Unconfident parenting, the world’s solution to overpopulation


Last week we decided to (gulp) put my two-and-a-half year old in big boy underwear.  He’s been wearing pull-ups since his second birthday last summer and going pee-pee on the potty reliably for months.  I don’t know why we delayed putting him into underwear for so long.  Laziness, maybe?  Not wanting to deal with messy accidents?

Regardless, Henry’s transition from Diego diapers to Lightning McQueen underwear has been a seamless one.  He’s now going both #1 and #2 on the toilet — yippee!

This Monday morning, after an accident-free weekend, I was walking up the long, steep hill to my office relishing in this little success.  I thought about how the toilet training process had been relatively easy and painless, not only for Henry but also for Christian.

I started thinking, I must have a knack for this potty training thing.  Maybe it’s because I approach the process with a relaxed, pressure’s-off, attitude.  Or, maybe I just have a good sense of timing.  Either way, I thought, both boys fully diaperless well before their third birthdays? I am goooood.  

Then, quickly after came another thought, Hey, maybe we ought to have another baby.

Gasp! For the first time in two years and nine months, the idea of having another child came to me unprompted and without a sense of dread.

As a college instructor of developmental English, I’ve written before about boosting students’ confidence to help them overcome their writing fears. Now I’m wondering if confidence could be the key to conquering my fears about having another child.

The truth is, I am petrified of having more children.  Anyone who has asked me knows that I am not in a rush to have another baby.  Though my mind suggests that having another child (or two) would be healthy for our family, my heart, soul and spirit scream “No, no, no! Too scary!  Don’t do it!” 

Parenting is flat-out hard. Our two boys demand enough energy and effort from me as it is.  Why would I want to add a third, or a fourth child?  What would remain of me?

Being a mom is extremely emotional, too, filled with more downs than ups, it would seem.

About a week ago, Lisa Belkin posted an article on her NY Times Motherlode blog called, “An Economist’s Argument for More Children.”  I found the post interesting.  It discusses a new book written by Bryan Caplan, an economics professor at George Mason University entitled,  “Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids: Why Being a Great Parent Is Less Work and More Fun Than You Think”

Belkin summarizes Caplan’s main argument by writing, “If parents could stop thinking of raising children as a burden, they might go on to have more of them.”

This idea resonated with me, at first.  If I could only stop looking at my job as “mom” as thankless, tiring, overwhelming and frustrating, and instead try viewing parenting as fun, I might not be so reluctant (and fearful) to have more kids.  Makes sense, right?

But even though I tend to notice or talk more about the difficult and negative aspects of parenting, I do enjoy being a mom.  I have a lot of fun with my two boys.  We play basketball and build forts.  We paint and play with play-doh.  We go to baseball games and on beach vacations. But despite all of this amusement, I am still terrified of having more kids.

Some have criticized Caplan’s book as oversimplifying the issue. Many commenters on Belkin’s post pointed out that the reason parents are stopping after one or two children is not the emotional burden of being a parent, but the economic burden.

Though, of course, money is part of the discussion for Joe and me, I haven’t ever feared not being able to provide for my kids.  I know that if we ever decided to have more, we would make it work.  (Isn’t that what coupons and thrift stores are for?)  Besides, as Caplan writes, kids aren’t as expensive as we think they are.

Maybe the answer to overcoming my fear, then, is not in having more fun, or even in figuring out the finances.  Maybe the solution, like in writing, is confidence.  After all, it can’t be a coincidence that a few minutes after feeling proud about something I’d done well as a parent, I was thinking about adding to the brood.

Most of the time, I am not a confident parent.  I question, second-guess and doubt myself a lot.  Was that meal healthy enough?  Was the discipline appropriate for the offense?  Are the kids watching too much T.V.?  Are they getting adequate sleep? Am I teaching my boys about responsibility, empathy, kindness, faith?

For heaven’s sake, Christian is five and I still haven’t put together his baby book.

Then there are the (many) times when I don’t just question myself — I know I’ve messed up.  When I lose my patience or raise my voice at the kids, it can take me days to recover.  Sometimes as a mom, I can downright hate myself.

I know none of us is perfect, and we are all learning and growing as human beings, but honestly it seems to me like the more I know, the more I know that I don’t know.

And maybe this is the real reason that I am afraid to have more kids.

With a few exceptions, like potty training, I lack confidence as a parent.

How to gain it?  I don’t know.  I think that may be a post for another day.

{How many kids do you have? Are you a confident parent?}

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  1. Ruth Medcalf says:

    Wow Heather very thoughtful post. I think you are a great Mom. Keep up the good work! It is a tough job, but try not to be too hard on yourself. Love and honesty goes a long way. love the pix of Christian!

  2. mgwestmoreland says:

    hi, i’m meredith, and i have three kids :). sometimes i’m confident, and sometimes i’m not, and i definitely think you are on to something with the idea that you want to have more when you feel like you’re doing a good job! i always say that i’m glad #2 and #3 were unplanned, because i’m not sure how in the world i would have actually made an intentional decision to have more. i don’t know how to gain confidence, really. i become more confident when i do something well, but there’s always something i do wrong to bring my confidence back down. at the end of the day, i think it’s less about having confidence in myself and more about having confidence in Jesus. trusting that HE will not give me more than i can bear, trusting that HIS power is made perfect in weakness, trusting that HE loves my kids even more than i do, trusting that HE loves ME (in spite of my failings.) it gives me confidence to know that HE has called me to this task of mothering, and he will supply all my needs. on my worst days, i can still trust in that. and, on my best days, i should give him glory for helping me to do my task well!

  3. Wow, Heather…I think you’ve expressed feelings here that are common to all moms! I have seven children, several of whom are now young adults. Do I have confidence as a parent? Well, I definitely know how to splint a broken arm, cook breakfast for an army, and help with basic Algebra problems. But still, in the ways that matter most, I greatly LACK confidence – when, as a parent, should I lean more toward law or more toward grace? Do I really know my child’s heart and the issues she struggles with? Do I effectively practice Gospel living as a Mom?

    I think Meredith nails it. The question isn’t so much do I have confidence in my ability as a mother. The question is – Do I have confidence in the goodness and sovereignty of my God? I think that’s one reason this mom business is fraught with so much that is heavy and heart-shaking – God uses this most intimate of relationships, this most sacred calling, to repeatedly expose our weakness and inadequacy and to repeatedly demonstrate His strength and sufficiency. It is not easy or pleasant to learn, again, how very incompetent I am, how miserably I fail. But, I can say with confidence, that it is wonderful indeed to learn anew how very good, strong, loving, wise, and holy God is.

    A closing thought – If you meet a Mom who has unwavering confidence in her ability to parent excellently, you are meeting a woman who is deceived! “Those who say they are without sin, lie…”

  4. Sorry, concision is not my strong point!

    All that said, I used to think I wanted 2, maybe 3, kids. God gave me seven. Has it been hard? Wowzer! Harder than I could have ever imagined! Looking back, do I wish I’d had only those 2 or 3 I’d intended? No way. God had something far better in store for me than I dared to purpose for myself.

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