My three year-old daughter Quinn started kindergarten today, and my six-year old twin boys Ben and Eli have finished their first week of grade one. I gotta say, this feels like a Parenting Moment. My children aren’t babies anymore. Large parts of their days no longer include me, and now they’ll need to navigate some moments in life without me right beside them. Like any parent, I can only hope that I’ve provided a solid enough foundation for them to work independently through some of the challenges I know lie ahead.
I’m in my feelings today, remembering the start of my parenting experience, the (many) mistakes I’ve made along the way, and the hundreds of lessons I’ve learned. Becoming a parent has changed me in ways that I couldn’t even have begun to comprehend before meeting my babies. It has altered my DNA, forced me (painfully, sometimes) to adapt, to adjust, to hold on, and to let go.
Of everything I’ve learned over my past six years of parenthood, here are the three most valuable lessons:
You need to love the kid you’ve got.
Before our babies are even born, they shoulder so many of our expectations. We often make the mistake of deciding who they are going to be before we’ve even had the chance to meet them. Their dad played basketball in high school, so they’re going to be a star athlete. Their mum has a master’s degree in chemistry, so they’re going to be a STEM genius. They’re going to love baseball. They’re going to be outgoing, they’re going to want to take ballet, they’re going to love piano lessons.
The vision of who we hope our child is going to be is often at odds with the child we get. I can remember visiting the boys’ kindergarten classroom for a Christmas concert. It was their first year of school, and they were so excited to have me visit their school. I watched as Eli sat in the front row, sucking his thumb. He didn’t sing a word. He looked as uncomfortable as I’m sure he felt. I can remember thinking for a moment, “Why does my kid have to be the one sucking his thumb and not participating?” I think we all hope our kids will be confident and self-assured.
Well, that’s not Eli. He’s an introverted little soul, who is really only himself around the people he loves and trusts the most. He’s slow to warm up to strangers. He’s got some fine and gross motor delays that make certain activities challenging for him. He can be moody and difficult. As his mum, I learned to appreciate him for all his amazing qualities, and to really ask myself why I felt he needed to be anyone other than who he was. He’s got a fantastic sense of humor, he’s a great big brother, he’s got the world’s cutest smile, he’s an amazing reader, he loves to run and play, and he’d eat french fries every day if I let him. He’s perfectly Eli. Is he the kid I imagined while he was cooking away in my belly for nine months? No. But honestly, he’s so much better.
(By the way, he now loves to sing and participate in school concerts. He just needed to do it on his own schedule. Another big lesson for me — he’s going to do things when he’s ready to do them, and I need to let him get there on his own).
Sometimes parenting is the worst.
We put a filter on parenting. Perfect family moments in sun-drenched photos. Adorable baby snuggles, organic Baby Bullet pear purees, Pinterest perfect birthday parties, and Etsy-ed nurseries. And sure, there are some of those moments along the way, but the day-to-day job of raising a human being is a GRIND.
I remember a day on my first maternity leave, when my boys were about five months old. It was around nine o’clock in the morning, so we had the whole day looming in front of us. They were sitting in their little Bumbo chairs, gumming up some teething toys, and I was sitting on the floor in front of them. I looked at them, and I started crying. The thought of spending another minute alone in the house with them watching them drool, changing their diapers, wiping their faces, giving them bottles – was terrifying. I didn’t enjoy the newborn/baby phase with any of my children. Sleep deprivation aside, I was incredibly bored intellectually. I could feel my brain atrophying, and I hated it. I felt like I was stuck in an endless loop, with no way out. Every day was the same, and there were no breaks.
I learned a lot about myself during that maternity leave, so I was able to handle my second one much better. I registered Quinn in some parent/baby activities, I met a great new friend who was also on maternity leave, and I got out of the house more. Still, there were days where I wanted to be anywhere else other than rocking my baby to sleep in her nursery.
There are still many moments when I don’t feel like being a mum. I get bored hearing about YouTube videos. Sometimes, I really don’t want to play a 100th game of checkers. I resent that dinner is rarely anything I want to eat, because I have so many very particular mouths to feed. I miss relaxing vacations. I miss going to the beach without having to spend an hour packing beforehand. I miss sleeping in, I miss naps, I miss being lazy on a Sunday afternoon.
I don’t think it makes me a bad mum. I think it makes me human. And I think it’s important that we talk about the crappy parts of parenthood, because sometimes, it just sucks.
You will know more love than you ever thought possible.
We all know we’re going to love our babies. But my goodness, no one told me it was going to be like THIS.
The flip side of all the crappy parenting moments is all of the wonderful ones. The love I have for my children is unlike any other in life. I grew them in my body, I birthed them into the world, and I have loved them since they were clusters of cells.
We visited Prince Edward Island this summer, and as the saying goes – family holidays are a trip, not a vacation. Over the course of the week, I started to grow tired of all the kid-friendly activities we had planned.
But then, right in the middle of the week, when my parenting energy was nearly depleted, there was one of those magical moments. We were at the beach, and I looked up to see all three kids playing together in the ocean. They were full of life and energy and sweetness, and I was almost overwhelmed by the rush of love I felt for them. I remember thinking that this was as close to a perfect moment as I might ever get, and that I would never love anybody as intensely as these three little humans.
It’s an imperfect love – it’s selfish, and relentless, and demanding. But also it’s the most pure and meaningful experience of my life.
I don’t enjoy every moment of being a parent. But those moments, like the one I had on the beach, are enough to remind me that regardless of what else I do in my life, these three humans are the most significant contribution I’ll make to the world.
I know there will be many more lessons as I continue to guide these marvelous little people through life, and I’m so eternally grateful for everything they’ve taught me so far.