10 Ways Becoming a Parent Made Me a Better Person
The Four Queens recently talked about giving yourself internal permission in this video, and having to come to terms with the fact that she didn't want to become a parent. In this day and age, this choice is becoming increasingly popular. One of my friends who I lived near when I was living in the States while still married to my ex-husband had also actively chosen to have her tubes tied when she was in her mid-twenties. I know a lot of women, in fact, who decided young, and with firm gusto that they did not want to become mothers.
I have a shit-ton of respect for them.
I see everyday what deciding to have children when you don't really want them does to the mother, and to the child. My own step-daughter is a product of this poor choice. Her father wanted her very, very much. Her mother only had her because she was appeasing her father. To clarify, her mother left her with us two and a half years ago, to move out of the province to be with her then long-distance boyfriend. I see everyday what kind of emotional torture my step-daughter goes through, how the process of child abandonment can play out, and her father and I struggle to cultivate feelings of self-love in her, instead of self-loathing. So, before I go any further, if you are on the fence about whether or not you really want to have kids, I want you to remember this: in Eat, Pray, Love, Liz Gilbert's sister tells her that having children is akin to getting a tattoo on your face. You really need to be committed before you jump into it. Because if you decide a few years down the road you don't want to do this whole "parenting" thing any more, staying will drive YOU to self-loathing, and leaving will drive your child to it.
Now that I've covered the basis of getting clear about your choice, I want to get to the actual positive part of the post. As you can tell from the title of this blog post, I did choose to have children, and its a choice that I'm damned proud of. Nurturing, caring, and mothering are traits that I always demonstrated as a child and teen, and the desire to have children has been constant throughout my life. Even when I wasn't supposed to be, I was bossing my brothers around the house, trying to break up fights and cultivate love (or at least a lack of violence) between them. In middle school, I volunteered with physically handicapped people, and then finally, in my mid twenties, I became pregnant with my son, thrilled at the knowledge that I would soon be a parent. From the moment my step-daughter entered my life, to the moment I held my son in my arms for the first time, I have been changed utterly as a person, and I wanted to share with some of the ways I've grown.
10. I've become way less selfish.
It's a fact that when you are a parent you have to think about yourself less, condense down your previous perhaps mile-long list of self-care regimes into a list the length of your little finger, and just generally do hardly any of the things that you really want to do until after your children reach a certain age. But this, I think, is a good thing in my case. I thought way too much about myself before, and having children taught me to look beyond my own nose once in awhile. I did charity work or donated before, but now I know how much you can truly affect someone's life with an act of love.
9. I've realized the true benefits of eating well.
I am sooo lucky in that my son actually enjoys eating fruits and vegetables. Everyday he meets, if not far exceeds his recommended fruit and veggie servings. He goes to the bathroom everyday, and his bowels are normal, healthy, and don't stink up the joint. My step-daughter on the other hand, hasn't met a boxed or a canned meal with a cartoon character on it that she didn't like. She disdains vegetables, and only barely tolerates fruit. Even normally popular items like strawberries, blue berries, and the like are gotten into her easily. She has to be practically force-fed a carrot, and water is just as difficult. And you do NOT want to go into the bathroom after her. Since we have forcefully changed her diet, she has gotten healthier, including improvement in her sleep quality, bowel health, and energy, but the changes have not gone over well with her. She is at an age (9, almost 10) where she resents the fact that we interceded on her choices of food, and she fights us everyday. We really wish we had stuck to our guns about healthier choices with her a LOT sooner.
8. The television should be used sparingly.
Nothing kills a child's ability to think creatively faster than children's television shows. It turns them into little robots that regurgitate information at a moment's notice, but with nothing to attach it to. The worst offenders are actually those shows that claim to be "educational" by teaching your children words in other languages, like Dora and Diego. Television should actually be used for what it was originally intended to be: a source of entertainment. If you want to teach your children things, spend some time with them, get down on the floor and talk or teach things to them. Sing the alphabet. Use age-appropriate workbooks, or even just play Lego.
7. I will never underestimate a child's ability to repeat bad words.
You might wonder why it takes 10 times of you calling their name before they respond to you, but they only need to hear the f-word once to repeat it perfectly. The answer? Children are actually biologically engineered to have selective hearing at younger ages. Yup. Sucks, doesn't it? When they hear the emphasis we put into swear-words, especially if they are rarely or never used around the house, they will take note, because it's a rare occurrence. It sounds different than you saying their name (which they hear how many times a day?), so therefore, it must be important, and bear repeating. Now you know.
