I am not the same person I was before I had kids. Motherhood has changed me in profound ways. It has stretched me until I thought I might break at times, but every time I keep holding on, and every time I grow stronger. It is ironic that something that often feels like Groundhog’s Day, is the thing that has taught me more and helped me grow in more ways than anything else I have ever done. It is difficult to describe unless you have experienced it, but I am going to try and share some of the ways motherhood has changed my life forever.
10- I can adapt and roll with the punches far better than I could before I had kids, because- honestly, it is the only way to survive. Deal with life on 3 hours of sleep for months on end? Sure. Why not? Slam out a science project the night before it is due? You betcha. Sick kids on the day you were supposed to accomplish 5 billion things? No problem. I let my white knuckle grip on control over my life loosen up a long time ago because it only gave me heartburn. If I just do my best to face the challenges of each day with courage and faith, even though things rarely go as I planned, I’ve learned things always work out somehow.
9- I no longer rely on praise and compliments to keep me motivated. For instance, if I relied on praise and compliments for the meals I prepare to keep me motivated to cook, we would have stopped eating around here a long time ago. The number of meals my entire family will happily eat is somewhere around two. So, every night I brace myself for the inevitable whining that will come from at least one of my children who will find my offerings disgusting regardless of the love, time, and effort I put into making them or the opinion of adult palettes everywhere who know darn well it is delicious. Motherhood can be a thankless job a great deal of the time, despite my best efforts to teach my kids to be grateful. But, that is ok. I love them. So, I serve them. I am learning to be motivated by love rather than what’s in it for me and that is a priceless life lesson that motherhood has given me, because the joy that ultimately comes from selfless service is far more lasting than a fleeting compliment.
8- I am far more tolerant of imperfection in myself and others. If you stop by my house, it will be quite evident when you walk in the door that this is true. You kind of have to become tolerant of a certain level of clutter and chaos in both your home and your car that ordinarily would drive you crazy. If not, you will actually become a crazy lunatic who continually circles the house cleaning the messes that keep reappearing, or who lives a life suspended in a non-stop, nagging-mom rampage, trying to get your kids to clean up after themselves.
I remember early on, when my first child colored on our walls, I would quickly run for my magic eraser and scrub until my walls sparkled again. But come child three or four, and a few sharpies later, I am now choosing to see it all as artwork and have resigned myself to ignoring the artfully decorated walls until they are old enough that it is safe to paint. Which I would advise, based on a recent incident with my 9-year-old, is much older than you might think.
I never judge the mess in another mom’s house, because I’ve been in the trenches and I know. I know the damage kids can do in a very short period of time. I know the exhaustion the sometimes takes you straight to bed, regardless of how many dishes are in the sink that night. I know the baby who won’t leave your hip, the crazy days that leave no time for housework, and the homework sessions that suck the life out of you. I know the desperation of letting a toddler run wild because you desperately need to finish a project. And I know how aggravating the experience of trying to teach your kids to help clean the house can be. I know and I applaud you in all your efforts. A house filled with kids will never be perfectly clean and that is perfectly fine.
7- A hot shower is pretty much my favorite thing in the whole world. I don’t have time or money for a trip to the spa or the therapist, so I rely heavily on hot showers to perform this function for me. I find them seriously therapeutic and renewing. The peace and tranquility I find there, (as long as I triple dead bolt the door behind me) helps me remember who I am and what I am about. I can think without interruption or just stare blankly at the wall if I want to while the 3-ring-circus goes on without me for 15 minutes… or until the hot water runs out on the really rough days.
6- I am entertained by the simple things in life. There comes a point after having a child when you are sitting on the couch with your spouse watching your little friend being completely adorable playing with a box most likely while his toys lay in a lonely pile nearby and you say to each other, “what in the world did we do to entertain ourselves before we had a kid?” Life takes on a new meaning and fullness just because of this little person’s presence in your life and you start to forget what life was even like before they came along. (Ok- maybe on the rough days you remember some of the peace and quiet and vacations and child-free shopping moments/child-free bathroom moments, but for the most part you would never trade any of those for the joy their smile brings to your heart.)
