Trophy Kids and the Cycle of Artificial Self-Esteem

trophy kids artificial self esteem

Thank you to Joanne Blackerby for this guest post.

There is commonality among the varied approaches, styles and philosophies of parenting and child rearing—regardless of what parenting style or philosophy is practiced or embraced, it is clear that we all want the best for our children. We want them to have meaningful and fulfilling lives and feel confident about themselves. We want them to be recognized as the unique and special individuals we know they are. But how far are we willing to go to protect our kids’ sense of self and self-esteem? Are we willing to risk dishonesty or overpraise?

A recent television commercial caught my eye, advertising disposable pull-on underwear for potty training. The commercial depicted a common family vignette: celebrating a toddler’s success in going potty. The ad caught my eye not because it reminded me of potty training my own kids, but because of the outrageous celebration of the child’s potty experience. When the child makes a successful first flush, a lavish mechanical toy automata is set into motion: it’s like a Disney ride with flying balls and planes and marble mazes, ultimately exploding in the living room with confetti fireworks and “congratulations!” banners. At first watch, I was thrust into brief despair at the thought of my own parental inadequacy. I never celebrated any of my now-grown children’s first potty successes this way.

With my oldest packing for college, my second preparing for high school and my youngest entering fourth grade, I found myself, albeit briefly, aghast and wondering whether my lack of elaborate potty celebration throughout the years meant I sentenced them to a life of low self-esteem.

Toilet training is a natural step toward a child’s self-efficacy and independence and mastering the toilet is a natural progression of growth and development. But are we as parents playing to our children’s ego in the excessive celebration of even the most mundane aspects of growing up? Moreover, what happens when the child experiences an almost inevitable potty accident? What then? Do we give a gold star or trophy for trying to go potty? Do we mention the accident or just pretend it never happened? Is there a prize or at least a medal or trophy for potty effort?

The potty metaphor maybe a bit exaggerated, but the question remains: how do we teach our kids how to manage life without expecting a big band parade for flushing the toilet? If overpraise starts at potty training, when does it stop?

There was a time when kids learned their place in the world through navigating the extrinsic hierarchies of playground rules and peer social groups. There was a time when not all kids made it on to every team, no matter how they tried, and there was a time when kids failed a school project or assignment even if they tried. There was a time when not everything was “fair” (and fairness was really beside the point, because life is not fair). That’s the whole point of hard work and the ultimate need for strong character. Things may not have been fair, but they were true, and failures prepared us all for the realities of life.

Our kids no longer try, try and try again. The old adage has long fallen silent. The standardization of education, sports and even play has made it difficult to know what real and consistent achievement is. Parents circle and hover around their kids wanting to ensure their child’s success everywhere: in the classroom, on the field and on the playground. We have created a direct correlation between self-esteem and success when there is none.

We believe that:

  • Success = High Self-Esteem
  • High Self-Esteem = Success

But what if the success is artificial? Then it wouldn’t it make sense that it would result in artificial self-esteem? A disproportionate sense of entitlement and belief in self?

Consider the child on the playing field that is simply not skilled in the sport being played. He is not interested in the sport, does not practice the skills required. The team suffers at his lack of skill and the coaches are frustrated because they are required to give the child field time. The kid is oblivious to his lack of skill and work ethic because his community focuses on building his self esteem, on constantly boosting his ego, giving high fives all around. This sport is not his sport, but rather than be honest with him his community veils him from the reality of his skill. In doing so, the kids keeps playing, however poorly, stays the season, and at the end receives the same trophy as all the kids on the team, including those who were top-skilled players. The same scene plays out in on other fields, in dance studios, on recital stages, and classrooms. If you never know you are not good at something, then how can you learn what improvement is?

Why are we so fearful of allowing our children to fail? We’re facing a generation of kids who feel good about themselves for no reason.We are raising children who do not believe the rules apply to them because we have abandoned the rules. We want to level all playing fields and the results are lost opportunities for children to discover how to develop their own talents, skills and character.

We reinforce the belief that success is not measured by skill development, effort, hard work and competitive achievement but more and more by “everyone is deserving of praise regardless of effort, skill, or work ethic.” Consider the impact on the child that truly works hard and fails. Failure is a powerful motivator, but it has to be practiced.

Sadly, our own fear of parental inadequacy is nurturing a generation of Trophy Kids: children who expect a trophy or recognition for doing what all kids are supposed to do: grow up. Attempts to keep our children feeling good about themselves are resulting in a generation of self-absorbed children who are quickly losing the capability to see the value in anyone or anything beyond themselves. The “I am special just because” child’s mentality can create a conceited and narcissistic young adult.

