TIME Parenting

Should I Have a Baby?

174550021
With love of photography—Getty Images/Flickr Select

Marty Nemko holds a Ph.D. in educational psychology from UC Berkeley and is a career and personal coach.

An internal debate about the pros and cons of starting a family

In this series’ previous installments, I used the internal debate technique to explore the three of life’s big decisions: Should you marry or break up? Should you change jobs? and If and what sort of college should you send your child to?

Today, I use the internal debate technique to explore the pros and cons of having a child.

Person: I’ve always felt I wanted a child.

Alter ego: Is that a should or a want?

Person: A little of both.

Alter ego: It’s stupid to have a baby even partly because your friends are having babies.

Person: That’s not mainly it. I don’t know if it’s estrogen or conditioning but I feel I want a baby.

Alter ego: I’m hearing a little ambivalence in the way you say that.

Person: Well, I’m not crazy about giving up my freedom for 18 years.

Alter ego: It’s longer than that. Your life starts changing from the day you get pregnant. And with lots of adult children back on their parents’ sofa after college, who knows how long it’s going to be?

Person: You make parenthood sound like a liability. I love the idea of holding my baby, seeing my child grow up, leaving a legacy.

Alter ego: Think of all your conversations with your friends. Are they in such la-la land about parenthood? They complain about parenthood making your brain go to mush, the relentless responsibility, the nonstop crying when they’re a baby, and when they’re older, the fights over homework, drugs, sex, just getting them to complete their college applications!

Person: You’re being cold. Think about the joys of nurturing a child, seeing your kid develop, being lifetime friends. The relationship!

Alter ego: Speaking of relationship, what about your husband? He’s willing to go along with your having a kid or two and he’ll do a fair amount of the parenting, but you know he really doesn’t care that much to have kids. In fact, if you told him you didn’t want kids, he’d mainly be relieved.

Person: I think that having a child or two would be good for our relationship. As it is, we’re starting to have parallel lives. He’s into his work and his hobbies, I’m into my work and my hobbies. There isn’t a common activity to draw us together, except sex.

Alter ego: That counts.

Person: But I’m feeling that, especially as time goes on, we need something else to bond us.

Alter ego: Having kids will hurt, not help, your relationship. It’ll hurt your sex life, which is already starting to go downhill. And parents fight a lot about their kids; “You’re too permissive.” “No, you’re too strict.” “She doesn’t need that.” “You’re being cheap.” And big stuff like public versus private school. And what about religious training? You’re a little religious while your husband is an atheist. Having a child to help your relationship? Hah!

Person: You’re seeing the ¾ full glass as ¼ empty.

Alter ego: I haven’t even mentioned the cost. It costs a quarter of a million dollars to raise a kid in a middle-class way, and that’s not counting college. And in the Northeast, a more upscale upbringing costs a half-million!

Person: It doesn’t have to be that expensive. I find it obscene that parents keep showering their kids with endless toys and designer label clothes. That not only teaches them shallow values but makes them feel entitled, like if the shower of stuff stops, they’re somehow being wronged.

Alter ego: You’re deluding yourself to think that exerting some moderation on buying them clothes and toys is going to put a dent in that quarter or half million—I’m talking food, clothing, the bigger apartment, health care, child care, haircuts, smartphone, summer camp, private school if you feel it’s too risky to send your kid to the public school. And I know you: After you have one kid, you’re going to say, “It would be so nice for my child to have a sibling.”

Person: So what? Family is what it’s ultimately mainly about.

Alter ego: What about your career: making a difference, making good money? If you have a child or two, you know you won’t be as devoted to work. You may even quit.

Person: I don’t think I will. Plenty of women do good work and have children.

Alter ego: Are you sure you want to bring children into this world? It’s a scary place.

Person: There will always be good and bad but I choose to believe that, ultimately, humankind progresses. I believe my child will live in a better world.

Alter ego: I hope you’re right.

