Since I gave birth to my first child, I’ve had so many of my friends ask me, “What’s the biggest change when having children?” I’m assuming they’re not asking about the pregnancy flatulence, the swollen feet, or the projectile spit up. Those are things everybody knows about pregnancy and newborns. What most people aren’t ready to come to terms with (sometimes ever) is that having a child means putting yourself on the back burner for quite awhile. I tell everybody the same thing; “It’s not about you anymore.”
In fact sing that mantra to yourself “It’s not about me, it’s not about me.” Truly having a child, and especially in the case of multiple children, or children with special needs, you are on hold. Don’t get me wrong; parenting isn’t a selfless act by some martyr. But so many of the things you were accustomed to will vanish upon having children.
I have to admit, in a way I was saved from the shock of this a bit. I came from a large family, was raised by a mother who believes it’s tacky to talk about yourself, and started having children so young I had just graduated from teenager to college student. I hadn’t spent years cultivating an adult lifestyle; I went from accepting my high school diploma to becoming a parent within a very short period of time. I know many people who parenthood has hit pretty hard. They’ve been used to their freedom, their careers, and their weekends sleeping in or traveling. They’ve been accustomed to writing their own ticket, on their schedule, and it seems the more habituated they are to that, the more difficult the transition to parenting can be.
I’m sure these parents bring a more adult perspective into their child rearing, than perhaps I did at the time. Many though are appalled to learn that babies and children have no schedule. Of course, eventually you can get them into a sleep pattern, school routine, etc. but children are a lesson in unpredictability. Not just in their behavior, but in their very essence. Children become sick at one in the morning, they throw up on you just after you’ve gotten dressed for work, they decide to melt down in the middle of the grocery store when you’re rushing to get home and get everybody fed. They are completely capricious. As their parent, you are as well.
I hate to even think about how many birthday parties, weddings, family gatherings, double dates (and the list goes on) my husband and I have canceled at the very last minute due to our children (or should I say our role as parents). Being a parent requires you putting your wants on hold for your children. Most of the time that is effortless, some days it can be excruciating. Everyone has days where they say to themselves, “I can’t remember the last time I took a shower in peace!”
If you aren’t willing to change your lifestyle, if you think you can just ‘tweak’ a few things and a baby will slide right in, you’re on the precipice of a huge revelation. I’m not telling you to give up going out, to quit your job, become a hermit for 18 years and only venture into the sunlight once your child is ready for college. I’m certainly not advocating giving up your identity, but there has to be a gargantuan shift in priorities. Whether you ease into those changes naturally or surrender to them screaming is your choice.
While child rearing may sound exhausting and almost thankless to some of my single friends, it is the most amazing experience. Not only does loving and caring for your children benefit them, it benefits you. You don’t fathom your own strength until you’re a parent. You can’t grasp the depths of love until you are a parent. Sure you may be giving up many things, but nothing is more amazing than snuggling your newborn, or hearing ‘I love you’ from your child for the first time.
My young sons routinely tell me I look beautiful (usually late in the day when I’m covered in baby spit up, dust and who knows what else), and I have to take a step back and look at myself through their eyes, and that is pretty spectacular. They don’t notice that I still am carrying around baby weight, that my hair hasn’t been coiffed properly in who knows how long, that I haven’t gotten a real pedicure in years. They just know I’m their Mommy and they think I’m great. In the end, what did I really give up anyway?