If we truly want the best for our kids, we must be willing to admit that they are not the best at absolutely every endeavor. Life is not fair. We must allow them all of life’s bumps, bruises and hurt feelings so they have the honest and genuine opportunity to navigate life’s challenges. Ultimately a child’s real sense of himself will come through the truth and consequences of his efforts, work and commitment to the community around him.

A balanced child is one who learns his success and worth is not just defined by how good he is, but also how he lives goodness.

Joanne Blackerby ( is an ACE (American Council of Exercise) certified Advanced Health and Fitness Specialist, owner of Spirit Fitness Training in Austin, Texas, and the author of Training Effects: Reflections on the Art of Personhood Training. She lives in Austin with her husband and three children.

Image: Jaskirat Singh Bawa

Do you agree with this perspective? 

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Still Pregnant: Living with a High-Risk Pregnancy

white lily

By Susan Vaughan Moshofsky for Brain, Child: The Magazine for Thinking Mothers

“Aunt Susan, are you still pregnant?” my four-and-a-half year-old niece, Elena, asks. Her clear, blue eyes reveal no understanding of the seriousness of her question. I wonder this every day. Am I still pregnant? Is the baby’s heart still beating? Will it beat tomorrow? Will I hold this baby, or only see its form floating on a cold, black ultrasound screen, the ghostly white figure preserved as still as a photo, like the baby we lost a few months before Elena was born?

I’m working as hard as I can to prepare not to have a baby. At least it seems that way. I wear baggy clothes, so people won’t guess. Overweight by more than just a few pounds, I just look fat. With my ample bust line, it will take at least another month before baby outpaces boobs, so I can still hide it. What if I lose this baby, too? I don’t want my grief to be that public, again.

We haven’t told anyone except family and very close friends. What am I waiting for? The magic moment when I can stop worrying? My doctor says the magical point is when I’m in her office for my six-week, post-delivery appointment, holding the baby. Will I hold this child? What if, I think?

Since the plus sign popped up on that seventh pregnancy test strip, I’ve kept a list of the few people we have told. That way, if something goes wrong, I’ll know whom to call. On the rare occasion I break protocol and tell someone, I add that name to my list. We weren’t planning to tell Rachel, our 10 ½ year-old, this soon, but her propensity for walking into the bathroom unannounced, and the heparin injections I have to give myself make it impossible to keep the secret any longer. Seeing your mother shooting her bulging tummy with a needle would be scary. Seeing my bruised belly, a patchwork of dark blue, violet, and light green blotches, would be even worse. I don’t want her to think I’m a junkie or a chemotherapy patient.

One morning, I shoot the heparin in my belly, but the precious, clear liquid, prescribed but not guaranteed to prevent pregnancy loss, seems to leak right back out. Panicked, I call the perinatologist. “The abdominal tissues are saturated. Use your upper thigh. Perfectly normal,” is the reply. I want this baby, so my thighs will be next to turn black and blue. I’d shoot the heparin in my face if it would help.

I’m tired of trying to hide it. I want to be happy, embrace the joy, really expect this child. But eight years of secondary infertility and two pregnancy losses—one late-term—have made me so careful, so guarded. I wonder if I’ll stop worrying in another couple of weeks, when I can hope to feel the baby move. To get some reassurance, I visit my patient-as-Job doctor’s office once a week to hear the heartbeat. I go in for monthly ultrasounds to check for growth retardation, a sign that things are going south, like last time. I shoot myself twice a day with the heparin, hoping it works.

The nurse, Sandy, checks the heartbeat each week before I see the doctor. This week, Sandy is on vacation, so I see someone new, an older woman. “So, how are we feeling?” she croons. “What do you want?”

I stare at her. What kind of question is that? My eyebrows knit together in puzzlement.

“Boy, or girl?” she asks, smiling.

I freeze. Who cares? Hasn’t she looked at my chart? “I just want a live baby,” I answer, gulping air to keep from choking up. I realize with a catch in my throat that this baby may kick and hiccup in utero sooner than I think. That’s when I’ll really believe that he or she might make it. Until then, in between weekly visits, I poke my bruised belly every so often, hoping to elicit some evidence that the baby is still alive, hoping for that kick to reassure me.

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The Ultimate Guide to Green School Supplies

green school supplies - pencils

Looking for eco-friendly solutions for school shopping this year? We’ve created six easy to use guides that break down some of the best green options for back to school basics. From easy to find brands who are making an eco effort to more unique, stylish and sustainable supplies that you would normally have to dig to find. We hope the items in the guides below will help you green your shopping list this year.