Person: What if my kid is born defective? I’d still love the baby but it would change my life forever. My life is good now.

Alterego: Again with the fear-mongering?! The chances are tiny, especially because you don’t smoke, drink, or do drugs. And you and your husband have good genes.

Person: My grandmother did die of breast cancer. My father died early of a heart attack.

Alterego: I’d tell you to go get your genome analyzed at 23andme but the FDA just stopped them. You could though see a genetic counselor.

Person: I may do that. I’m feeling all this resistance now. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because I’m scared of giving birth–a bowling ball coming out of me?!

Altergo: Billions of women do it, have done it for time immemorial. You’re strong and healthy. You’ll be fine.

Person: I need to think about more pros of having a child—It would be nice when I’m older to have grandchildren. I know I’d love being a grandma.

Alter ego: You shouldn’t have kids so that 20 years from now, you can play grandma for a few hours a week.

Person: And moms and daughters are usually very close with each other.

Alter ego: What if it’s a boy. Are you going to abort it?

Person: Stop it. Of course not. It would be comforting to know I’ll have someone to take care of me in my old age. Women live a lot longer than men. My husband probably won’t be around.

Alter ego: Your reasons for having a kid are getting absurd. If, and I do mean if, you need someone to care for you in your old age and your husband isn’t alive and you haven’t met another guy, you can do what millions of people do: hire a caretaker. Don’t be irrational.

Person: But this is about feelings. The main reason I want a child is feeling: f-e-e-l-i-n-g. Doesn’t that count?

Alter ego: Not all feelings should be followed. Why don’t you wait until you get really clear about whether you want kids?

Person: If I wait, I’ll still have a child at home when I’m in my mid-to-late 50s. Will I have the energy to be a mother then? And even if I did, would that be how I’d be wanting to spend those years?

Alter ego: Maybe you should adopt an older child. Or get a dog.

Person: I need to think about all this (sigh).

Marty Nemko holds a Ph.D. specializing in education evaluation from U.C. Berkeley and subsequently taught there. He is the author of seven books and an award-winning career coach, writer, speaker and public radio host specializing in career/workplace issues and education reform. His writings and radio programs are archived on www.martynemko.com.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Parenting

My Breasts, My Choice: Why I’m Nursing My Three-Year-Old

mother-holding-baby
Getty Images

Talk about extended nursing (what we in the U.S. consider breastfeeding any child past the somehow magic age of one) and the crazy comes out

xojane

At three years old, my middle son wakes up as a different animal every morning. He tells me which by calling my name: “Mama Dragon,” he says, or “Mama Bear,” or “Mama Owl.” He calls me by name, always, and asks the same question: “Mama Stingray,” he says, “I have mama milk?”

“Not until after breakfast,” I tell him. “You know the rule. Breakfast first, then mama milk, or else you don’t eat your breakfast.”

Sometimes he accepts this easily, wolfs down some Gorilla Munch, and forgets about milk. Sometimes he gets angry, yells and insists he wants mama milk right now. Sometimes he cries and pouts so badly I write a note: MAMA MILK AFTER BREAKFAST, I spell out on a Post-it. He can’t read, but he clutches it like a ticket, this written assurance that he will, indeed, get the cuddles and milk he needs.

Yes, needs.

Baby Bear is three years old, and Baby Bear still needs to nurse. I’m OK with that and have even encouraged it. Not forced — encouraged. And I’m happy with it.

Talk about extended nursing — what we in the U.S. consider breastfeeding any child past the somehow magic age of one — and the crazy comes out of the woodwork.

“Weird” is the nicest word some commenters muster. Extended nursing has been likened to sexual abuse, to a power play in the mommy wars, to a sick desire to keep a child a baby. People claim it’s for the mother’s benefit, that children are forced to keep nursing, that it’s all about the mom and not about the child.

When I told my mother-in-law I planned to nurse my first son until he chose to wean, she could only manage to splutter, “But how do you expect him to go to preschool?”

