; there are plenty of times when bad attitudes or circumstances (or both) cause discord. But unless there is something profoundly broken within the family, children and parents can come back together and lift their voices in tune with each other, creating a lovely and complex melody that is their own story and song.


Happy Father’s Day

Happy Father’s Day to the father who works long hours to make sure his family has food, shelter, and clothing.

Happy Father’s Day to the father who gives his children horsey rides, even when he’s tired.

Happy Father’s Day to the father whose love, protection, and guidance provide a good example not only for his children, but also his children’s friends, who come over and see what the presence of a father gives to his household.

Happy Father’s Day to the father who keeps things running, without any fanfare or call for appreciation.

Happy Father’s Day to the father who teaches his children by direct instruction and by showing them the ways of righteousness and wisdom.

Happy Father’s Day to my husband, to my departed father, to my father-in-law, to my childhood friend’s father, to the fathers of my neighborhood, church, and community. I can think of a thousand ways you’ve made the world a better place. May God our Father bless you today and always.

Suffering Is Not the Goal

The United States birth rate is at a historic low. There are plenty of factors at play–finances for one. Children are expensive. Money isn’t the only reason people are choosing to have fewer children, however. There is a sense that parenthood means giving up oneself entirely, and if you don’t do the Absolute Best Thing for your children then you oughtn’t have them. I do not agree with everything said in this piece here, but there is a certain truth that expectations for parents are impossible–and sometimes contradictory.

Is parenting really such a hellscape? Well, let me tell you:

Today I did laundry, sweeping, bathroom cleaning, organizing; I read books to kids, cuddled them on my lap, made them meals and put them down for a nap. I checked Facebook and a few blogs, too.

Today I took a nap. This was a productive use of time; I shall now have sufficient energy to clean the house, make dinner, and get ready for Bible study while not snapping at my loved ones.

Today I had a beer with lunch. It was tasty. In the morning, I had coffee with cocoa in it.

Today I am typing this post because I have something to say. My daughter wants to talk to me, and I will do so in a few minutes, but I have asked her to be quiet for a bit because I want to think.

Today has been a good day. The kids have been in a decent mood; no one is sick; I have accomplished some things, but not driven myself into the ground.

Sometimes I must drive myself into the ground, or my husband must. Kids get sick; I get sick; my husband gets sick or has to deal with a huge workload. Sometimes there are nights with little sleep or days filled with neverending chores. Sometimes the house is a disaster, the kids whine nonstop, and dinner is noodles with a jar of sauce.

Sometimes I play chess with my kids, teach them letters and numbers and the points of the compass, paint with them, play squirt guns with them, or take them out to get muddy and tired. I read them Bible stories and field questions about whether God goes to the bathroom, or when souls enter bodies.

My children amuse me a great deal. Sometimes, however, I’m bored of dealing with them. I cherish their cuddles, except when I want to be alone. I love them to pieces. I also love their bedtime. I hike less than I used to, watch less anime, read fewer new grownup books. I cook more elaborate meals (which I enjoy), read more children’s books, garden, bake more. I’ve returned to my piano, albeit in a lazy and inconsistent manner. I write fewer short stories, and now write blog posts.

As far as I can tell, my kids are okay. They’re young, so I can’t make any predictions about the course of their lives, but they seem to be reasonably happy, bright, and healthy.

Now, parenthood exacerbates other stresses, and I should mention that currently our lives are fairly easy, comparatively speaking. My family’s financial situation is comfortable at the moment; as far as we know, no one has a chronic or terminal illness, my husband and I are happy with each other, my husband works a white-collar job from home, and we don’t have any pressing family troubles.

If I could do it all again, I would.

I love being a parent to my three young ones.

Parenthood doesn’t have to be martyrdom. Your kids will be okay if you don’t enroll them in competitive preschools, breastfeed them, serve them organic food that you’ve grown yourself, taught them to read by the age of three, or whatever other “best practice” we impose on ourselves, if we’re privileged enough to do so. Love your kids. Discipline them. And for Heaven’s sake, take a nap if you need it.

It’s Only Sanctimony When…

Hands up if you’ve ever disapproved of someone’s parenting choices. Hand not up? Liar liar pants on fire. I hope you’ve had the good sense not to express your disapproval to the parent(s) in question, but all of us judge others for their parenting choices. “Little snowflake can’t eat anything but organic paleo? Ugh, how precious.” “That is way too much TV.” “Why isn’t she wearing sunscreen?” “Geez, don’t hover so much; the kid will be fine if you step three feet away.” “I hope that message on your phone is more important than your kids’ bloodcurdling cries.” And so on.