Mothering would like to thank Amy Serotkin of The Mindful Home for her expert assistance in creating these helpful back to school guides. Please check out her site and the many wonderful, naturally focused guides and reviews she has to offer. Look for more information about her site below.


6 Big Brands Making an Eco Effort

Many major retailers and manufacturers have introduced product lines made of sustainable materials. Other big companies are still making a number of their products in the USA despite pressure to produce overseas. Here are six of our favorites. 


Notebooks, Paper and Binders

Let your kids celebrate their sustainability in style with these gorgeous notebooks, paper products and binders made with the earth in mind. Many are made from non paper alternatives and others contain recycled content or are FSC certified.


Pens, Pencils and Highlighters

Little changes make a big difference. Choosing sustainable alternatives to even the most minor items is a great way to help kids celebrate our earth all year long. Here are some of our best picks for eco-friendly pens, pencils and highlighters.


 Miscellaneous School Supplies

Looking for some unique and eco-friendly products to round out your school supplies list? Don’t miss these green alternatives to conventional choices on everything from calculators to glue sticks.

f42d7b1a_keenBackpacks and Messenger Bags

After some serious research we are glad to announce that we have uncovered 10 eco-friendly and/or made in the USA bags that are perfect for back to school at any age. From super cute packs for the elementary crowd to stylish and durable selections for middle and highschoolers, we’ve got it all.

Long Honey sticks-500x500

Safe and All Natural Crayons

Most commercial crayons are made with paraffin, a petroleum based wax that is not easily biodegradable. Others have questionable additives. Here is a list of brands made with safe, natural ingredients to fit this year’s school supply list.

A Note from Amy 

At The Mindful Home, I create informative, thorough product guides, review individual items, and occasionally include related DIY projects. My goal is to provide everything in one place, so consumers can find environmentally friendly, non-toxic products with ease. I like to have all the pertinent links to information on toxins and manufacturing details included, so my readers can always choose to explore more if they like. I try to feature smaller retailers, manufacturers and crafters, and I’m always focused on finding things that are created in the most conscientious manner. 

At The Mindful Home, you can find the following three guides and much, much more, including periodic giveaways.

Image at top: Andres Nieto Porras

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Learning to Embrace the Present While the Past Fades Away


She was my little side kick.  We went everywhere together every day.  If I went to Target, she went to Target.  If I had a doctor’s appointment, she was the one collecting the sticker at the end.  We were two peas in a pod, and now at six years old you can clearly see that influence.  I’m sure that will change at some point, but in this season of our lives, my likes are her likes.  That’s just how it is with an oldest child.  With no older kids to emulate, she emulates her mama.

Yesterday she started first grade, and today is her first full day of school.  We aren’t new to school.  She went to a year of preschool, and she was in kindergarten last year.  But those were all half days.  By the time we got home from dropping her off, it was practically time to get back in the car to pick her up.

Those were baby steps into the world of school for her, and they were baby steps into the world of mothering a big kid for me.  Now we are in the big time with a packed snack and a lunch and a little girl who comes home just a couple of hours before dinner time, not all that long before her daddy comes home from work.

I never expected the silence in our house.  After all, I have a one year old and a three year old.  By almost every measure, the six year old is the quietest and the least needy.  But when we walked in the house this morning, the silence was deafening.  My ears weren’t bombarded with long drawn out stories, and I didn’t have pictures and stories flung into my hands. I could walk through a door without the risk of having her fall on my head as she climbs the doorways.

It’s hard being a stay-at-home mom to little kids.  It’s hard having to take an entourage to every single store and every single appointment and on every single errand.  It’s hard not having a moment’s peace to yourself until 9:00 at night and then often having that peace disrupted by cries in the middle of the night.  It’s hard.  It’s really, really hard.

But what they don’t tell you is how hard it is when all of a sudden you have a little bit of time.  When all of a sudden, you might notice three minutes of silence.  And most of all, when all of a sudden you have one less person to care for during the hours of 8:30-3:00.

I had to schedule a check up for my youngest daughter.  I scheduled it on a morning when my oldest will be in first grade and my middle child will be in preschool.  That way I only have to corral one little child in a room too tiny for a doctor, a mama, little kids, and a stroller.  But I almost started crying when I was speaking with the receptionist.  This is what I had wished for.  A calm doctor’s appointment.  A little time to breathe.  And now I’ll have it.  And now I wish to give it back.  Now I’ll gladly embrace the chaos and the noise and the confusion and the tears (both theirs and mine) because it would mean that they were all with me, under my wing, where I can watch them and protect them and mother them from up close.