Mostly, though, our collective discomfort with extended nursing comes from our persistent sexualization of breasts. Despite legal protections, hardly a week passes that a nursing mother isn’t asked to leave a store, cover herself, or decamp to the bathroom. Breasts, it seems, are only for sexual pleasure. Therefore, their association with children — especially children who can ask for them — becomes tantamount to child abuse.

I’d like to take my breasts back, thanks.

Let me quote the Bloodhound Gang here: you and me, baby, ain’t nothing but mammals. My breasts are not my husband’s. They are not my son’s. They are, first and foremost, my own. And I have chosen to use them for extended breastfeeding: their biological purpose.

There are a lot of reasons for that. Kathy Dettwyller, anthropologist and professor at the University of Delaware, claims the natural age for human weaning, when children are allowed to nurse for as long as they wish, falls somewhere between three and four years of age. Based on physiological and maturational comparisons to other mammals, she estimates the minimum age of human weaning at 2.8 years of age, with a maximum of seven years.

In light of that, nursing barely-three-year-old Baby Bear seems pretty unremarkable.

But it’s not just evolution that tells me to keep going. The benefits of nursing don’t just disappear at age one. Antibodies in breast milk help keep Baby Bear healthy. The longer I nurse, the lower my risk of breast cancer — something every pink-ribbon-waving feminist can support. But most important for me are the psychological benefits.

Baby Bear’s little brother Sunny is a year old. Sunny was a surprise; while we planned Baby Bear and his older brother, we didn’t bank on Sunny. And one of the reasons for that is Baby Bear himself. He’s always been needy, always begged for extra assurances. He warms slowly to family and friends alike. He approaches life with a narrow-eyed skepticism, as if he’s waiting for it to disappoint him. A fall that has his older brother laughing makes him wail. Of all my children, I worry about him inheriting my depression and anxiety the most. He’s a delicate soul, Baby Bear is. And I knew he wouldn’t handle being supplanted.

Because I knew that, I nursed all through my pregnancy. Nursing gave Baby Bear a chance to be a baby again. Like his new little brother, he got special cuddles from mama. He had that magic time of mama all to himself. He nestled in my lap; I kissed his head; we were still deeply, uniquely together. It helped his transition from baby to middle child.

And so we just … kept going. Nursing gave him a safe place. Baby Bear finds the world a pretty overwhelming place sometimes. Loud noises, lots of movement, bright lights: they become too much for him. For months, mama milk stayed his refuge. I handed off his brother to friends and cuddled him close on the floor of a gymnasium, or in the middle of a playdate. He nursed and calmed down and then got up to play again.

Yes, I nursed a toddler in public. It’s normal. It’s unremarkable, no matter how seldom we see it today. And no one asked me leave or told me to stop. If they shot me death glares, I didn’t notice. If I had, I wouldn’t have cared. Extended nursing might not be their choice. But I will not allow their discomfort to minimize or discredit mine.

Nursing has also taught Baby Bear some important rules about consent. A toddler doesn’t nurse like a newborn, and because he doesn’t have a nutritional need, I can say no if I want to. And sometimes, I don’t want touched again. I don’t let him nurse for too long — it can get uncomfortable, and I can’t let him drink all the milk if his brother will need it soon. Sometimes he’s okay with unlatching. Sometimes he gets mad, and I tell him that I understand he’s sad, but he can’t nurse if he throws fits, because it’s too upsetting for both of us. Most importantly, he nurses only once or twice a day, usually in the morning (always after breakfast) or mid-afternoon, post-lunch, pre-quiet-time.

So sometimes I say no.

Baby Bear has to accept this. Nursing a toddler is a relationship, and as the World Health Organization says, breastfeeding should continue “for as long as mother and child desire.” Both mother and child, not one or the other. A nursing relationship takes two.

And will I say no one day? Absolutely.

I weaned Baby Bear’s older brother at age three, when I became pregnant with my youngest. I picked a trip out of town, turned down requests for milk a few times, and that was that. I choose to be finished.