Most of us know how annoying it is to be on the receiving end of such judgments. If someone says, “Cookies for breakfast?” you feel compelled to tell a perfect stranger that these are specially-baked breakfast cookies with protein and no added sugar, and that you needed something portable because you have an early appointment. Then you make up some zinger of a rejoinder that you wish you had given instead.

When to interfere with another’s parenting choices? Thankfully, most of the time there aren’t clear situations where you absolutely must intervene. If a parent is leaving a 3-year-old alone in the park next to a busy highway, yeah, time to do something. If a parent is okay with their kids playing with their supposedly unloaded guns, also time to do something. If a parent is sharing cigarettes with their 9-year-olds, yes, interference is warranted.

But absent atrocious misjudgment, neglect, and abuse, there are still times when reasonable people might feel it necessary to at least say something to the parent, when other people would disagree. I see a lot of discussion about car seats, for instance. Not whether they’re necessary for young children–I know of no one who argues that they aren’t–but there’s debate about when to forward-face children, what you should say to parents with strap covers, what to say if a strap is twisted or the chest clip is positioned too low. (For Brits and people in other countries: In the U.S., car seats come not only with the usual buckle but a chest clip that is supposed to keep the straps correctly positioned. The chest clip should be placed at armpit level.)

Now, for maximum safety, you should keep kids backward facing as long as possible, and make sure that the straps, clips, etc are adjusted correctly and tightly every single time you go out in the car. You should not put strap covers on the straps, and definitely don’t put your kids in puffy coats when in their car seats because they could slip out in case of impact. Accidents are the top cause of death in children older than 1 year of age in the U.S., and car accidents in particular are either the leading or second most frequent cause of death, depending on the child’s age.

There are reasons to deviate from best practices. If it’s 10 degrees outside with a wind and you’ve got to drive three young children down a fairly safe road to their dance class, you might decide that putting their coats on underneath their car seat straps is safer than putting the coats on after you’ve arrived at your destination. Your seat might come with strap covers, which have been tested with your car seat, a fact that an onlooking parent might not be aware of. And your one-and-a-half-year-old might throw up every time you put her rear-facing in the car, so it might seem to you reasonable to forego the extra bit of safety in exchange for the cessation of vomit cleanup.

So why this discussion of car seat safety? This is a topic which engenders a range of opinions that people might or might not decide to weigh in on. Personally, I would “say something” if I saw a strap obviously twisted or loose, and I would flat-out refuse to allow a parent to transport a young child without a car seat. But strap covers, chest clip positioning, “premature” forward-facing, and puffy clothing? I just don’t think that the risk is great enough to offer my own opinion on the parents’ choices. Others may disagree, and they’re not terrible people for it.

Sanctimony is only sanctimony when it’s not necessary or helpful. But “necessary or helpful” is in the eye of the beholder, and that’s the problem.


My three-year-old recently (and tearfully) informed my husband and I that we were lousy parents. This was on a cross-country trip in which we visited an aquarium, beaches, mountains, and lakes; in which we stayed in hotels, ate at restaurants, played with friends and relatives, and generally had a splendid time (and spent a lot of money). Of course, all of this activity tired out our kids–hence the negative review of our parenting skills. He was later kind enough to retract his comment.

Ah, gratitude. This is one of the crucial skills we try to impart to our children, for a life lived without gratitude is stunted, miserable, and dysfunctional. Love cannot exist without gratitude, and neither can friendship or enjoyment. We hope that the “Thank yous” we model and expect our children to produce, albeit insincerely, will one day help them develop a true sense of gratitude.

But children are not born grateful, and no one expects that they should be. A baby does not say “Thank you” when parents change his diaper, feed him, clean him, cuddle him, or play with him, and there’s something unbearably pathetic about young children who are grateful for every show of kindness. A happy child does not worry whether she will be fed and cared for, and so receives good things as no more than her due. Gratitude develops with empathy and with loss, or at least with awareness of the possibility of loss; a child who realizes that he has a nice life realizes that other children may not have loving parents, a good home, and the other blessings he possesses.

This is why it is a fool’s game to try to build a happy child by showering her with nice things and marvelous experiences. My husband and I give our children gifts and pleasures (see above regarding our recent trip), but we do not do so in the hope of keeping them happy; indeed, actively trying to ward off sadness, boredom, or other negative feelings is about as effective in developing happiness as sitting on a couch all day is in developing a strong body. A child sated with pleasures is a child who cannot easily be roused to wonder and delight, or to imagine that life for others may be different.

