A Hard Look in the Mirror - Parenthood Changes How We See Ourselves
Hello everyone! I haven't written a new blog in a while! I try to write one every 2 weeks (or monthly at least) but I just haven't been feeling very inspired lately, and so I was waiting for that NEED to write to overtake me before I sat down to share again. And here we are!
Over the last several weeks I keep having the same conversation with the parents I meet- my patients in my office and at Jamaa Birth Village, my friends who have children, and even the parents in Lorelai's dance class. The conversation usually goes something like this -
"Gosh, before I became a mom (or dad) I had no idea I was so (insert your chosen personality trait here)."
"I know, right? Being a parent really teaches you a lot about yourself."
And I've had this conversation over and over again. Some parents have said they didn't realize how selfish they were, or how lazy, or how much they needed their sleep. Some have said they didn't have anxiety before, or that they never knew they could care so little about getting their hair cut regularly.
It strikes me as interesting that we all become so self-aware as we transition into parenthood. I've been giving this a lot of thought, not only about the things about myself that I have learned since becoming a mother, but also WHY parenthood forces us to take a good hard look in the mirror and get to know ourselves better than we ever did before. Here are my conclusions, do you agree?
I think that just the act of birthing a baby makes us as mothers get to know our bodies better than we may have known them in the past. To begin with, they change so much and we share them with another human for 9 months, so every day seems to start with getting to know our bodies all over again. And then we give birth and we think "Finally! My body is mine again!" and then we realize that this body we are left with is NOTHING like the one we had when we started this journey, and we have to start at the beginning, again - the bits that are a little flabbier than they were before, the hips that are slightly wider, the boobs that are bigger and also somehow saggier too, the feet that no longer fit in our shoes. Some women come out of pregnancy with curly hair when it used to be straight, or needing glasses because their eyesight has changed. There are so many ways that our bodies change, this is the first realization that this parenthood journey may change more than we anticipated it would.
But then there are those first weeks (months?) of utter exhaustion, as baby figures out what life is like out in the world, and you do too. And I think that living in survival mode strips us of all of our defenses, and allows us to see ourselves more clearly than we ever have before. We are caring for this new life, so full of love, but also so frustrated and tired. We are so hopeful for the future, and yet so hopeless in the current moment, wondering if this baby will ever stop crying and sleep. We are so proud of all we have accomplished so far, and yet so, so discouraged by how many ways we can and will fail on this journey we are just beginning.
My entire life, I dreamed of being a mother. I wanted children so badly, and in fact, my friends took a vote once in college and I was voted "Most Likely to Have Kids First". (I was last, but that's another story.) So imagine my surprise when I became a mother and realized that parenting didn't come as easily and effortlessly to me as I had assumed it would! I had imagined endless patience, being able to put myself in my child's shoes and remember that they are discovering this world for the first time and that can be scary and frustrating. I imagined spending hours coming up with fun activities for us to do together, and never getting tired of coloring, or reading books, or blowing bubbles. I imagined I would be selfless, and saintly, and completely elated all of the time that I was (FINALLY!!!) a mother. (Are you laughing at my naiveté yet?) Instead what I discovered is that I am easily frustrated when things don't go "right". I am almost always "too busy" or "too tired" to come up with fun activities, and it does not take me long to get tired of coloring, or blowing bubbles (it takes longer to get tired of reading books, I really really love to read!). And the hardest thing for me to come to terms with - I am not completely elated all of the time to be a mother. If I'm being honest, I'm not completely elated MOST of the time. I love my daughter with everything that is inside of me, but I also miss being an independent person. I miss getting to wake up when I want to, I miss getting a say in how much touching I endure in one day. I miss time alone, and not only alone, but responsible for only myself. I miss making a meal and getting to eat it all myself, while it's hot, instead of having to share with a toddler and then getting distracted so I'm finishing it cold, after she goes to bed.
I don't want to say that becoming a mother has brought out the worst in me, because I don't think that's true. I think it has shown me the worst in me, and given me the opportunity to change. It is teaching me what patience actually is, what it means to truly love someone more than you love yourself, how little sleep I can actually function on (waaaaaaay less than I would have guessed, before motherhood). Becoming a mother has revealed to me many character traits (some might say flaws?) that I wasn't aware of, before every one of my defenses was stripped away by that tiny human needing me 24 hours per day.
One of the dads I know put it this way, and I just loved it - "Becoming a father has taught me how off my priorities were before, and has forced me to get them straight. My daughter needs me to be the best man I can be for her. I owe that to her, to her mother, and also to myself." He chooses to see this "forced" growth as an opportunity, and that's what I'm doing too. I could get bitter about my lack of "me time" or lack of sleep, or the heaps of responsibility that feel so heavy so much of the time. Or, I could choose to view this journey of motherhood as an opportunity, not only the obvious opportunity to help shape my daughter into an awesome human, but also the opportunity to shape myself into an awesome human. Raising children forces us to raise ourselves up too (if we're doing it right).
So tell me - what have you learned about yourself since becoming a parent? Were you surprised by anything? Did you, like me, discover that you weren't the person you thought you would be? I hope that if you did, that you are also able to embrace that new and different person you're discovering, and to love her just as much (or more!) than you loved the person you thought you were. As your children grow and change, don't be afraid to grow and change with them. As they push boundaries and discover who they are as individuals, I hope you will do the same. Embrace this opportunity you've been given, even if it looks nothing like you thought it would.