My oldest child is six; my youngest is one.  There is a fairly good chance that we will have more little babies in the future.  My time as a mama to very little ones is far from over.

But yet still it’s transitioning.  Slowly but surely, we are moving away from that delivery room six years ago and we are moving into a future that is unknown and a little bit scary.

And I’m reminded yet again of just how difficult motherhood is.

It’s a never ending string of bursting moments.  Some of them bursting with pride, others with angst.  Some with joy and some with tears.  And some bring us to the brink of the unexpected.  I think it’s all that bursting — all of that raw, overwhelming, unencumbered emotion that makes motherhood what it is.  Raw and real and intense and alive.  Heartbreaking and heart filling and heart wrenching.

We spend most of our lives planning our lives.  Anticipating the future.  Planning for the future.  Driving our days towards destinations we plan out.

And then we have kids.  And it’s not only that we are no longer the drivers, now we no longer even know exactly where we are going.  All we know is where we have been and where they have taken us thus far.

Today and yesterday I have found myself grieving stages past, fearing that the future will hold heartbreak and loneliness and goodbyes.  But then when I open my eyes and I look around, I see that the past is, indeed, gone.  But it’s replaced by a future filled with new adventures.  It’s filled with learning and excitement and sharing.  It’s filled with tales of best friends.  It’s filled with knock knock jokes that go nowhere and drawings of images she has seen out there in the world without me.  Just as she taught me six years ago what this world is all about, now she is showing me parts of the world that I haven’t seen, or at least haven’t seen with mama eyes.  Yet again, as always, she is making my world bigger, more vibrant, more real, just by being in it.

It’s different, but still, it’s beautiful.  And I never would have gotten to experience this new morning had the previous mornings not faded with the night sky.

And so I find that I must learn to trust again.  Learn to trust myself and learn to trust my children and learn to trust life and its ability to unfold as it must.

These days are full of leaping into waters unseen.  But we know how to swim.  And I believe the adventure will be worth the leap of faith.

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Study Says Breastfeeding Reduces PPD, but There’s a Twist

A new study confirms that breastfeeding significantly reduces the risk that new mothers will experience postpartum depression. But the Maternal and Child Health Journal report, which looked at information from more than 14,000 mothers, also produced some surprisingly results.

To better understand the connection between breastfeeding and PPD the researchers looked at the mothers’ expectations for infant feeding in addition to their feeding choices after birth. One of the first of its kind to include such data the analysis found that, while women who expected to breastfeed and were able to do so successfully had a much lower risk for depression, those women who were unable to breastfeed but had plans to nurse their babies after birth actually had a higher likelihood of PPD.

For mothers who were not depressed during pregnancy, the lowest risk of PPD was found among women who had planned to breastfeed, and who had actually breastfed their babies, while the highest risk was found among women who had planned to breastfeed and had not gone on to breastfeed. We conclude that the effect of breastfeeding on maternal depression is extremely heterogeneous, being mediated both by breastfeeding intentions during pregnancy and by mothers’ mental health during pregnancy. Our results underline the importance of providing expert breastfeeding support to women who want to breastfeed; but also, of providing compassionate support for women who had intended to breastfeed, but who find themselves unable to.

The study also turned up another unexpected result.

Interestingly, among the group of mothers who had not planned to breastfeed, the risk of depression was higher among women who went on to breastfeed.

However, the study does state that “for previously depressed mothers, there may also be a protective effect from breastfeeding when mothers had not planned to breastfeed.”

It is also interesting to note that the study analyzed data from the Avon Longitudinal Survey of Parents and Children from the early 1990s in Bristol, England — raising the question of whether the results, which weighed maternal expectations so heavily, would have been different if more recent and geographically diverse data had been used.

Read the full study here.

Image: Raphael Goetter

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Bare-Bottomed Bliss


By Carisa Miller for Brain, Child: The Magazine for Thinking Mothers

In the summer sun, my children shed their attire and along with it, the last of their baby skin.

It is impossible not to smile, watching their bare bottoms bound around the garden. I am desperate to imprint those sweet cheeks on my memory, to hold visions of round little rumps in my mind, long after they stop streaking through the yard to splash in the kiddie pool.

Do children grow faster in the summer? Am I watering and fertilizing mine too much? When their bodies aren’t buried under layers of clothing, their rapid growth is much more evident.