Extended breastfeeding has helped Baby Bear stay healthy and adjust to a changing family dynamic. It’s helped him feel loved. It was a choice I made: to use my body in the way I saw best for my child. Not every mother will make the same choice. Some know formula is right for them; some wean at one year. Their breasts, like mine, are their own. And as women, we can use them however we see fit.

I refuse to give my breasts to the male gaze. I refuse to bow to a one-size-fits-all, nurse-til-one-and-done world. For me, for now, for Baby Bear and his little brother, my breasts are for nurturing. I am happy with that decision. I love nursing my children, and I am grateful Baby Bear has benefited from extended nursing.

I have made my choice, and I will not be shamed.

Elizabeth Broadbent is a writer and mother. This story originally appeared on xoJane.com.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Map

See Every Country Where Spanking Is Still Legal in One Chart

Heather Jones / TIME ➞ Click to enlarge | Sources: Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children; Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children

It has been banned in 43 countries so far

Every time a new controversy erupts about parents who use spanking to discipline their kids, such as the Adrian Peterson story, there’s a whole new round of discussion about the most appropriate way to discipline kids.

This week Time for Family takes a deep look at the best way to discipline kids: who really spanks their kids, under what circumstances and whether it works. And, most critically, whether there anything else works better.

So far 43 countries have outlawed spanking, and two more are about to. Here’s a map with some surprising ways different countries are handling corporal punishment of children.

Oh and if you like this, be sure to sign up for TIME’s parenting weekly newsletter here.

TIME

Punishing Kids for Lying Only Makes Them Lie More

Young child sitting in corner as punishment
Getty Images

Kids who are given a moral reason to tell the truth tend to do so more often

Do you punish your children when they’re caught in a lie? That’s what many parents do, but a new study from researchers at McGill University suggests it might be time for a different approach. The study finds that kids reprimanded for lying are more likely to bend the truth, while kids who are given a moral reason for truth-telling tend to believe that honesty is the best policy.

Researchers traced the effectiveness of punishment in 372 kids between the ages of 4 and 8, finding that children were less likely to tell the truth when threatened with punishment, and more likely to tell the truth when they thought it would please an adult.

In order to gauge the implications of punishment on a child’s propensity to lie, researchers placed each participant alone in a room with a toy, and asked the child not to peek at the toy for an entire minute. It’s hardly surprising that curiosity got the best of most children, with 67.5 percent peeking, and 66.5 percent of those who peeked going on to lie about it. (Note: older children were less likely to peek, but were also more likely to lie about peeking after they’d done so.)

“Children often lie to conceal transgressions,” says study researcher and McGill professor Victoria Talwar. “Having done something wrong or broken a rule, they may choose to lie to try to conceal it. After all, they know they may get in trouble for the transgression. Thus, punishment doesn’t have much of an effect. It doesn’t deter them from using the strategy of lying to try to get out of trouble.”

So, how should parents go about encouraging their children to tell the truth when the impulse to lie is so strong? McGill’s study indicates that kids respond best to a strong moral appeal for honesty. Younger children were inclined to tell the truth to make an adult happy, while older children were inclined to do so because of their own internalized definition of right and wrong –– facts that might come in handy when your little one is caught red handed with the leftover Halloween candy.

“Threats about punishment are not deterrents for lying, and they do not communicate why children should be honest,” says Talwar. “If a child is playing with a ball in the house and breaks your vase but tells the truth about it when asked, you should recognize that he came clean. He may still have consequences for his transgression, but the child learns that honesty is valued.”

These findings reinforce a more progressive approach to parenting, and indicate that it’s better to explain truth-telling to children using positive reinforcement than the threat of harsh consequences. “Globally, we generally think of lying as a negative behavior,” says Talwar. “However, we sometimes fail to recognize the positive behavior –– honesty. If a child is confessing his transgression, we need to recognize that he was honest.”

