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Happy Families Are All Alike

Smiley-Face-2And “…every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”   Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina.

Did you hear the Steve Inskeep story on NPR’s Morning Edition this week, “Does Having Children Make You Happier?”

Here’s an interesting part of his interview with NPR science correspondent, Shankar Vedantam that caught my attention:

VEDANTAM:  Lyubomirsky [psychologist who studied happiness and wrote book, The Myths of Happiness] says there’s a difference between happiness measured on a moment-to-moment level and happiness measured at a larger level. Parents report significantly more meaning in their lives than non-parents, even though on a day-to-day basis parenting may be a grind.

INSKEEP: Maybe we should just avoid the word happiness because it seems to confuse people.

VEDANTAM: Yeah. No, one of the things Lyubomirsky is actually saying is that we may have been too simplistic and asking questions – are parents happy or are parents non-happier? She says we need to start asking more nuanced questions. Which parents are we talking about? Are we talking about men or are we talking about women? Are we talking about older parents or younger parents? There’s research showing that older parents tend to be happier than younger parents. Parents with jobs – not surprisingly – are happier than parents who are struggling economically. Parents who have biological or adopted children turn out to be happier in general than parents who have stepchildren. And Lyubomirsky said perhaps the biggest thing to keep in mind is that parents’ happiness is not one static thing that basically stays a constant throughout the life of a child. It varies, especially with the age of the child.

LYUBOMIRSKY: When you have children under five and when your children are teenagers, that’s when you have the most kind of negative emotions and negative experiences with them. When they’re in between those years and when they’re older, there may be many, many positive, you know, interactions. So when we think about parenting we shouldn’t just think about, you know, having a baby or having a 14-year-old.

At the end of the story, Inskee quoted Tolstoy with his own clever twist: “Happy families are all alike; unhappy families have kids under five or teenagers.”

With my current job, I work on a team in which most of us have children under five, and most of us listen to NPR on the commute to work in the morning.  We also have a few younger guys on the team, one single and one married without kids. The morning this story on having children and happiness ran and we chatted about it at our desks, we teased the guys about our superior level of happiness as parents.

“We are happier because we focus on the big picture fulfillment of having children instead of the day-to-day grind. Ready to drop your night life and join us?”

While the sarcasm was thick, we have all also agreed on separate occasions that our lives are significantly more meaningful than they were before we had children and we often come to work bragging about something sweet or adorable or silly that our kids said or did.

I will tell anyone that the year I had two under the age of five AND a teenager was one of the most difficult years of my life.

And four years later, our marriage thankfully still in tact and life relatively easier on multiple fronts — there are any number of moments in time now that I fall into the temporarily unhappy category and say out loud to my children and/or my husband things like:

“I’m just not up for this today.”

“Whining has to stop.”

“Really tired. No patience.”


And as you can imagine, my announcing my state of being and need for perfect angel compliance always results in an immediate cease and desist on any type of annoying behavior.  (Not.)  

Today I had a moment of unhappiness that had nothing to do with my children who were behaving perfectly fine. Unfortunately, they were witness to my impulsive act of irritation. I was driving the girls to a dentist appointment anticipating a ridiculous amount of time in the car between getting to the dentist’s office on south end of town, getting them to school up north, and then driving another twenty minutes west to get to my office. Traffic was heinous and we were bound to be late. I was coming onto the highway from the on-ramp and some jack-ass woman on her cell phone driving a red sporty car couldn’t be bothered to slow down or change lanes to let me in.

I edged in anyway so as not to be forced on to the next exit. Coming in at a slower pace in my oh-so-sexy Prius, I was predictably too close in front of her.

She laid on the horn.

I threw up my arm and flipped her off.

Honestly, not something I do. Not sure what inspired the need to give someone the bird on the highway. I was instantly reminded of my innocent audience.

“Mommy, why did you just put your arm up like that?”

“Oh just stretching.”


Ultimately, I’ve done enough work on myself over the last several years to know the Big Truth that every response and every emotion is a choice.

We all know in the heat of the moment, it’s not easy to take pause to completely own the situation and your place in it and ask yourself,  “Is this worth being unhappy about?” But when you do take that extra few seconds to breathe and ask yourself the question, you can redirect your thoughts, your feelings and your actions in the moment for the benefit of everyone around you and your own well-being.

Thankfully, every day — every next moment in time really — we are graced with a do-ever.





Posted in Mama Peeves, Mama Self Expression | 2 Comments

Getting Unsolicited Parenting Advice

So I went to my first baby shower in probably three years this weekend and was reminded how outrageous people are about giving unsolicited advice to pregnant women.