I carry my youngest less often now. Yesterday I leaned over too far when I set her down; her feet hit the ground before I thought they should.

This is full-blown childhood. Little girls with grubby hands and tangled hair shriek and gallop across the lawn. Babies no longer live here.

Life is all giggles and skinned knees again. I feel myself wanting to live this way forever. They have only just gotten here and already, I can feel myself missing my daughters as children. In the heat of each day, I attempt to freeze them in time.

I peek over my book from the hammock as the girls dash between the water and the raspberry patch, becoming wetter and more berry-stained with each pass.

I chase them, as they squeal away from me on chubby legs. I feel a sense of urgency, to catch them before those legs grow long and lanky and are able to outrun me.

We roll into a pile of tickles in the grass. I scatter kisses on warm bellies and pinch those irresistible tushies.

This is the summer destined to become That Summer in my memory. It is this moment in my children’s lives. The summer of an almost-five and two-and-a-half-year-old. The only one of its kind.

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When I Look Back (a poem)

3240278033_8750a08f11_ban email response
a bill to pay
a friend awaiting a call
the blinking of messages and alerts all mixed into a swarm of more obligations
a pile of laundry to transfer into rooms
another bundle to dry
dishes to unload then load again
a counter to wipe, spilled drinks, crumbles of meals
bed linens to straighten after a night of tossing and turning
a face to wash, teeth to brush
hair to pull back, skipping a brush all together
already worn jeans to slip on once again
sandals to hold tired feet
a shirt with a scoop to allow for feeding
a closet full of clothes no longer known
tennis shoes as a reminder to walk a little more
the hidden chocolate bar when it all seems like too much
a phone nearby just in case
a clutter of toys to toss into bins
half-eaten books to align on shelves,
others with pages ripped, confetti covering the floor
pillows to place atop the couch,
the one where two forgotten cats rest
a meal to begin and another to put away
a breath to take
or even acknowledge is held too tight and too high

these are the things that keep me from myself
the tasks that take me away from time
to collect my thoughts, reacquaint myself with my voice
today I choose to place letters into words
words into sentences
sentences into a story of my life here and now
because, just as this process unfolds
so will the years
from months, days,
minutes and moments
moments like this
when I decide to ignore everything around me
because I want to feel
I want to pause time and write a glimpse of my story
so that I can someday look at something to remember,
when I’m sitting on the couch
showered and rested
with hair brushed
cats on my soft thighs
a cup of steaming tea rising like my breath,
just how it all felt long ago

Image: Konstantinos Mavroudis

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Black Bean Brownies (optionally vegan and gluten-free)

Black Bean Brownies


Thank you to Mothering member LorienIslay for sharing this recipe.


  • 1 (15-20 oz) can plain black beans, drained and rinsed (the recipe works fine with either size of can so I go with whatever is available on sale)
  • 3 eggs OR, for vegans, either ‘flax eggs’ OR three canned peaches ( 6 peach halves mashed with a fork)
  • 3 T coconut oil or other vegetable oil but coconut oil is most delicious!
  • 1/4 c cocoa powder
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 t vanilla
  • 3/4 c white sugar or substitute of your choice
  • 1 t baking powder
  • 1 t (heaped) instant espresso powder (look for it at your local Italian grocery store — so worth it!)
  • 1/2 c quality chocolate chips or chopped semisweet chocolate (I use Callebaut)
  • 1/4 c walnuts, chopped (I usually make one pan with walnuts and two without since I don’t like them)

Cooking Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 
  2. Lightly grease 8×8 baking dish or muffin tin or mini muffin tin (I liked the pan brownies the best though the bite-size are cute and great for kids).
  3. Mix black beans through espresso in a food processor.
  4. Pour mixture into a baking dish.
  5. Sprinkle on chocolate chips and/or walnuts.
  6. Bake for 30 minutes or until top is dry and starting to pull away from the sides (if using the mini-muffin size, reduce cooking time by five minutes).


Especially if you use the mashed peaches for binder instead of the egg, these brownies are chock-full of fiber, but they taste as good (or better!) than a conventional brownie.  I love taking these for potlucks as most vegan desserts aren’t appealing to kids.  If you use appropriate brands of cocoa and chocolate, they can even be gluten free which is also great for a potluck.  As good as they are fresh, they are seriously better the second day :)

image by jeffreyw

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Busting the Myth of the “Natural” Mother


I want to write about the joy I’ve found in motherhood, and one day, I will. But that joy is so relatively fresh and new, and joy itself so conflated and inflated with mothering, that I see less importance in giving voice to it.