I have written before that children will remember and delight in unexpected things. This can be very annoying to adults who pay lots of money for a child to go to the aquarium, only to find that the slides inside the aquarium play area are what the child likes best. We could have done that for free, kid. But this reflects adult limitations quite as much as children’s; when they do not think like we expect them to, this is a failure in our empathy rather than a deficiency in their thinking. For ultimately, is the shining golden moment any less splendid because it is the memory of kicking plants or playing tag or any other “trivial” experience? Is an experience not important because of the meaning attached to that experience?

And this is where adults learn a little humility, and even something about gratitude, themselves. Even we who are evil give our children good gifts within our powers. When our children respond with happiness and gratitude, we are grateful. Every spontaneous “Thank you,” every manifestation of burgeoning gratitude inspires thankfulness in us. Little by little, we become more grateful people, and so, God willing, do our children.


Responsible Parenting

One of the most popular subjects in the “None of my business” file is “The wisdom of others’ decision to have a child.” That does not prevent nearly 100% of the population from commenting on this decision, either to the prospective parents (unwise), the commenters’ intimates, or themselves. I have, of course, been on the business end of such judgments; one person seems to regard my uterus as some kind of bomb that might go off any minute and explode another baby. Considering that my husband and I are fairly stable mentally, emotionally, and financially, and considering that our existing kids are all alive and doing okay, I’m not quite sure why this person has such trepidation; but that’s the point, isn’t it? Everyone has a different perspective on the wisdom of adding another child.

When I hear that So-and-So is expecting, I too deliver (unspoken) judgment–anything from “How marvelous!” to “Oh, geez. Really? That poor kid.” So let’s talk about the responsibility of becoming a parent. One side of the continuum is represented by, say, drunken teenagers messing about with no thought to the consequences of their actions; the other by those who meticulously choose the exactly perfect date for conceiving their child to ensure the optimum quality of life. (I.e., they decide not to have kids, because there is no perfect date–only ever-changing downsides.)

Now, age is not as often a problem as I think others believe it to be. I will certainly agree that 13-year-olds of either sex and 50-year-old women shouldn’t be reproducing–health risks, if nothing else–but I don’t believe that an 18-year-old or a 45-year-old mother is necessarily in a terrible situation. A healthy mother with stable relationships, some means of financial support, and sufficient help can be a very good parent even if she is young or old; of course youth and age have their problems (chiefly financial and health-related, respectively), but I’ve known plenty of children who did very well with young or old parents, and plenty of young and old parents who delighted in their children.

Full disclosure: My mother had me at age 43, when my father was 47. My mother has lots of age-related problems, and my father died of cancer when I was just 9, which certainly highlights some of the hazards of having children late in life. I had an increased chance of being miscarried, causing some physical harm to my mother while being gestated and born, and having chromosomal abnormalities. Nevertheless, I’m happy to be alive, I had a splendid childhood until my father’s death, and I wouldn’t counsel against older parents deciding whether to take the plunge.

Number of children is another unreliable predictor of familial happiness. I've known families to do very well at raising double-digit numbers of children, and at raising only one child. The current American preference is, I think, for two children if you’re going to have kids at all, but this preference is cultural and not necessarily the best for any given family.
Real problems include addictions that can trump the child’s best interest, a chaotic family life, and parental immaturity. The first two points should be fairly obvious; the last is nebulous and highly subjective. But as a general rule, people considering whether to reproduce should ask: What is my relationship to the prospective baby’s other parent? I realize that this may offend those who become single parents by choice, and although it is not my wish to offend, I’ll risk offense to say that it is best not to embark upon parenthood unless you think there’s some reasonable chance that the kid will be able to know and grow up with both parents; kids living in single-parent households are at a living in single-parent households are at a disadvantage. My own example shows that single parenthood may be thrust upon a person at any time–my dad’s cancer didn’t really care about my familial situation–but just as many but not all car accidents can be prevented, so many but not all unstable family situations can be prevented.