Read next: Parents Should Try Being Present Instead of Perfect

TIME

Tech Tips To Keep Your Kid’s Belief in Santa Alive

Christmas tree surrounded with gifts
Tom Merton—Getty Images

"Don't Stop Believin'"

It’s that time of year! There’s a chill in the wind, bells in the air, eggnog on the menu and a strong probability that your kid will pick up The Truth About Santa on the mean city streets or in a first grade classroom.

Yes, Virginia, there is a chance that some December you’ll send your child to school and have his beliefs in Santa crushed right out of him by some truth-speaking sibyl spreading the gospel of disbelief on the lower school playground. While preschoolers and kindergartners are usually insulated from these malicious magic-busters, because most of the tiny tikes still believe that Jolly Old Saint Nick keeps track of who’s naughty and nice in some massive Google doc at the North Pole, first or second graders are a different story. When kids leave the cots of kindergarten, the ranks of the True Believers start to thin.

As much as some parents (myself very much included) want to keep the magic of the season alive, kids these days are a wily lot, seemingly born with a natural sense of skepticism about anything that’s not plugged into the World Wide Web. Luckily, there’s technology that can help parents keep even the savviest youngsters believing in Santa just a little bit longer.

Reindeer cam

In a holiday twist on the internet classics of corgi cams, pitbull puppy cams, and sloth cams, this handy website shows a steady stream of Santa’s reindeer just chilling out in their barn at the North Pole. Youngsters can watch the reindeer eat, drink and be merry while preparing for their big night pulling Santa’s sleigh. They can even wait for Santa to make a live appearance at regularly scheduled times.

Watch here: Reindeercam.com

North Pole Radio

iHeartRadio just launched a new radio station hosted by DJ Santa Claus playing Christmas favorites all day long. Between Vince Guaraldi classics and modern twists on carols, Santa and his elves provide commentary between songs. Plus, there’s a call-in phone number (929-BIG-ELF1) for kids to leave their Christmas requests, which Santa will be playing and responding to all month long.

Listen here: North Pole Radio

Kringl App

This one blew my kid’s mind last year and I fully plan on using it again. This free app uses your phone’s video camera to superimpose Santa into your very own living room in just a few quick steps of technological magic. You simply open the app and follow the directions that include filming for a few seconds, applying some easy-to-operate effects and you suddenly have indisputable proof that Santa exists. (Just don’t ask me how it works!)

More info here: http://www.kringlapp.com/

Norad Santa Tracker

For more than 50 years, the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and its ominous-sounding predecessor, the Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD) have tracked Santa’s Christmas Eve flight ever since a local media ad encouraged children to call Santa directly, but misprinted the number. Instead of reaching Santa, the phone rang through to the crew commander on duty at the Continental Air Defense Command Operations Center. The rest is history. Now, kids around the world can follow Santa’s flight on NORAD’s website, which has been translated into eight languages: English, French, Spanish, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, and Chinese. There’s also a mobile version, a holiday countdown, games and daily activities.

Watch here: http://www.noradsanta.org/

Portable North Pole

This website is awesome, but it does require an ability to stomach uploading personal information. Enter some details about your child (first name, age, city, Christmas wish) and Santa will deliver a personalized message that will bring a smile to your kid’s face. I have done the free version for the last three years, but fudge my son’s birth date, don’t upload a photo, and don’t enter credit card information. The result is a video that is magical enough—filled with elves, Christmas cheer and Santa reporting on your child’s behavior and relaying your little one’s Christmas wish while giving a tour of his North Pole workshop. It may be more magical with more information, but no one has stolen my kid’s identity yet. Sadly, there are enough scammers out there that we all need to be careful.