Yes, my toddler daughter brings my heart a happy warmth and fullness that words are insufficient of capturing or conveying. But that’s the standard rhetoric, isn’t it? That’s what we collectively “know” and expect about mothering–that it brings the greatest happiness to women that they’ve ever known, that transitioning to motherhood is a natural and easy process, that it’s so rewarding it makes all the pain and sacrifices worth it.

We don’t have the same sort of collective dialogue, understanding, or even acknowledgement about the negative side of it or of those stories that don’t follow this trajectory. Because the misery, shame, and regret were so huge and profound for me–and for so many other women–I find it much more necessary (and personally cathartic) to share tales of my own dark and terrible experiences with motherhood.

When I became a mother, I had a whole new set of experiences, worries, and concerns unique to parenting and no mom friends to discuss them with. Sure, I could tell my childless friends how completely overwhelmed and exhausted I was, but they couldn’t commiserate or truly understand. They couldn’t relate to the loneliness I felt when I was left alone to breastfeed my daughter when we left the house, or during the quiet hours of the night when other people, including my partner, slept. They couldn’t understand the relentless care I, as a breastfeeding mother, had to provide for my newborn. Nor did they understand how I felt I had forever lost myself and unwittingly become someone else entirely. Although I almost didn’t recognize the comically haggard and increasingly wild-eyed woman staring back at me in the mirror, it was more than cosmetic–I no longer felt like or saw myself anymore.

I had a few friends who were also moms, but we weren’t especially close. I tried reaching out to them, but found our differences limiting. One had multiple children and actively wanted more, the other had only one, but experienced her transition into motherhood much more seamlessly than I did. Neither shared my history of sexual abuse, worked outside the home, or had the same financial struggles. Undaunted, I was added, and requested to join, three separate Facebook mom groups, but our commonalities (cloth diapering, home births) weren’t enough. Those moms expressed similar frustrations periodically (sleep deprivation) but no one openly related to my feelings that I’d lost myself and my identity or my heavy, intense–and thankfully temporary–regret that I’d had my daughter at all.

The friend I was closest with seemed genuinely horrified and insulted when I asked her if she regretted having her kids. I wanted to admit these terrible truths to other mothers without fear of their judgement. Most of all, I desperately wanted and needed someone to tell me that they, too, had had those doubts and regrets and come out of it to find contentment and acceptance–but no one did. I slowly retreated away from these mothers, because they inadvertently made me feel even more alone and alienated than before. I tried reaching out to my existing friends, but found any tales from their childless lives made me increasingly bitter and sad. I felt as if I were a sequestered passenger on some swiftly departing vessel, watching my old life shrink from view until it was no longer visible or accessible to me.

There was an extended period of time after my daughter was born that I didn’t just miss my old life, I very honestly grieved its loss. I was bereft. More than anything else, even sleep, I missed being able to spend time with my partner. All of the tiny, incidental, precious things I’d taken for granted before our daughter was born were gone, seemingly dead to me, and I was heartbroken.

One day, when our daughter was a few months old, we left her with her grandparents long enough to make a quick grocery run. I hugged my fiance in the middle of the spice aisle and started to openly sob because it had been so long since I’d been able to simply put my arms around him and keep them there. I realized that that moment was the happiest I’d been in many a moon, and the stark contrast between our lives pre- and post-baby made me indescribably sad. Even though my partner was there, living it with me, our lives were new and ironic: so much time spent together physically, but so little time actually together. All our attention was focused on our daughter. I found bits of happiness in that new life, but they were slippery and ephemeral. Other than brutal exhaustion, the only real constant I felt was deep, deep sadness and shame over how unhappy I was with my new life.

Despite my best efforts against it, which included regular exercise and ingesting my own encapsulated placenta (and suffering through their revolting burps), I found myself cripplingly depressed. Although I’ve battled clinical depression throughout my life, this was different: it was an inescapable beast that clung to me like a spiderweb. In my best moments, I felt like I was in a haze, almost as if I were watching myself float through someone else’s life rather than living it myself. In my worst, I felt like a caged animal, trapped and suffocating under the inescapable realization that I’d not only ruined my life by having my daughter, but hers and my partner’s as well. The only solace I could find was something I kept tucked away in the back of my mind like a spare key under a mat: when I found myself home alone, I would shoot myself in the backyard like a dog. When I admitted this to those closest to me, they were understandably distraught. Yet no matter how heart-wrenching their reactions were, my depression was impenetrable.