I know I’m guilty of this and am vowing to stop it. Showers are the worst at drumming up Mommy advice en masse. Mamas – pregnant for the first time — consider asking the host of your baby shower to make a request to attendees coming to support you in your transition to motherhood to focus their best intentions in another way. Like putting together a food calendar for you. (Your local friends and family sign up on a calendar that goes into effect after the baby is born to bring dinners to your house.)


In my opinion, the best thing we can all tell a fretting mom-to-be is:  trust yourself and be kind to yourself.

What happens throughout pregnancy and following the birth of every angel that joins us is nothing short of miraculous. (Yeah Monica, we know that. Duh.) But you may not know about the primal intuition and sensitivity to Truth that you gain as a mother. I believe this is universal. It’s like growing another heart inside your body.

Mothers know. You know when something is not right with your baby.  You know when something’s not right with the world that threatens them or you. You become a Lioness that will do anything to protect your young. And you will hear, see, feel what no one else does.

Some of the advice thrown at my friend this weekend (I held my tongue):

  • Don’t listen to the Breastfeeding Gestapo
  • If you’re a light sleeper at all, don’t let your baby sleep near you
  • You have to get a swing — it’s the only way you’ll ever get through a meal

Of course I have my opinions about all of the above, but my personality loathes conflict and I wasn’t about to start a counter-advice session with my friend. She’ll figure out what works best for her and that is none of my business.

However….on the subjective of breastfeeding — the Mothers’ Milk Bank of Austin is in desperate need of donors. New mamas, or Mamas-to-Be, please consider it. Right now for Texas and the surrounding states this milk bank serves, the demand for donated breast milk to feed premature babies in hospitals is 3x the available supply.

Thank you milk makers.



Posted in Mama Peeves | 1 Comment

Mama Pet Peeves — Join the Purge!

Book People Stairs*  Nipple twiddling, pinching and biting.  Always a good time.

*  The Double Cry (for parents of more than one you know what I mean…I can only imagine the Triple Cry).

*  The desperate need of a toddler to have something seemingly small be a certain way.  And each of these needs accompanied by intense, tear-filled despair:

“But I wanted to put the lid back on!!”

“Noooooooo!  I want the GREEN bowl!!”

“But Mama I don’t like that kind of noodle!!”

* When we’re all together (Mom, Dad, 3 year-old and 1 year-old): the inability to have an adult conversation. To even finish most sentences.

* Baby rapidly flinging and throwing food before I can prevent it.

* Dirty fingernails. I know. Random and petty.  But that’s why they call them “pet” peeves right?

* Walking into Casa de Luz (an Austin seat-yourself vegan restaurant that we frequent) alone with my two Littles — one that needs to be carried and the other that needs to be watched — and experiencing a room filled with people absentmindedly half-watching me while I attempt  to get the stuck high chair out off the top of the stack and awkwardly walk with it to a table while holding baby and no one feeling inspired to offer a hand.

* Reliving the college experience without the fun freedom perks: intense sleepless nights like studying for finals — but “finals week” lasts for three years and there is no sleeping in. Ever. Eating a lot of beans and rice because we can’t afford anything else. Feeling hungover all the time without the good-time alcohol buzz that should precede it. And being in a perpetual state of learning something new the hard way.

* When people say, “You look tired.”  How do I respond to that?  Usually with a smile and a simple, “Yep, you nailed it!”  What I’d like to say is, “Glad to know I look hot — thanks for noticing! It’s been so fun sleeping and showering and exercising and primping lately!”

*  Floor level merchandising directed at children.  The local master at this: Book People. Their children’s book section is on the second floor. Each step leading to the second floor has on it a different, random, completely unnecessary, but visually and texturally appealing to a child, thing.  Highly irritating to me. The last time we were there my 3 year-old picked up one of the balls and threw it down the stairs. I watched as it bounced all the way down and then flew past one of the employee’s heads at the bottom of the stairs.  The employee gave me a shaming look that said, “Why don’t you have better control of your child?”  And I slammed him back with my newly assertive, post HBAC look that said, “Are you kidding me? Your store created this, Asshole.”

* People who have a problem with public breastfeeding, people who think violence is the best way to raise a child to be respectful, and people who think being a Stay At Home Mom is mindless, easy work.

There! Feels good to get the oogies out as I like to say.  That was almost as satisfying as going out on a long run which is 100% in order today because it’s 75° and sunny in Austin today — Woo-hoo!

Any other mamas feel like adding to the Attachment Mama Pet Peeve list — I welcome it.

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Posted in Mama Peeves | 14 Comments


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