Parenting is like anything else. It has its fair share of commonly discussed things. You know, like the unbridled joy that accompanies the first moment you hold your newborn, or what it feels like to witness that child’s first steps.
But as Babble co-founders Rufus Griscom and Alisa Volkman point out during a recent presentation at the TEDWomen conference in Washington, D.C., there are a number of parental topics that are hardly discussed at all, things which are almost taboo, if you will.
Once Rufus and Alisa embarked together upon the journey of parenthood, they began to discover these taboos. They shared 4 of them during their presentation—taboos which revealed to them a demand they thought Babble would one day supply.
Taboo #1: You can’t say you didn’t fall in love with your baby in the very first minute. The popular conception is that the instant a parent first holds a newborn, that parent is brought to his or her knees with a brand of love previously unknown, one which must have been hand delivered by an angel from Heaven above. But Rufus doesn’t buy it. Was he overwhelmed with loving feelings for his son from the very first moment he held him? Of course. But nothing, he points out, like the love he feels for his child 5 years later. “Love is a process,” he says.
Taboo #2: You can’t talk about how lonely having a baby can be. Shortly after the birth of Declan, the first of their three sons, Alisa discovered something that an overwhelming number of first-time mothers experience. She felt lonely. Isolated, even. So she asked her sister, who was the mother of three, why she hadn’t given Alisa a head’s up during the pregnancy that such feelings might be around the corner for her.
“It’s just not something you wanna say to a mother who’s having a baby for the first time,” was the response she got. But, as Rufus points out, Alisa and he believe that “it’s precisely what you really should be saying to mothers who have kids for the first time.”
Taboo #3: You can’t talk about your miscarriage. Yet Alisa goes on to do just that. After Declan, they conceived another baby. Another boy. But when she was 5 months pregnant, the couple learned they had lost their child. Alisa addressed the shame she felt, even feelings of failure—as a woman, as a mother and, on some levels, as a wife. As she went through the mourning process and began to share her story with family and close friends, she was amazed by all the stories that came flooding in. The sheer multitude of them was both reassuring and concerning at the same time.
After all, it’s nice to know you’re not alone. But at the same time, why in the world are such stories not more prevalent? Surely, if they were, it would help those who endure such a heartbreaking tragedy.
Taboo #4: You can’t say your “average happiness” has declined. Rufus tells a story of the time he was reading Daniel Gilbert’s Stumbling on Happiness and happened upon a chart in the book that stopped him cold in his tracks. It was a linear depiction of happiness as interpreted by four different scientific studies—different studies with alarmingly similar findings.
They each concluded that a person’s “average happiness” dips considerably at the onset of parenting and doesn’t again rise until the first child has gone off to college. But Rufus and Alisa believe that when a young couple signs up for parenthood, they are making a bit of a compromise. In exchange for the autonomy and selfishness often needed to maximize one’s self interests, parents will eventually receive an abundant number of powerful and transcendent moments which go far beyond self, and which ultimately provide their life a tremendous amount of meaning.
Besides, the couple doesn’t think that parents have to experience a dip in their average happiness during their parenting years. Part of such a dip is due to these taboos, the ones that aren’t discussed. And that’s the demand they created Babble to supply. Discussing those taboos. Telling the entire truth about parenthood. Not just the truth about the good. But also the truth about the bad and the ugly.
Parenthood is one of the most beautiful institutions ever. And it will be even more beautiful, still, if parents know exactly what they’re in for in every regard, not just the highly romanticized ones.
I hope you’ll take some time and watch this video of their presentation. It’s funny, touching, inspiring and insightful all at once.