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Parenting Taboos – Part 2

I wrote a TED Talk transcript of Parenting Taboos previously.  Parents Rufus Griscom and Alisa Volkman (I guess she didn’t take his last name–maybe that’s another taboo) gave an interesting TED Talk (episode 3 available on Netflix.) In part 1, they gave 2 parenting taboos.

  1. Taboo #1:  You can’t say you didn’t fall in love with your baby in the very first minute.
  2. Taboo #2:  You can’t talk about how lonely having a baby can be.

Here is part 2 of the transcript, and we pick up on Taboo #3.

Alisa, “Taboo #3:  You can’t talk about your miscarriage,

but today I’ll talk about mine.  So after we had Decklin, we kind of re-calibrated our expectations.  We thought we actually could go through this again, and thought we knew what we’d be up against.  We were grateful that I was able to get pregnant and soon learned that we were having a boy.  Then when I was 5 months, we learned we had lost our child.  This is actually the last little image we have of him.  

It was obviously a very difficult time, really painful.  As I was working though that mourning process, I was amazed that I didn’t want to see anybody, I really wanted to crawl into a hole.  I didn’t really know how I was going to work my way back into my surrounding community.  I realized the reason I was feeling that way is on a really deep gut level, I was feeling a lot of shame, and embarrassed frankly, that in some respects I had kind of failed at delivering what I’m genetically engineered to do.  Of course it made me question if I wasn’t able to have another child, what would that mean for my marriage, and just me as a woman.  A very difficult time.

As I started working through it more, sort of kind of climbing out of that hole and sort of talking with other people, I was really amazed by all the stories that started flooding in. People that I interacted with daily, worked with, was friends with, family members that I had known a long time had never shared with me their own stories, and I just remember feeling all these stories come out of the woodwork.  I felt like I happened upon this secret society of women, that I now was a part of, which was reassuring and also really concerning.

I think miscarriage is kind of an invisible loss.  There’s not really a lot of community support around it, there’s no real ceremony, rituals, or rites, and I think with a death, you have a funeral, you kind of celebrate the life and there’s a lot of community support, and it’s something women don’t have with miscarriage.”

Rufus, “Which is too bad because of course it is a very common and very traumatic experience.  15-20% of all pregnancies result in miscarriage, and I find this astounding:  74% of women said that miscarriage was partly their fault, which is awful, and sadly 22% said they would hide a miscarriage from their spouse.  So,

unhappyParentsTaboo #4:  You can’t say your “average happiness” has declined since having a child.

The party line is that every single aspect of my life has gotten dramatically better, ever since I participated in the miracle that is childbirth and family.  I’ll never forget, I remember vividly the day our first son Decklin was 9 months old, and I was sitting there on the couch and I was reading Daniel Gilbert’s wonderful book, Stumbling on Happiness, and I got about two-thirds of the way through and there was a chart on the right-hand side, on the right-hand page that we’ve labeled here, The Most Terrifying Chart Imaginable for a New Parent.  This chart is composed of four completely different independent studies.  Basically there is this precipitous drop of marital satisfaction, which is closely aligned we know with broader happiness that doesn’t rise again until your first child goes to college!  So I’m sitting here looking at the next two decades of my life, this chasm of happiness that we’re driving our convertible straight into.  We were despondent.deludedParents

Alisa, “So you can imagine again, I mean the first few months were difficult, but we kind of come out of it, and we’re really kind of shocked to see this study, so we really wanted to take a deeper look at it in hopes we would find a silver lining.”

Rufus, “That’s when it’s great to be running a website for parents, because we got this incredible reporter to interview all the scientists who conducted these four studies.  We said, ‘Something is wrong here.  There’s something missing from these studies.  It can’t possibly be that bad.’

baselineHappinessSure enough Liz Mitchell did a wonderful job with this piece.  She interviewed the four scientists, and she also interviewed Daniel Gilbert and we did indeed find a silver lining.  This is our kind of guess this baseline of average arguable looks like throughout life.  But average happiness is of course inadequate because it doesn’t speak to the moment by moment experience.  So this is what we think it looks like when you layer in the moment to moment experience. (audience laughs).

momentHappinessSo we all remember as children the tiniest little thing–and we see it in the faces of our children, the tiniest little thing can just rocket them to just heights of utter adulation, and then the next tiniest little thing can cause them to just plummet to the depths of despair, and it’s just extraordinary to watch.  We remember it ourselves, and then of course, as you get older, it’s almost like age is just a form of Lithium, as you get older you sort of become more stable, and part of what happens is here in your 20s and 30s is you just sort of learn to hedge your happiness.  You start to realize that hey, I could go to this live music event and have an utterly transforming experience and cover my entire body with goosebumps, but it’s more likely that I’ll feel claustrophobic, and I won’t be able to get a beer!  (audience laughs)  So I’m not going to go.  I’ve got a good stereo at home, I’m just not going to go.  So your average happiness goes up, but you lost those transcendent moments.”

Alisa, “Yeah, and then you have your first child.   And then you really just kind of submit yourself to this, these highs and lows.  You know the highs being the first steps, the first smile, your child reading to you for the first time, the lows being in our house any time between 6 or 7 every night.  But you realize, you kind of resubmit yourself to losing control on really a kind of wonderful way, which we think provides a lot of meaning to our lives and is quite gratifying.”

Rufus, “So in effect, we trade average happiness, we trade sort of security and safety of a certain level of contentment for these transcendent moments.  So where does that leave the two of us as a family with our three little boys in the thick of all this?  There’s another factor in our case.  We have violated yet another taboo in our own lives, and this is a bonus taboo.

Rufus, “BONUS taboo #5:  You shouldn’t work together.

Alisa, “Yeah.  A quick bonus taboo for you that we should not be working together, especially with three children, and we are.”

Rufus, “We had reservations about this in the front.  Everybody knows you should absolutely not work with your spouse.  In fact when we first went out to raise money to start Babble[.com], the venture capitalists said, ‘we categorically don’t invest in companies founded by husbands and wives because there’s an extra point of failure.  It’s a bad idea, don’t do it.’

We obviously we forwards with what we did, raised the money and we’re thrilled that we did because this phase in one’s life, the incredibly scarce resource is time, and if you’re really passionate at what you do every day which we are, and you are also passionate about your relationship, this is the only way we know how to do it.

So the final question that we would ask is ‘Can we collectively bend that happiness chart upwards?’  It’s great that we have these transcendent moments of joy, but they’re sometimes pretty quick.  So how about that average baseline happiness.  Can we move that up a little bit?”

Alisa, “We kind of feel like the happiness gap which we talked about is really the result of walking into parenting and really any long-term partnership for that matter, with the wrong expectations.  If you have the right expectations and expectation management, we feel like it’s going to be a pretty gratifying experience.”

Rufus, “So this is what we think that a lot of parents when you get in there, in our case anyway, you pack your bags for a trip to Europe, and you’re really excited.  You get out of the airplane, it turns out you’re trekking in Nepal, and trekking in Nepal is an extraordinary experience, particularly if you pack your bags properly and you know what you’re getting in for and you’re psyched.

So the point of all this for us today, honesty for the sake of honesty, but a hope that by being more honest and candid about these experiences that we can all collectively bend that happiness baseline up a little bit.”

Both, “Thank you.”

So what do you think?  Are miscarriages taboo?  Are new parents more happy before and after children?  Did you experience surprise at parenting?  What were your false expectations?  (Or was it easy for you?)


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