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My Gift to the World

Tiger mothers! Breeders! The economic foolishness of raising children!

There are so many battles raging on blogs, news sites, and Facebook posts about the horrors of raising children--or of living a barren, childless existence; the dangers of being too lenient--or too strict; the immorality of bringing children into the world--or opting out. As with any online debate, most of it is hype and trolling and overreaction. But the talk has made me think about why I had a baby and how I will raise her.

The stories we tell matter. The books we read to our children, the online comments and status updates we write, the religious beliefs we espouse and the cultural and personal myths we perpetuate--all these ways of telling stories, whether consciously nor not and whether for better or worse, give our lives direction, meaning, and purpose. Stories can give context, create patterns out of chaos, deliver moral judgments, and rationalize or justify our actions and beliefs. Stories are the basis for how we relate to the world and how we view ourselves and our abilities and roles.

Self-fulfilling prophecies come about when we tell ourselves and others a story so many times that it becomes true. We usually think of a self-fulfilling prophecy as something unconscious and negative, but mantras and mission statements can also be self-fulfilling.

So I keep thinking about the meaning of my having a child, even after she is born.

I won't pretend that my decision to have a child was rational or logical. It was an animal urge to procreate. It was the pressure of my biological clock and the parents who wished to be grandparents. It was a sentimental desire to hold a little baby with my husband's features and my own.

But that does not mean that I didn't understand what having a child means, or that I made my choice irresponsibly. It was an act of love and hope. And I firmly believe that people who long to nurture and love a child should do it, and that people who would rather do other things with their lives should do what they want, too. The world would be a better place if all children were truly wanted and all adults were living their dreams.

Some say it's selfish to bring more children into the world; others say it's selfish to live child-free. I say that both decisions are selfish, as well they should be. Should people who don't want kids really be pressured to have them? Should people who want children feel guilty about their sons and daughters? Absolutely not. Not everyone needs to have children for human society to thrive. Clearly, some people are better suited to other roles. The variety of skills, lifestyles, and interests in any human society is what makes it strong. There are many functions that need to be served in a healthy community. One of those functions is raising healthy children.

Not everyone needs to do it, but somebody does need to do it. Population decline is sometimes necessary in a region, but a gradual decline causes less harm to a society's infrastructure than the sudden loss of a generation. If every woman in the United States had two children, our population would decline. (Not every single one of those children would reach sexual maturity and be able to reproduce.) And many American women have only one biological child or none at all, which means that a handful of Michelle Duggars are not going to cause the babypocalypse. And if the children we bring into the world are healthy, bright, and well-adjusted, they will more likely make the world better and richer for their existence instead of simply being a drain on resources.

So how do we raise children the "right" way? Again, I don't think there is one answer that works for every family. But this is how I feel about mine: I will not be a Tiger Mother, training my child to perform like a circus animal, and I will not be a laissez-faire "friend" to my child, allowing her whims to dictate her life and mine. As I see it, those two extremes are a false dichotomy--not only because they are both extreme but because neither style of parenting is focused on what the child actually needs.

I believe that it is good for a child to grow up with a sense of purpose and responsibility. I also believe that it is good for a child to be true to herself and learn to make her own decisions. So I will do my best to raise my child not as though she owes me everything for giving her life nor as though I owe her everything for deciding to bring her into the world. I will do my best to raise her to understand love without debt and responsibility without ownership. My purpose in life is not to grant her every wish, and her purpose in life is not to fulfill my every need.

OUR purpose in life is to do our best for the world, in the ways that suit us best. She belongs to the world and the world belongs to her, simply because she is a part of the world.

This gives me a great sense of purpose as her mother, too, because I see my daughter as my greatest gift to the world. When I feed her, hold her, sing to her, read her books, and keep her happy and healthy and safe, I am not just doing it for me. And I am not just doing it for this one little girl. Doing my best for her is doing my little bit for the future of my family, my city, my nation, my world.

My given name, Jean, means "gift from God." It is a common meaning behind many popular names. We like to think of children as blessings and gifts. I like to think of my daughter that way too. But it makes me proud to believe that she is not just a blessing bestowed upon me and her father; as she grows up, she is also a gift from us to the world.

My daughter, my gift to the world


  1. As I see it, those two extremes are a false dichotomy--not only because they are both extreme but because neither style of parenting is focused on what the child actually needs.

    THIS. While I tend toward pretty mellow, what-won't-kill-him parenting style, at the same time I recognize that giving my son boundaries is more important than being his BFF.

    My tolerance for Parent-Judgment on the Internet has gotten lower and lower lately, and this post was a beautiful change of pace.

    Also: you and your daughter are lovely! :D

  2. This was a great post. Thanks for sharing. Your little girl is gorgeous!

  3. Thanks, Ashley and Meika! I think she's beautiful too, but of course I'm biased. ;)

    Having a baby is hard. I now understand just how hard, and I think what struggling parents need is less judgment and more support.

  4. Video every moment (within reason:)). When she's fifteen or so you will have hours of delight and she, embarrassment - especially if there's boyfriends involved :)

  5. This was absolutely beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing this!

  6. Mike, that's what I keep hearing! We're starting our collection of adorable videos. In one of the first ones, I tried to film her doing something cute and then she took a big poop. It was hilarious. One for prom night for sure.

    Michelle, thanks! You continue to inspire me as a mom and author. :)

  7. AMEN. That is beautiful. I'll be back to read that again. I'm impressed that you can put so many words together... I'm still working on that. Yes, parents (and everyone) needs less judgement and more support. I didn't realize how hard this was. I'm still wandering around in my spit-up soaked sweat pants murmuring, "I had no idea. I had no idea." (Actually, that was last week. This week is better.)

    But I try to remind myself how important the little songs I sing, and the healthy food I eat are to this little babe who will be an adult some day.

  8. Keep up the good work, Molly! It DOES get easier. I felt absolutely bonkers the first month. Not only was it overwhelming to have a little person depend on me so completely, but it was a shock how much I had to depend on other people, too. There was no way I could do it all myself. But you do grow superpowers over the first six weeks, I'm pretty sure.

    What are your little nugget's favorite songs? Gallica is thrilled with all the weird old folk and camp songs her grandparents sing to her!

  9. What a beautiful post and a lovely photo at the end of it.

  10. No favorite songs yet, as far as i can tell. We like to dance to a Moby song called "I Love To Move in Here." We had to resort to some James Taylor to calm both our nerves while breastfeeding a couple weeks ago. It was soothing. So far it's mostly been about calming her. She's heard Chris Smither, Jane Siberry, K.D. Lang, Frank Zappa, Bach Cello concertos, Paul Simon, Neko Case... especially the 30 minutes of spring peepers at the end of Middle Cyclone. Does Baby G love anything in particular yet?

  11. Thank you, Lisa!

    Molly, NG seems partial to Bob Marley, which is funny. She also loves the new Edith Piaf collection I just got. Indian classical music and music boxes make her sleepy. Mr. G keeps trying to get her into techno music and the Black Eyed Peas, but she often makes a little frowny face when he turns that crap on in the car. Haha!

    I just read an article that said babies learn to like music that you dance or bounce them to.


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