Growing up, Elizabeth Lesser was devoted to her dolls. As a parent, however, she's learned that such excessive giving isn't always the best for her children.

There is a Persian myth of the first two parents who loved their children so much that they ate them up. God thought, "Well, this can't go on." So he reduced parental love by something like ninety-nine and nine-tenth percent, so parents wouldn't eat up their children. —Joseph Campbell

My children and I grew up together. I was 22 when my first son took up residence in my womb. I was just a kid—a big kid having a little kid. But it didn't feel to me that I was too young, because I had been planning on having a baby for a long time—since I was about four or five. I was one of those little girls whose greatest joy was to cradle a doll, sing to it, and tuck it into its crib. I would never go to school without arranging the babies and stuffed animals comfortably on my bed, making sure they were warm in the winter and cool in the summer, and grouped according to their current likes and dislikes of each other. I already was afflicted by the motherhood gene: I could feel what my dolls were feeling; I wanted them to be happy and safe; I worried about their wellbeing. My sisters found in my devotion to my dolls a reliable way to antagonize me. I once found a baby doll hanging in my room like a lynch mob victim, the pull-string of the window shade wrapped around her pudgy plastic neck.

For months after this incident, I paid extra attention to the doll, hoping its little psyche had not been traumatized. If such a thing existed I would have found a doll therapist and spent my allowance on the baby's recovery. Even after I stopped playing with them, I never banished my dolls to a box in a closet. I knew that would hurt their feelings. I still have them; they sit silently on a shelf in my grown-up bedroom. I rearrange their seating every now and then.

Can you really love your children less?

Excerpted from Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow © 2004 by Elizabeth Lesser. Reprinted by arrangement with the Random House Publishing Group.


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