One day, a dear, childless friend told me she thought I had postpartum depression. She offered to put me in contact with a friend of hers, who I’ll call Emily, who’d found herself so wrecked following the birth of her baby that she’d once screamed “I HATE YOU” into her crying baby’s face. I felt an instant, tender kinship with this mother. Though I’d never screamed at my baby, I’d whispered sorrowful, apologetic words to her through streaming rivers of snot and tears–something none of the other mothers I knew online or in real life had ever done.

I reached out to Emily and found in her the judgment-free understanding and reassurance I’d been longing for. She told me that she too had initially found no joy in motherhood, only deep, endless sadness. Only after she’d began taking antidepressants had she been able to not only accept, but grow to love, her new life. She encouraged me to see a doctor for medication, but at the time, it wasn’t feasible. I’d lost my job shortly after my daughter was born, and had been piecing a living together with food stamps, WIC, unemployment benefits, and whatever freelance and contract work I could find. Emily swore it made all the difference for her, going so far as to say she owed her sanity to her medication. She felt confident it would work for me, too. I desperately wanted to believe her, but I didn’t. Thank goodness for Emily–she became my sole hope and lifeline over those long, bleak months when things got progressively worse. I emailed her many times, often just begging her to promise me things could get better. She always did.

It turns out she was right. Mere weeks after I got on antidepressants and antianxiety meds (a beyond-generous gift from my best friend), I felt like a completely different person. My mood stabilized and rather than be destroyed by the mundane annoyances of motherhood, I was able to withstand them. I fell madly, completely in love with my daughter. Rather than constantly lament the fact that it was no longer just the two of us, I was able see the magic that my family of three create together. Slowly but surely, my new life became more familiar, and evolved into what Emily had told me it would become: a new normal.

None of this means that my new life is perfect–any more than it means my pre-baby life was. But it does mean that my new life is now manageable–and more often than not, it’s pretty great. While the natural progression of age and time made parenting and adjusting easier, I’m confident that medication saved my life. I had a severe chemical imbalance that required pharmaceuticals to correct, and I am grateful I was able to access it.

I am also confident that Emily was instrumental for my recovery, too–not only because she encouraged me to seek out medication, but because she affirmed for me the normalcy of my own struggles with parenting and identity. Just as no two people are alike, there is no one way for women to adjust to and/or become comfortable or confident with motherhood–and yet there is one dominant narrative that doesn’t include struggle, regret, pain, or misery. Some women struggle more than others, and those of us that do often feel deep shame because of it. The notion that there is one way or experience of mothering is not only inaccurate, it is quite literally dangerously false. Only by sharing our truths and challenging the prevailing, warped narrative of motherhood will we combat the shame and silence that threaten our health and happiness.

Image: pixiedust8605

The post Busting the Myth of the “Natural” Mother appeared first on Mothering.

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Newborns Sleeping Through the Night: A Dangerous Myth


It seems as if every decade delivers a new scheme to get even our youngest babies to sleep through the night. And yep, I figured we were just about due for a book titled The Sleepiest Baby on the Block or 50 Shades of Baby Slumber when, this past lovely Sunday afternoon, I was confronted by the newest baby training idea on the block (which, by the way, makes Ferber sound kind of tame).

Here’s a behind-the-scenes play-by-play — a kind of diary of how it went down in real time (oh–except that Facebook seems to bend time, which I’d never really noticed until trying to build a timeline with their posts… and see that their time-stamps jump time-zones!). The identity of folks I don’t know has been obscured; for my friends, you’re in this with me!

Sunday, 2:30pm — I See a Call Was Sounded on Facebook

Newborn sleep a dangerous myth | Marcy Axness, PhD

I’m at our neighborhood club’s Sunday Jam — live music, that is — so I cannot actually listen to the segment that aired on Fox News. But I can read the article (as can you if you click on the image above). Oy. Really?? Stretch out the feeding intervals during the day to “train a baby’s hunger receptors to acclimate to a specific schedule”??

Over the years I have developed ever more serenity about things I cannot change, and am about 97% in remission from Quixote Syndrome. If I dove into the breach over every inane, harmful or even tragic thing I learn about, I’d never be able to tend to my own calling of helping people parent for peace. Stay the course, Marcy, stay focused.

Sunday, 2:40 pm — I See I’ve Been Specifically Summoned

Birthpower’s Barbara Rivera tagged me to please weigh in, along with a few others. Progressive Parenting‘s Gena Kirby was the first to gamely offer help, as others began to register their thoughts on the matter.


