With five kids under the age of 7 (including 5-year-old triplets), it's probably safe to say that Michelle Nicholasen qualifies for a.) sainthood and b.) the title of "experienced parent." An award-winning filmmaker for shows like Nova and Frontline, she's also the author of I Break for Meltdowns: How to Handle the Most Exasperating Behavior of Your 2- to 5-Year-Old, in which she and longtime educator Barbara O'Neal share their wisdom on what to do in the most cringe-worthy parenting situations -- and how to cope when the traditional advice doesn't work. (Read more on her blog and on the book's discussions page.)
Leaving filmmaking for full-time motherhood was a choice Nicholasen, 42, didn't have to think long or hard about. "With five kids under the age of 5, I didn’t have time to deliberate about going back to work or not," she says. "I never wanted to stop working, but our situation was akin to a crisis, so I had to do it." She and her husband, Jim, live in Somerville, Massachusetts, with their children Annamira (7), Josie (5), Bevin (5), Lucy (5), and Cian (4).
Tell us a bit about your pre-book career path.
I had a very exciting, dynamic job making documentaries for public television. The last national show I produced had me scaling the side of a cliff, 10 weeks pregnant, at a beautiful archeological site of early modern humans in coastal Turkey. But you take your work home, believe me, 7 days a week. So that doesn’t fit well with raising so many kids.
What led you to write I Brake for Meltdowns?
First, I turned 40. I had been out of the job market for four years and I thought I would go crazy if I didn’t get a new start. So I drew on what I had been living and breathing: I wanted answers to all the questions I had about raising kids. Given all the absurd and impossible situations I found myself in, I wanted to know the best thing I could do in certain predicaments. So I started writing down all the challenging scenes in my home as a way to distancing myself from the intensity.
The other motivation was my frustration with parenting books that give you nice advice but never tell you what to do if it doesn’t work. What if your child keeps stomping out of the time-out area? What if your child sticks his tongue out at you and runs away when you are trying to talk about something serious? Then I met Barbara O’Neal, the Educational Director of Arlington Children’s Center (a job she has had for 30 years). Now, here’s a woman who knows how to say just the right thing to kids at the right time, and she’s seen it all. She is kind and loves to help parents. I knew I had to have a hotline to Barbara, so I pulled her into the book project.