I see I’ve used the word “stable” quite a bit in this post. Anyone who’s raised children or been around children a great deal, such as a teacher, will see why; children who have been shuttled to different homes, must deal with food insecurity, are living with guardians who abuse drugs or alcohol, have been subjected to inconsistent or conditional discipline or expressions of affection, or have otherwise lacked security, care, and appropriate guidance are much less likely to do well than children who have grown up in–let’s use the word one more time–stable conditions. Mind you, this is only a generalization, and children have grown up healthy, decent, and successful in quite dreadful circumstances, just as children born without one leg have grown up healthy, decent, and successful; but you wouldn’t want to chop off a child’s leg unless there was a really excellent reason to do so, as you would be making life harder for the child.

Readers may notice that this post has been addressed primarily to people who are considering whether or not to have children. However, throughout the history of mankind, children have been conceived and born without much thought at all; and for those who find themselves with a child in less-than-ideal circumstances, I would first of all say “Congratulations, you’ve been given a beautiful gift.” (Okay, I might not say that if I think the parent might punch me, but I’d think it.) And now that you have this child, what will you do for him or her? What do you need to do to make things work, to give the child what he or she needs?

I think the bottom line is this: For those making the conscious, deliberate choice to have a child, please remember that this child is not an accessory. And for those who find themselves with a child as a result of an oopsie, remember that this child is not an accessory. This child is an end in his or herself, and deserves to be treated as such.

Remembering Big Puddles

My son, three years old, singing upstairs in his bed when he should be napping….

“Remember when we went to Chincoteague?”
“Yes, and there was a biiig puddle and I drove the tractor through it and made a big mess?”

I remember that. Would have thought that the wild ponies, the beach, the lighthouse, the restaurants and ice cream, sitting on a pony, the pool, the hotel, even the long drive would have been more memorable, but….

“Do you remember getting burned?”

“Okay, show me where you got burned.” He points first to his tummy, then to his left arm. Nope, and nope.

“Do you remember what burned you?”

“Fire?” No, it was hot tea.

I’m glad he doesn’t remember that…I’m glad I do. I can’t forget what happened when I was careless enough to leave hot liquid within reach of a one-and-a-half-year-old.

“Mommy, remember when we went to Nanny and PaPa’s house?”

“You mean, yesterday? Yes, I remember that.”

“And we played with the cars!” And hunted plastic eggs, dyed chicken eggs, found Easter baskets, stuffed ourselves with Nanny’s rich foods, threw a temper tantrum when it was time to leave.

We just got a deck. My three-year-old may remember a time before we had it, but it is likely that he will eventually forget. He’s already forgotten the time before his baby brother was born. His experiences are so intense and fresh, and they’re important in the way they’ve shaped him, but he won’t carry memories of going to the bouncy-place or being on antibiotics for an infection or walking around the neighborhood all by himself for the first time or sleeping in a crib. He doesn’t remember his first bite of solid food (sweet potato), his first word (hard to say, because he started saying so many all at once), his first step (and first fall). That’s left to his dad and me, the caretakers of his memories.

I worry about what he will remember. I hope he’ll remember the times we read stories, and not the times I pushed him away saying I was busy. I hope he’ll remember the times he helped me bake, and not the times I yelled at him for kicking my stuff off the chair. I want him to think of his early childhood with happiness; never again will I have as much control over his environment as I do now (a terrifying thought), and I want him to have a simple, happy time to fall back on when things become more complicated.

My own childhood was a very happy one, until my dad became sick with cancer and died. This was the first in a series of what today are called adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), and children with multiple ACEs are likelier to have poorer health and relationships as adults, and to engage in risky behavior and substance abuse. But so far, by the grace of God, I have not experienced these ill effects; my life is a happy one, and I think most of my relationships are healthy and full of love. I had some wonderful friends who helped me during the tough years, and I had that cushion of early warmth and security that helped me feel beloved and belonging, and I think those factors helped developed some resilience.

An explicit admission: I would love to engineer my children’s lives and personalities. I would love to ensure that they become marvelous, loving, happy, diligent people who have successful lives. Indeed, I’ve written before about my attempts to indoctrinate them. But I cannot lecture them into being what I want them to be, and I know that excessive control is in fact harmful to their development. Their dad and I try to provide a loving, happy, supportive childhood, with appropriate guidance and good modeling, and that’s about all we can do.

My early experiences have left me unable to maintain the illusion that I can control what happens to my kids. I don’t know what my son will remember, or how what is unremembered will affect him. I pray for his health, happiness, and moral development; I try to be a good-enough mother; and for the rest I try to enjoy what we have now and not to be apprehensive about the future. For whatever else happens, now he is cuddling me; he knows he is loved. Perhaps it’s enough.