6. I learned who my friends are.
Every woman has that friend who they hung out with every week before they decided to have kids, and exchanged promises with this friend about you having children wouldn't change your relationship a bit, only to watch in dismay as within the first months of your child's life you literally become replaced by someone else. Emails, texts, or phone calls that used to fire rapidly between you two dry up, and it suddenly takes days, if not weeks of careful planning for you two to find the time to get together, whereas before you used to arrange dates in minutes. I have experienced it first-hand and know how much it stings to lose what you thought was a close friend. The lesson behind this is that that person is high-tailing it out of there because she is incredibly uncomfortable with the fact that you are growing and changing, and that your priorities are growing and changing. It's actually a good thing that you are leaving less mature friends behind, but I know, first-hand, how much it stings to be abandoned in the first months of something so new and scary for you.
5. I learned that quality time will always be better than things you can buy them.
Kids are impulsive. They see ads on tv for some fancy toy, and they will want that toy sooo, sooo badly. They will beg you for it for weeks, put it on every Christmas and birthday list, and obsess over it. If they do manage to get one, they will play with it for a week or less before they are utterly bored of it, and move their obsession onto something new. But if you channel the same amount of money into creating an experience with them that is meaningful and fun instead, they will not only get more out of it, they will treasure it more dearly. Case in point: I bought a Hello Kitty stuffed toy for my daughter that she wanted for months, for Christmas. She carried it around and slept with it for a week before it hit the closet with all her other stuffies. A few months later, I took her to a place called Color Me Mine, where you paint bisque pottery however you want, then they fire it, and you can take it home. She treasures that giant Tinker Bell mug more than most of her other possessions. It's not just a mug, it's a memory. By the way? Both cost about the same dollar-wise.
4. Time alone becomes truly precious.
It's not very often that I drive myself somewhere and I'm completely alone in the car. It's even rarer that I get time in the house totally alone, without anyone else. When these occurrences do happen I do NOT take them for granted. If I'm driving and I get stuck at a slow moving train, I am in absolute heaven! Because really, when's the last time someone looked at me and said "Jessica, you look like you could use 10 minutes to just sit and do nothing." and then shooed me off? Oh yeah... it's been MONTHS. My husband and I take turns doing some household chores or duties, like cooking dinner or getting the kids to bed, but it's rare I get sent off somewhere to be alone, on purpose. When those precious few minutes or hours come that I get to be by myself, I carefully consider and plan what I most want to do, so not a minute is wasted.
3. I appreciate my parents more.
I think every mother and father have been there, that moment when you are yelling at your child for doing something, and you hear your mother, father, grandmother, whatever, come flying out of your mouth. It is truly a humbling and sobering moment. It is in that moment that you suddenly understand everything your parents went through, and more. It is in that moment that you are able to truly appreciate that they were in fact, trying to do their very best for you, every single day, and how much you meant to them. It is a moment I found very confusing - because I was furious with my child, but I also felt my parent's love so deeply that I started to cry.
2. I appreciate the stages of baby and childhood more.
My son used to be very fussy if he was out of my arms. He spent the majority of his baby stage being held by someone, and I revelled in the amount of touch that we exchanged. Now I have to practically chase him down to get a hug out of him, and I'm lucky if he doesn't wipe my kisses off after I give them to him. I wish now that I had marvelled in how much physical affection he wanted in those early months, and given him more of it, because now it's so fleeting and precious.
1. I have experienced the sacred time that is pregnancy, and the miracle that is child birth.
And I'm doing it again, only this time, this pregnancy has felt at times, far less, and far more sacred than the first time. With all the difficulties and close-calls I've experienced this time, this baby feels even more like a miracle than my son did. I know what it's like to feel a bit like Gaia, and to be responsible for bringing something new and precious into the world. I know what it feels like to grow slowly larger and larger, and know you are making a new human being in THERE. I know intimately the feeling of a baby kick, a contraction, and the rush of love and affection when I saw my baby for the first time, both on ultrasound screen, and in person. If I ever lost the knowledge of this experience, I think I will truly feel empty inside. It filled me up in places I never knew weren't filled before, and enriched the other places in ways I didn't know were possible. And I understand, a bit, how hard it must be for women who like me, wanted to have children all their lives, but then found they couldn't. I appreciate my fertility and my ability to take part in the sacred act of child bearing all the more.
There will always be days when I wonder why I decided to become a parent in the first place, but the truth is, no matter how hard my days are, no matter how crazy my children act, having them in my life is something that I would never, ever change. They have enriched me and taught me lessons that no one else ever could have, and I'm grateful for my chance to experience all this, every single day.