Originally posted August 15, 2013.
1. Your body will never be the same again.
This seems pretty obvious, but I honestly thought I had some realistic chance of being one of those genetic anomalies who bounce back from pregnancy like it never happened. Alas, no amount of exercise or surgery will ever make my body what it was at 26 again. That ship has sailed. I will tuck my gut into my pants, hoist my deflated girls up into a push-up bra, and never again live a life without a bizarrely lined skin intertube around my midsection ever again. I can bench press a limp, tantrum-throwing toddler now, though, something I never could have done before, so it’s not all bad.
2. Your house will never be the same again.
Part of this is the sheer amount of junk children force you to accumulate. You would not believe the amount of crap kids come with, and I’ve heard even after they move away, they still leave tons of junk in your house that you can’t convince them to come get but that they won’t let you throw away.
The other part of it is that your house will never be clean again. Even when you think it’s clean, there’s still a random puff or dollop of apple sauce lurking somewhere in a couch cushion or under an end table that you haven’t discovered. Fortunately, neither the dog nor toddler have any shame about eating off the floor, and you can always trust rodents and bugs to get what the kid and the pets miss. And if you think that’s gross, wait until you have teenagers. You’ll just be happy if they’re not growing anything radioactive in their rooms.
3. You will need help.
Before I had kids, I hated asking for help. I almost never did it. When my car was totaled a few years before Isla was born, I took out a high-interest rate loan to cover the down payment on my new car while I was waiting on the insurance money to come in rather than asking my parents for a short-term loan because I can do it myself. My parents would have gladly helped me, especially since they know I would have immediately paid them back, but I’ve always been too proud to ask for help, even from the people who love me and probably wouldn’t hold it over my head too much.
When I was pregnant with Isla, I thought I wouldn’t want anyone around after she was born. I would accept a moderate amount of help from my parents for the brief period of time after she was born, but really, I just wanted to be left alone. Oh, how wrong I was! After Isla was born, I realized with sudden terror that I was being left alone. With a baby. Who thought that was a good idea?! Once I adjusted to the idea that I was responsible for another human being all the time, I then had to deal with the fact that I didn’t have much support. I could go months without a break from being mom, and if there’s one thing that is critical to maintaining your sanity as a parent, it’s getting an occasional break.
I love having help now. I’m so excited when my mom agrees to come for a visit. I start planning right away for all the stuff I’m going to do while she’s here. I’m going to go out to dinner with my husband. I’ll see a movie. I’ll spend time with my friends. I’ll leave the house after 7 PM! If I was too proud before, I’m absolutely shameless now. There’s a lot of truth to the saying, “It takes a village,” though, and as much as we’d like to believe we can do it all on our own, the truth is, everyone occasionally needs to call in the reserves for relief.
4. Going to the bathroom by yourself will be a luxury.
If there was one thing I learned quickly after Isla was born, it’s that solo restroom breaks come few and far between when you’re on baby duty. The first time I got Isla to successfully latch on happened while I was sitting on a hospital toilet, and after we came home from the hospital, I would strap her into the K’tan carrier if I needed to go. Now that she’s a toddler if I’m home alone, I still take her into the bathroom with me because the thought of leaving her alone downstairs by herself sends cold chills down my spine (I’d find her on top of the bookshelf or something equally ridiculous), and I can’t get her to stay in her room by herself most of the time. Which I guess is okay. Early potty training training. Modesty is a thing of the past, though.
5. You will find new respect for your mother.
I’ve always loved my mom and had a lot of respect for her. She is a smart, talented, capable woman who was a great example to me growing up. However, having a child myself gave me new respect and new understanding of my mother. Especially when I consider that she was a single mom for the first year of my life, it drives home to me how much she loves me and how much she’s done for me. Knowing now all she did for me made me feel ashamed of my 13-year-old smart ass remarks, 20-year-old know-it-all condescension, and 25-year-old mom-please-stop-being-so-clingy thoughts. My mother puts me first, is there for me whenever I need her, and does it all without ever expecting anything in return (other than basic respect and civility) or even the expectation that I will feel the same.
Motherhood is an unrequited love story. You will love your children in a way they will never reciprocate and will only understand when and if they have kids of their own. I know that now, and it changes how I look at and feel about my mom. Her two children lived 2,000 miles away on opposite coasts. How she survived that, I will never know and hope I never have to!
6. Parenting is hard.
It is the hardest, most all-consuming job I’ve ever had. It is 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for the rest of your life. There are no vacations, sick days, or nights off. Even when you have a babysitter, you are still on the clock. You never stop being a parent.
Parenting demands physical strength and stamina and the ability to endure long stretches, years, with insufficient sleep. It demands emotional endurance and moderation. You will be overwhelmed by love, compassion, fear and anger, and you will have to somehow make all of those emotions productive, useful, instructive.
Parenting will change you. Everything you thought you were will be unraveled, shattered, scattered, and when you finally put everything back together again, you find you are a completely different person. Your former strengths are weaknesses. Your former weaknesses are strengths. You will uncover a whole host of qualities, good and bad, you never knew you had. And while you are still trying to sort out your own life, you are your child’s primary source of love, self-assurance, and wisdom for many years.
You must be a teacher and a role model, and those little critters will look to you and mimic you and do what you do even when you tell them not to and do what you do even when they no longer want to be anything like you. You not only try to mold other people into the kind of people you want them to be, you have to be more of the kind of person you want them to be yourself.
And you will fail. You will fail and fail and fail, and your child will grow up to be whoever they are, and you have to radically accept them and love them and embrace them. And if your children don’t grow up, don’t grow old, you have to live every day of the rest of your life with a loss that makes the entire world grayer and less than it was before.
Even when your children leave this world, you are still a parent, and even when you leave this world, you are still a parent. Your children are your most enduring legacy and what kind of parent you are has a profound effect not only on your children, but all the children who come after, long after your name and everything about you has been forgotten. The love you showed your children, your rituals, your values, your fears, your strengths, all of those will bubble up again and again down the generations, even if future generations never know where those things come from.
Parenting is an overwhelming responsibility, one none of us ever manages to live up to, and yet, you have to try, because that’s how much you love your children.