Before kids, my husband and I would go on walks all day long, with few potty breaks and snacks along the way. We would walk and look around and not be afraid that someone would get lost or something would break. We would go out to dinner and a movie without wondering if this experience was replacing the next round of shoes or next week’s groceries. We would stay out late, knowing that we could sleep in and make up for all that lost rest. We would wake up refreshed. We would not wonder who was in the bathroom because we had to get ready for work. We would not be woken up at 5 AM with all the lights on in the house.
When I was pregnant with our first child, people said “Ohhhh, your life is going to change.” “It will never be the same.” I thought that those comments were cliché and didn’t specify how life was going to change. My husband and I knew it would be different; it was going to be another life experience, another one of those life changing moments. What we didn’t realize was that there just wasn’t an easy way to describe how life changes. Books and self-help manuals concerning parenthood will mention various things, but the true experience going on inside you may not be described by anyone else. There are commonalities, yet parenting can be a very personal experience.
When I think about how my life has changed personally, it boils down to this: I used to be concerned more with how I appeared (on my resume, in grants, in various aspects of my teaching, out with my friends) rather than who I was at the core. As a parent I was given multiple opportunities to examine myself. Perhaps this is due to maturity that would of happened to me without kids, but I only know the life that I have lived thus far.
More specifically, to define five ways as to how life has changed for me, ways beyond the obvious sleep deprivation with an infant, encompasses self-examination. For better or worse, I am who I am, and so are our children. I need to work with them. They need me and they’ve changed me. I will never be the same as I was before. Here are five self-altering changes I’ve noticed.
1) When I have free time, I don’t spend it the way I used to. This may seem obvious, but I was forced to prioritize. What was truly important to me? It took a while to figure it out, but it lead me back to who I really was. I had to prioritize this precious time to feed what I needed to stay strong and clear-thinking. To be strong and clear-thinking so I can better raise our children is a priority. Some people may either clean the house or talk on the phone during this “down” time, and I did a bit of that. However, to regain my strength and patience for the rest of the day with an infant, I had to do what I really needed the most; I read as much as I could–novels, newspapers, parenting and other magazines. I wrote letters.
As the children got older, I lost some of that nap-time free time, but the children’s needs changed too. They became ready for more structured time and time to socialize with other children. It was necessary for them, to help them cope with growing and to have a little bit of a schedule they could rely on. Play group and preschool provided that for them. It was also helpful for me to have friends going through similar things with their children. Spending time with other moms helped me be stronger and be a more clear-thinking mom, and some of the best friends I have came from this group.
2) You will always go through new things with your child; your confidence in everything will be tested again and again. I remember the nurse instructing us in the proper way to bath our son. At home, the process initially took at least twice as long as it took her to explain and show it. After increasing confidence in this, it would be something else like choosing when to stop breast-feeding or what solid food to start first. The list of “firsts” goes on and on and continues to this day. This baby is now in middle school! There are also “firsts” with the other children that the first-born didn’t challenge us with…yet. My confidence waffled, even in the work force. I think that I will always question if I am doing the right thing for my family.
3) I have learned to trust my instincts. When there is a feeling that either something is or isn’t right, that’s your instinct. With each experience, I learned more about our children. The more I knew them, the more in tune to my instincts I became. When I’ve acted on those feelings, in combination with some knowledge of who our children are, things have usually worked out okay.
Our fifth baby was born prematurely in a foreign country. Fortunately, he was healthy enough to leave the hospital after a week. He was gaining weight and eating and doing the normal things. The doctors felt that he shouldn’t yet travel via plane due to his immature lungs. Although he needed no breathing help, they felt it was too risky. What if he needed help on the plane? This was our fifth baby. He was healthy. He needed to be home, and so did I. Our family needed us back home. We had an excellent physician back home that we would follow-up with. The midwives agreed with me, and felt that in his case, the risk was very low, that I should trust my instincts. I knew in my heart that he was strong and would do fine. I’d protected him well up to that point, as well as our other children. We flew home. He slept nearly the whole way home, except to eat. He met his family at the airport, and all was well. I have learned to trust my instincts.
4) If you are a caring person, having children makes you more passionate about events in daily life. I became more aware of right and wrong, how to tell griping stories, how to teach things. I became more aware of local issues that affect families, politics, crime statistics. I continue to define what is important to me to teach the children, and have become more comfortable with who I am in this world. I’m trying my best to raise, with my husband, happy, smart, and thoughtful kids, and I’m having fun with them. I’m passionate about our daily life.
5) Having children has taught me how to pray. One night that I remember clearly is when our 3 month old cried and cried and cried at bedtime. My husband was working late, and our 18 month-old was really rambunctious, flailing his arms about and knocking off my glasses. I could have lost it there that night. I felt out of control, but something told me to step out of their rooms and calm down. I prayed for peace, strength, and patience. I was given the strength and patience that rather quickly became peace as I watched our beautiful children fall asleep. It’s important to find your faith, your strength that gets you through hard times and helps you celebrate the good times.
In short, parenthood is a collection of life changing moments. It changes you. It’s been tough in spots, but I wouldn’t go back to who I was before kids, if given the chance. I’m pretty happy with who I am and who our children are turning out to be. Parenting is challenging and rewarding.