5- I now know that I know nothing. Before I had kids, I thought I had all the answers. I had a degree in child and human development- so I was an expert on child-rearing, right? I would watch other parents in their stressful moments and think they must be doing something wrong to have their kid acting up like that. Now, I just want to run up and hug every mom I see at the store with a child throwing a tantrum. I want to give a pep talk to the mom at church wrestling her two-year-old. I want to take the mom with 3 under 4 out for dinner so she can have some peace and adult conversation. I freely admit I don’t have all the answers when it comes to parenting. Every kid comes with a different personality and temperament, and they all have different challenges and strengths. I have to be as fast on my toes as an NFL running back and with as many plays in my pocket as his coach to deal with all 5 of my kids effectively– and a lot of the time, I don’t have either.
I cringe when I read a post where someone is giving parenting advice that they swear will work every time for every kid. I just assume it is a new mom and move on because every seasoned mother knows there is NOTHING that works for every kid. Nothing. If you have a content, easy going 2-year-old, you just have no business giving advice to the mom who has a hyper, aggressive, though cute and cuddly 2-year-old. And if you have a straight A student who never has to be reminded to do their homework- you just lucked out. Taking credit for their good behavior is like being proud of your self for winning a game of Go Fish. Because the mom who spends countless hours patiently helping her son who is struggling to learn to read is the one who really deserves a trophy. We all live in different world when it comes to our kids and the best thing we can do is just cheer each other on as we do our best to navigate the rough waters of motherhood.
4- I have learned to exist in this place where the most precious and vulnerable parts of me are running around outside my body everyday— and, on the rough days, I somehow simultaneously want to run away screaming into the night while being willing in an instant, without hesitation, to lay down my life if it means it would protect theirs. It is hard to imagine how your child can make your brain explode one moment, and make your heart melt in the next until you are a mother and it becomes a daily occurrence. But, the pain, frustration, and heartache of motherhood is what has expanded my heart’s capacity to feel joy and love in a way I never have before.
3- I am a master multi-tasker. Multi-tasking is a survive or die skill for me, because if I can’t hold a baby on my hip, help a child with homework, and cook dinner while fielding phone calls– things can fall apart really fast. I have been able to accomplish more in a day than I ever thought possible, but sadly, most days, by the end of the day, it is hard to see anything I accomplished, despite what felt to me like a Herculean effort on my part to keep it all together. I have gained a healthy respect for the amount of damage kids can do to the house in a very short period of time. My job is never done, but I have learned to survive and find satisfaction in the ongoing work I am doing everyday and accept my paydays in the form of hugs, smiles, I love yous, thank you moms, and kids who thrive under my care.
2- Motherhood has stripped me of my pride and coolness. My shirt or coat pretty much always has little fingerprints of food on it. I have asked a group of grown adults to excuse me because I needed to use the potty. I drive a mini van. I am that crazy lady at the store with 5 gallons of milk in my cart, with all 5 kids in tow, whose 3-year-old is having a melt-down over mini Oreos while the hungry baby is screaming. My three-year old who has to come in the stall with me in the public restroom has given everyone else in there an enthusiastic play-by-play of my elimination process. I have embraced my new image as mom and all that it implies. I’ll be cool later. Or not probably.
1- My life will never again be my own. Every decision I make is made taking into account the consequence it will have on ones I brought to life. It is humbling and overwhelming to feel their dependence on me and their trust in me. They make me want to be so much more than I am. Motherhood has and will continue to teach me intense and concentrated lessons in selflessness, compassion, humility, empathy, courage, endurance, patience, long-suffering, and charity. And if I do it right, it will change me forever and help me become who I was meant to become. So, I guess it is all worth it.
How has motherhood changed you?