More information here: Portable North Pole

Call Santa

There are several ways to have Santa remind your child to stay on his good side until Christmas. There’s the Calling Santa app, the Parents Calling Santa app and the Video Calls with Santa app all of which let kids have a little chat with the Big Man himself. But again, be careful with your personal information. These apps probably work best on younger children who are less likely to question Santa’s internet connection. There’s also Christmas Dialer, which you can use to deliver a message from either Santa or one of his elves. A pre-recorded message is free, but premium ones cost money. This also works for unsettling your grown friends who might be wondering why an elf will be watching over them each night.

More information here: ChristmasDialer.com

Google Santa Tracker

The search giant has launched its annual Santa Tracker, which, like NORAD, maps Old Saint Nick’s Christmas Eve travels. The site is also acting as a digital advent calendar unlocking new games and activities each day as we countdown to Christmas.

Watch here: Google Santa Tracker

@Santa Twitter

For the truly tech-savvy kid, Santa is tweeting @Santa and there’s no doubt he’s in touch with what’s hot with kids these days.

TIME Parenting

Georgia School Slaps Handcuffs on 6-Year-Old Student

80991995
Getty Images

School said first grader's son posed a risk to himself and others

The mother of a first grade student has expressed outrage at a Georgia school’s decision last week to place her 6-year-old son in handcuffs.

Lakaisha Reid said she found her son, a special needs student at Pine Ridge Elementary school, kneeling on the floor with his hands cuffed behind his back, Yahoo! News reports.

“The first thing I said was ‘Get those handcuffs off my kid,’ Reid said. She said the handcuffs appeared to have bruised her son’s wrists.

(Read more: Why Are 40,000 Children So Harshly Disciplined in Public Schools?)

The school defended its decision to restrain her son, arguing that his behavior posed a risk to himself and other students.

“For approximately one hour, the student was scratching, kicking and hitting school personnel and continued to exhibit violent behavior, running into walls, banging his head on tables and placing his health at risk,” read a statement from Dekalb County School District.

[Yahoo!]

TIME Family

How to Take Risks as a Parent

Reminder notes on parent's notebook
Getty Images

4 steps to help you make risky decisions when you have a family

LITG

This article originally appeared on Live in the Grey.

As a parent, the idea of disrupting corporate America, pursuing passion and living in the grey is so exciting. I feel such pride that our generation is fundamentally changing the way our kids will work.

At the same time, I’ve reflected a lot on whether being a parent impacts your ability to take big risks. Naturally, the stakes for parents are higher. It’s not just a personal money issue. The well-being of your family might be on the line.

All of this was running through my mind last year when my husband and I hit a point where we needed a change. I was miserable in my job and couldn’t suppress this nagging feeling that I needed to spend more time with our kids. So we talked about our options:

  • I could quit and stay home with our kids
  • I could quit and pursue my marketing consulting business full time
  • I could find another job and pursue consulting on the side

The conversation ultimately came back to the tension between our desires and how our decisions could impact our kids. But instead of getting stuck in indecision, we came up with a plan that would address our need for change and our family’s well-being. When you find yourself unable to make up your mind about a career decision, try taking these four steps:

1. Clearly outline your financials

First, we needed to be able to compare our options objectively and understand the level of financial risk they presented. I created a spreadsheet with all the relevant factors (income, bills, savings, and spending money). This way, we were able to see the financial impact of each scenario side by side. It helped arm us with concrete facts and made it easier to know exactly what we were sacrificing, which in turn took some of the emotional difficulty out of our decision.

(MORE: 5 Reasons Yoga Can Help You Live & Work Better)

2. Weigh in additional pros and cons

Once we had a good financial comparison, we listed the rest of the pros and cons associated with each option. This included things like the time I would get to spend with our kids, schedule flexibility, contributions to savings and retirement, ability to pay for private school and more. These will be different for everyone.

We also factored in our financial safety net, the sacrifices we’d have to make, how long we could realistically live on one salary, and what I could bring in should I start my own business.

(MORE: From Rock & Roll to Peace of Mind: Meet Meditation Guide Biet Simkin)

3. Set a goal.

Armed with a full picture of our options, we decided to set a savings goal of 6 months worth of income before making any big changes. All of our options were technically possible, but because of our kids we needed a bigger savings cushion.

