The Washington Post

The risks of defining yourself only as ‘Mom’


Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Hi, Carolyn:

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

I want to try for another baby; my husband doesn’t. We have two beautiful children and a happy family, but I always wanted more. We started later than planned, and we’re both late 30s, so he’s concerned about health risks (mostly for the would-be child), being that much older when the child graduates high school, etc., and to a lesser extent, the additional stress, strain on finances, etc.

If I really, really pushed, I know he’d give in — he has said as much — and I know that’s not right. We both need to be excited at the prospect.

So how do I let go of this nagging feeling inside? I share his concerns, although I’m more prone to say, “Let the chips fall where they may,” that we can deal with the stress, the money, even a child with a health problem.

I’m not really satisfied at work and have little else in my life that fulfills me personally; it’s my role as a mommy that seems to define me now, and I love it. So maybe that’s why I can’t shake this feeling that another child would make me more complete.

How can I stop tearing up at diaper commercials or the sight of a beautiful newborn in the grocery store? How long is it okay to mourn the children we won’t have?

No-More-Baby Blues

They sell newborns at your grocery store?

“I ... have little else in my life that fulfills me personally; it’s my role as a mommy that seems to define me now, and I love it.”

I’m not saying you should or shouldn’t have another child — that’s for you, your husband, your banker and your doctor to wrestle with — but either way, your life needs your attention.

There’s nothing wrong with feeling as if parenthood is your calling, but you’re verging on peril when it becomes the way you define yourself. Your kids will grow up and move on, including your third child, if you have one, and then what? Even as your kids get older, you’ll need to revise your Mom role to occupy an increasingly smaller place in their lives, for their sakes.

Maybe you’re doing that now with your two kids, and that’s why you want another baby — because your sense of purpose isn’t as clear and immediate as it was?

I urge you to consider other ways to find fulfillment. Here’s some incentive to do it, in case you’re not feeling any right now: It’ll set a great example for your kids. Everyone at some point in life feels a bit . . . unmoored, unsure of the point of it all, alarmed that work and dishes are all there is. Having a child depend on you so fully does have a way of becoming a purpose, since there’s always another need to be met, but it’s just temporary — and it’s about them, not you.

It would help your kids immensely, in ways they might not recognize, to see you redefine yourself in a way that’s enduring, useful, and an honest expression of who you are. Wouldn’t hurt for you to see it, either.

I know it’s daunting, but so is caring for helpless little humans, and you seem to have gotten that down.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or Sign up for Carolyn Hax’s column, delivered to your inbox early each morning, at .



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