I never wanted to be a mother. I wasn’t that girl or young woman who dreamt of holding a baby, my baby, in my arms. In actuality, I doubted if I was fit to be the mother of a pet — let alone a tiny human.
When I got pregnant at 28 with my son, I was filled with a range of feelings: uncertainty, despair, fear, hope, and (often) ambivalence. To say that my 20s had been messy would be overly gracious. I was not alone in wondering if I was up for the job — my son’s father, my parents, and my closest friends cautiously supported me as I jumped headlong into parenthood.
But then he was born.
My son is, without a doubt, the greatest thing that has ever happened to me. He’s also taught me invaluable lessons about myself that I could have never anticipated.
Here are seven things parenting has taught me:
1. I am way more capable of handling life that I thought I was.
Maybe it was “maternal instinct,” maybe it was being forced to step into adulthood, maybe it was the overwhelming love I felt for him instantaneously.
Since becoming a parent, I have walked through life events that I never would have been able to before — without drugs, a nervous breakdown, or any form of destructive behavior. I have handled infidelity, the respective collapses of a marriage and a business, heartbreak, illness, the deaths of loved ones, my mental health issues, four miscarriages, and the roller coaster of infertility. I’ve not always done everything perfectly, but I’ve done it.
2. I can tackle that gross situation and not turn to stone.
I knew there would be poop — a lot of it — but I had no idea how many times I would be faced with cleaning up that pee/poop/vomit/snot from the car seat, my hair, the bathroom floor, my bed, my purse, my jewelry.
I am someone who can dry heave based on smell alone. I had never changed a diaper until the day my son was born. I was sure I would be unable to ever handle that crap, literally.
But I did, and I can. And that somehow makes me feel like superhero.
3. Life doesn’t end when you have a child.
During my pregnancy, people (often strangers) would laugh and say things like, “Enjoy your freedom while you can!” or “Kiss your life goodbye!” or “Get ready for no sleep ever again.” I was unsettled (read: petrified) my entire pregnancy, worrying about what lay before me.
After having my son, and being on the other side almost 13 years later, I say to those people: Piss off! Platitudes like those are terribly unhelpful and, for me, untrue. My life began when I had my son. Did my life change in infinitesimal ways? Yes. Is my life a million times better post-child than pre-child? Yes.
4. It is possible to love someone even when they hate you.
There are times — actually, many times — when being a parent sucks. There have been moments when my son has unabashedly hated me for saying no, for setting boundaries, for being a mom. The thing is, even in my deepest moments of frustration with him, even in the ones when he pushes me away or says he hates me, my love never waivers. Not one bit.
5. I get it now: My parents did they best they could.
I had a less than idyllic childhood. Circumstance, a drug addiction that began at 13, and a whole lot of secrets colored my younger years. Although I didn’t blame my parents per se, I’d be lying if I said the pain of the past didn’t distance me from them emotionally.
However, after becoming a mother myself and learning on the job, sometimes unwittingly making decisions that I would absolutely make differently if I could turn back time, I get it now. I get that they too were thrust into parenthood without a manual and did it imperfectly. A side gift of parenthood is the way in which it has enriched my relationship with my parents.
6. My capacity for forgiveness is greater than I knew.
Pre-parenthood, I was capable of cutting people out of my life emotionally. If you wronged me in some way, betrayed me in some way, I could cut you from my heart. We might have still been “friends,” but emotionally, you were dead to me.
After having my heart pried open by my son, I have found that I can forgive people — truly forgive people — in ways I never thought I could: people from my past, my ex-husband, and most importantly, myself.
I forgive myself for everything. I never ever thought I’d be able to do that.
7. It is possible to like — no, LOVE — myself.
Before I had my son, I was not a happy person. I had had a difficult childhood, been through sexual abuse, battled drugs for 15 years from a young age, self-harmed, been suicidal and unstable, and pretty much hated myself most of the time.
During my pregnancy, I continued to struggle with all of those destructive nuances of self-loathing. The moment I laid eyes on him, on my son, that self-loathing began to lift for the first time in as long as I could remember. I had no idea that it would be possible to ever love myself. But, instantly, I loved him more than I hated myself, and that’s all it took to finally start to like, and then love, myself.