4. Iterate.

Don’t stop there. We re-evaluate our situation at the end of every month because all of these factors can change quickly.

As of this month, I’m excited to say we exceeded our savings goal and I have officially started a new career! The summer brought a couple surprise expenses which detoured our goal date by a month, but we pivoted as needed and re-established our goal.

I feel motivated by the fact that we’ve become more flexible while still keeping true to our goals. We are working together more than we ever have and are much more in tune with what we ultimately want to get out of our lives. In other words, we are living our grey.

At the end of the day, remember that this is your path. Consider your options and unique challenges, set goals and constantly re-evaluate. This way, you’ll make real progress while cutting down on stress along the way.

(MORE: Tumblr’s Annie Werner Shares Career Advice)

TIME Parenting

Pregnant Woman Says She Was Fired for Taking Too Many Bathroom Breaks

Portrait of woman wearing striped dress
Getty Images

A supervisor accused her of “stealing” from the company

A woman in Portland, Ore., claims she was fired from her job in 2013 for taking too many bathroom breaks while pregnant with her second child.

People reports that Dawn Steckmann was told by her supervisor at Maxim Integrated Products that “not clocking out to use the restroom is stealing from the company” and she could have been “watching a movie” during bathroom breaks.

Steckmann, who worked for Maxim for ten years, claims she had been told during her previous pregnancy not to bother with clocking out when using the restroom.

Steckmann is reportedly seeking $400,000 in damages in a gender and discrimination lawsuit.

Read more at People.

TIME Parenting

How to Survive Teaching a Teenager How to Drive

car
Getty Images

My 16 year old son has earned his permit and I am the one who has the most availability during the week — thus, it’s become my “privilege” to teach him how to drive

xojane

This story originally appeared on xoJane.com.

Possibly one of the worst fights I had with my mother when I was a teenager occurred at the intersection of McClintock and Cornell in Tempe, Arizona. I was making a left turn and had inched her Toyota Camry into position. Oncoming traffic was heavy and my mom was gripping the emergency brake and maybe even looking for an oxygen mask. She was giving a ton of instructions and I thought I heard her say go, so I did.

We missed being in a head on collision by approximately half an inch. I believe our argument went something like this:

Mom: “Oh my God! Are you trying to kill us? F#$%, Crazy, Jesus-H Fu*&%%^, etc. What the heck were you thinking?”

Me-(ego bruised): “No, I wasn’t trying to kill us, Mom, just you because you would have been hit first!”

Mom: “Give me the goddamn keys!”

Me: *Walking home*

Fast forward 27 years. My 16 year old son has earned his permit and I am the one who has the most availability during the week—thus, it’s become my “privilege” to teach him how to drive. I imagine that the previous sentence will be read with glee by mom. I think she’ll share it with her friends and they’ll have a hearty laugh about how what goes around comes around. And they’ll be right.

Here’s what I didn’t understand when my mother was teaching me how to drive. She didn’t see me as a young adult with a sense of responsibility and underlying comprehension of the risks involved in this rite of passage. If she was anything like I am now, she saw me around the age of 4 or 5, holding my blanky and starting the ignition. I know this because when I look at my son, I see him in his OshKosh B’gosh overalls. I see that little cherub controlling a death trap in the guise of a Nissan. In an effort to avoid a public freak out and to keep my son in the driver’s seat, I have compiled a list of actions to be taken in order to survive teaching my teenager to drive. Please use as needed.

Xanax is a-okay.

I’m not saying you should score it on the street, but I mean I can’t see you, so.

Please pay attention: The first time you pull out of a neighborhood or parking lot and onto a main thoroughfare, you will want your anti-anxiety meds to have taken effect. I love my primary care physician. She has a teenage daughter. Solidarity.

Clip your fingernails to the quick.

