PARENTS

Here’s what we don’t talk about when we talk about having it all: mothering less. Not willful child negligence, but simply having one kid, and no more.

I’ve watched most of my friends tread into the tunnel of second children, few of them to emerge as how I remember their former engaged selves. They tell me there’s hardly the time to even consider maintaining a self.  “You don’t have any idea how hard it is—it’s more than twice as hard,” many of them say repeatedly, impatient and dazed. It’s true. Our family life, busy with plentiful travel, the delights of urban living, late night rock shows and dinner parties, and the frequent freedom to binge on a novel over a …

Oy, it's still this bad?

Both fathers and mothers pay dearly for the miracle of parenthood, but in most cases, it’s women who pony up for the bulk of those costs, even fifty years after Betty Friedan lambasted what she titled The Feminine Mystique.  I often think of a Census Bureau report released last yearon who provides care for our children. Suzanne Bianchi, who clocked in sixteen years as a Census demographer, discovered, stunningly, that mothers actually spend more time caring for a child today than they did in 1965, back when sixty percent of them stayed at home full-time.  In her book Changing Rhythms of American Family Life, Bianchi reports that married mothers devote about thirteen hours a week to childcare, up from about …

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You may have seen the Motherlode post written by an unhappy only child this week in the New York Times. It’s fairly typical of its ilk: my mother wanted more children, and I wanted siblings, and therefore an only childhood is a miserable thing.  The only data points the author offers are on the rising number of only children in America.  According to her anecdotal experience, this is a terrible thing.

Perhaps without knowing it, the author–a public relations specialist and essayist–reveals what may be the two surest ways to lay the groundwork for unhappy onliness.  It starts a generation earlier than you’d think, with our parents’ longing. She writes: ”For my parents, having an only child was not a …

Otis reading my Time article on only children.

From the when things start getting real files: I wanted to share an email exchange I had with my dear friend Julia this morning. Julia is a psychologist in Santa Cruz, married to a singer-songwriter named Nels, raising an awesome kid names Otis.  We met in pre-natal yoga in Brooklyn (still the only yoga class I’ve taken—I think I have 9 sessions left on a 10 pack if anyone in Brooklyn wants it).  The six of us, would have dinner on Friday nights, a little chosen family, until Julia’s work moved them across the country.  We are sisters in angst. Today, Julia more than myself (I have dibs on tomorrow).  I thought these angsty missives might be relatable.  Lord knows …

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For the first time in five years, I rang in the New Year without a child to put to bed before midnight, or to wake me before dawn. In fact, I spent the last several days of 2012 giddily cramming in consecutive nights of bad behavior, drinking shots of whiskey in dirty bars, dancing the night away in platform shoes, eating to excess in downtown restaurants, all rarities in my post-maternal life. My husband felt guilty he was so deeply enjoying our time away from our daughter. I didn’t. My remorselessness was underscored within an hour of our daughter returning home from her grandparents, when her first tantrum began, which she opted to stage naked, on the toilet. Perhaps she …

How liberating!

This month, the Center for Disease Control reported that birth rates had dropped again, for the fourth year in a row, bottoming out under 4 million babies born for the first time since 1998.  Commentators immediately rushed to their laptop, ringing the alarm bells to fault the economy for our flaccid national desire to procreate. To be sure, low fertility accompanies a weak economy without fail. But to blame the markets for what happens in our bedrooms misses a radical reshaping of our worldview. It’s not just the economy, it’s liberation. The pursuit of happiness has emerged as our new national ideology, trumping the age-old belief that parental duty is the very definition, of adulthood.  Some think it’s the height …

WeirdScience1985

I’m preparing to talk to a group of high school psychology teachers about “bad” science. (How is “Bad Science” not an eighties movie? Was “Weird Science” enough?) I’m reeling, as I have many times before in reporting on the science of only children, from the disconnect between what studies about only children show us, and what we tend to believe, regardless.

I visited birth order guru and scientific historian Frank Sulloway at Berkeley last year.  We talked about why bad scientific reasoning about onlies tends to occur outside the data sets. He believes a Darwinian impetus may well underlie the stereotype. Our relatives had an evolutionary imperative to spread their own genes.  “They need a good story to convince us …

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There was a plaid wool blanket in my parents’ car, just big enough to cover me when I would stretch out across the backseat. During snowy Massachusetts weather, I would wrap it around me, cocoon-like, and lean forward to wedge myself between the front seats where my parents sat, making plans, cracking jokes, or listening to the hum of “Weekend Edition.”  Summertime meant I would ball it into a pillow, and prop my head on it to re-read every book in the Anne of Green Gables series, inhaling the permanent rubbery smell of our boxy blue Jetta.  These days, my daughter sleeps under it when she stays in their apartment; I am always amazed at how small it is, and …