Sunday, 3:30 pm — I Dive Into the Breach W/ Longwinded Comment


Rather that perpetuate my error, I’ve blurred it out. One of the pitfalls of diving into the breach without time to reflect and research is that you can get things wrong. (I had a vague memory of Ferber having recanted his position on sleep training — not so; it was his negative position on co-sleeping that he famously recanted, so at least there’s that.)

Sunday, 3:36 – 4:32 pm — A Webcast Meeting-of-Minds Is Conceived

Screen shot 2014-08-20 at 10.42.38 PM

How can I resist such an invitation? I agree, and suggest we do it asap. It’s set for…tomorrow first thing in the morning… and it includes video, YIKES!

Screen shot 2014-08-20 at 10.55.19 PM

Sunday, 4:29pm — I Geek Out 

Screen shot 2014-08-21 at 12.33.51 AM

Sunday, 4:40pm — It’s Set & Announced

Screen shot 2014-08-20 at 11.54.57 PM

Sunday, 4:45 – 7pm — I Close My Laptop and Enjoy Real Life

Sunday, 7:30 — I Finally Watch the Infamous Fox News Segment


Lewis Jassey, MD, co-author of “The Newborn Sleep Book”

Sunday, 8:30pm 
– I Peek at the “Newborn Sleep Book” Fan Page

…where controversy is rearing its interesting head. (I’m including a few subsequent comments added since then as well.) This captures some of the leading concerns about the method — including its impact on breastfeeding.



I write a comment and hit “Post” and it seems to go somewhere, yet I cannot see it on the page. Oh, that’s it — you have to “Like” a page in order to have anything show up there. (I cannot bring myself to do it.) BUT… mysteriously…

Sunday, 10:53pm — I Receive A Friendly Warning*


At this point I should be sleeping — I’ve got an early call in the morning and I’d prefer that my eyes not be bloodshot. I only stopped by Gena’s FB page to see if there was any “breaking news” I should know… you know, to sleep on. I could so easily chime in on this point, but decide it’s best not to get all riled up before lights out. (*I don’t notice Gena’s post about having contacted the Jassey brothers — the authors — to invite them to join Dr. McKenna and me on tomorrow morning’s show.) I read a few more interesting comments on Gena’s page for good measure to send me off to dreamland:


…and one last check-in on the APPPAH group page (where this whole saga first began) turned up an excellent resource for parents confounded by all the differing theories and opinions:



Monday, 7am — (Ugh) Arise and Get PresentableScreen shot 2014-08-21 at 1.34.44 AM

Funny that we’re all talking about the
importance of getting sleep, and that is
rather viscerally brought to the forefront
of my consciousness because I’m not a
naturally early riser, and certainly not
“camera ready”… or PEOPLE ready. It
brings back memories of my baby days…
and early dawns. I have HUGE compassion
for parents missing their sleep!


Monday, 8am — Pretend I’m a Cinematographer

Screen shot 2014-08-21 at 1.51.43 AM
Is it vain to want to look decent when your image is going out to thousands? I think not. Once again, my past life in television production comes in handy: I know how to use a big white piece of poster-board to bounce a little fill light onto this old face. And this is the only time I ever use Photo Booth — to check the shot!

Monday, 8:15 — Last-Minute Fact-Checking & Research

It occurs to me to check on how the Jasseys’ book is selling, so I drop by Amazon for a look-see:

Screen shot 2014-08-21 at 2.02.36 AM

At this time, they have 71 reviews with an average 2-star rating. (There have been over 30 people who’ve added a review since Monday morning.) Their sales ranking is 15 thousand-something out of Amazon’s 8 million books. Not impressive for a book that just enjoyed national media coverage. As I am about to say in my opening comments with Gena, I have faith in parents’ wisdom!

Monday, 8:30 — Sound & Video Check w/ Gena

She cut her hair — cute! She’s nursing Jack — cute!

Monday, 8:53 — Gena Geeks Out

Screen shot 2014-08-21 at 2.21.50 AM

 Monday, 9am — We’re Live!

I cited James McKenna’s research in my book, so it is such an honor to spend this hour with him. (He is the leading expert on the physiology of mother-infant co-sleeping and its relationship to breastfeeding and to SIDS.) Dr. McKenna does not mince words when it comes to his dismay over the guidelines proposed in this book, particularly because it was written by pediatricians!

Screen shot 2014-08-21 at 3.39.11 AM

All in all, it was lots of fun and very gratifying — to have actually hopped on the ol’ Quixotic horse this time!

Top image:
footloosiety through its Creative Commons license

The post Newborns Sleeping Through the Night: A Dangerous Myth appeared first on Mothering.

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