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Unnatural Selection

Brian and I have been talking recently about siblings for Madeleine, and what sort of “spacing” between them we’d ideally like to see. We’re both going through a renewed love affair with Maddie right now; just thinking about her makes either one of us break into a goofy grin. She’s such a great kid, and I mentioned to Brian that one of the things holding me back is my concern for Maddie.

Before you stop reading this and type up an email listing the “dangers” of having an only child, let me say that we’re not planning on making Maddie an only child. I know all the benefits and we’re eager to see what kind of big sister she’ll be. But let me tell you something: any parent of a single child who says they don’t have any fears about loving subsequent children less than their firstborn is totally lying. 

I look at my daughter and think, how can I love any other child as much as I love her? And how could I be contemplating doing anything that might hurt her, even short-term?

Because I know that a second child will take some of my focus away from Maddie. I know that she’ll feel that withdrawal, and not understand it. When I deliberately dropped one nursing from her daily schedule, I saw how much that affected her; I can’t imagine what such a paradigm shift would do. I see all my girlfriends struggling to reassure their eldest child that he’s still loved, still treasured, even as there’s a stranger usurping mommy’s lap and taking all her time.

So I was expressing all this to Brian, and telling him I didn’t know how I could knowingly do something that would cause her so much short-term pain.

To which Brian replied, “I don’t know. It seems we choose to hurt our children all the time. We’re just selective about when, how, and why. But to me, a lot of parenting is choosing to cause our kids pain.”

And you know what? My genius husband is absolutely right. I’m not talking about the obvious things, like vaccination shots and such; I’m going beyond that. We sleep-train our kids, causing them some clear immediate distress, to give them self-soothing tools they’ll use the rest of their lives. We tell them “no” and enforce boundaries they don’t understand to keep them safe until they’re old enough to make their own decisions. We brush their teeth, we pin them down and force them to breathe through a nebulizer for their asthma- the list is endless.

Parenting is all about making unnatural choices; choosing when we’ll literally hurt our babies, either emotionally or physically, for their own good. For better or for worse, and definitely for harder, that’s one of the basic foundations of being a parent.

It’s a good thing it wasn’t described that way to me before I had Maddie; I’m not sure I ever would have signed up for it.


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