You’ll be clenching your fists on average of 74,876 times every trip you take with your teenager. Avoid extra pain by removing the possibility of scarring your palms.

Practice your poker face—then apply it to your voice.

Think relaxation tapes from days of yore. Conjure your most boring teacher’s voice. Do anything to remove emotion because even joy will be received with an overreaction.

For example, when my son successfully completed a series of 3 point turns and I praised him, he interpreted my praise as though I had just said, “Dude! You’re like a master driver! Why not go ahead and blast Jay Z or Drake while you navigate the freeway on-ramp! Be sure to try to recline your seat as you hit 60 mph too.”

Every time you are tempted to scream out in total panic and despair at your teen’s lack of judgment, clench your butt muscles instead and apply poker voice. My butt is getting so firm.

Watch a documentary or film featuring European roadways.

The first time your kid begins to drift onto the wrong side of the road, simply say, England.

Resist the urge to let your teenager drive him/herself to school.

There is an invisible cloud of Look-there-are-my-friends-I’mma-act-like-a-jerk — it’s like vapor. You will also potentially be saving your child from the embarrassment of parking on the curb because he/she was trying so hard to be noticed.

When you occasionally stop at a red light while your teenager is driving and look out the passenger window so that your child doesn’t see your tears, be alert enough to notice the older woman giving you a knowing look. Silently curse her when the light turns green because you are deeply envious of how much her car belongs to just her.

Make sure that you and your significant other are on the same page about things like speed limits.

In my state, if you actually drive the speed limit, you will put your life at risk. Hence my fear of my son applying my very safe husband’s advice too earnestly.

Know the habits of drivers in your area.

My son is currently tapping into his psychic abilities because in our town one is supposed to just know when the car ahead plans on turning or merging lanes. Mind reading is a must.

Keep the younger siblings muzzled in the backseat.

My daughter is only a couple of years younger than my son. They are the fiercest friends in the world. The car is not the world. The car is where your daughter will kick the back of the driver’s seat causing your teenager to turn around mid-acceleration to utter profanities you didn’t know he knew while your daughter lobs them back causing your poker voice to vanish. Lightening quick actions you never knew you possessed will be taken in a display of something akin to bionic parenting — such as simultaneously squeezing your backseat-child’s knee to show you mean business, and hitting the hazard lights as the voice of Thor rises from the depths of your body to silence the moment. In the silent aftermath you will demand the keys be removed from the ignition. Using your now-raw-non-neutral voice you will instruct your children to walk home and think about what they’ve done.

My son is improving in his driving skills every day. He dreams aloud about what kind of car he’ll purchase when his 16 birthday rolls around this December. This is hilarious and somewhat adorable. We’ve been discussing things like getting a job and reality.

My husband and I spent a recent Saturday at a team parent meeting because our boy made the JV basketball team. At the meeting, we were informed about the practice schedule among other things. Our boy now has to be dropped off and picked up from school on average of 28 times per week. Suddenly, December can’t come soon enough. Luckily for all of us, the road to school and back is a straight shot, and if he has his own car I can follow him if I feel like it. I think I’m going to feel like it.

Jess Burnquist is a teacher living in Phoenix, Arizona.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Parenting

U.S. Birthrate Declines as American Women Wait

Portrait of woman wearing striped dress
Getty Images

In troubling sign for economy

U.S. birth rates hit a record low in 2013, federal researchers said Thursday, down 9% from a high in 2007.

The “baby bust,” revealed in a report from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, indicates that women are delaying having children until later in life. The declines were among women under 30, while the rates for women over 35 actually went up. Childbearing among older women has risen over the last three decades, according to the CDC, with rates for women 35 and older at the highest levels in roughly 50 years.

The decline in childbirths is not good news for the U.S. economy. Years of declining populations rates have created economic crises in Europe and Japan, as labor forces contract, the tax base shrinks, and the population gets older.

The good news? Birth rates did fall 10% among teenagers.

Your browser is out of date. Please update your browser at http://update.microsoft.com