Comforting my daughter
“Why do people with children act like they’re the first people to ever have to parent in the entire history of mankind?”
The comment was left on the first guest post I wrote for Zen Habits, How To Be A Great Mom.
It was one of those hostile comments, made by non-parents and directed towards parents. I wasn’t exactly surprised. I remember being a non-parent. It wasn’t that long ago. I remember frowning at parents who brought kids with them to a nice restaurant. I remember traveling by air and being livid when a baby would scream the entire flight. I remember thinking to myself that parents often let themselves go, that they don’t look as good as they could, that all they can think and talk about is their kids.
I remember thinking parents are annoying.
Then, in 1999, I became a parent.
While I’d like to think that I’m still the exact same person I used to be, that I can have an entire conversation without mentioning my kids even once, that I can still be friends with non-parents, I do know that parenthood changed me. For better and for worse, my life now revolves around my children. And even though I do take care of myself, even though I have my own world and my own things that I like to do by myself and even a couple of very close non-parent friends, my kids are now the most important thing in my life.
So to answer that Zen Habits commenter: Yes, it feels exactly like I am the very first person to ever become a parent. It feels like a HUGE responsibility. And it’s wonderful that it feels this way, because it means I care. It means I desperately want to get it right, to be a good mother to my children.
Writer Dad wrote a few weeks ago, “Becoming a father transformed me.” It’s true. It does. Parenthood changed me in many ways, but the most notable change is that I am no longer as self-absorbed as I used to be. Children have a way of making themselves your first priority, the center of your universe, your very reason for being.
The photo above, which also appears on that Zen Habits guest post, is one of my favorite photos. It was taken 3 years ago, but to me, it still represents what parenthood is all about. We took the kids to the playground that morning. When my daughter fell, she ran to me, crying. I did what mothers do: gave her a warm hug, whispered loving words into her ears, kissed her boo boo, made her feel all better. When she was done crying, she wiped her tears, gave me a bright smile and happily ran back to the play structure.
The image of my little girl holding on to me, loved, safe and protected, is what parenthood is all about. Parenthood is about protecting our children, listening to them, respecting them, dropping everything else in order to be there for them.
During my very first days of blogging, I came across another parent-hating comment on an old Lifehacker post: “My experience is that parents don’t leave [work] on time because they get all their work done, but because they whine, ‘I have to pick Johnny up from daycare by 5:00,’ and the boss gives in. For some reason, ‘I’ve got to meet my friends for drinks’ doesn’t work as well.”
To which I replied: “If the boss is a parent, she relates to having to pick up one’s kids better than to meeting a friend for drinks. Implying that working parents are whiny and don’t work as hard is judgmental and unfair. Many parents leave the office early, pick up their kids, take care of them, and get back to work at night, when the kids are in bed.”
I think parents work harder than anyone else. I think they are often ridden with terrible guilt, the type of guilt that only a parent can experience, whether warranted or not. The guilt that comes from being torn between your children and your job. The guilt that comes whenever you think you’re not putting your kids first.
I think parenthood is beautiful.
I often watch mothers around me, at the play ground, on the street. They seem tired, worried, a bit frazzled. They are carrying toys, bottles, snacks. They breastfeed, trying to nurse discreetly, worried about dirty looks. They give their kids bottles of formula, trying to feed them discreetly, worried about dirty looks.
I see their beautiful faces frowning, troubled. A young mother carries her toddler in her arms. Another carries two water bottles, a toy truck and a blanket, trying to hold on to her small child who is trying to escape. A third mother is sitting next to me on a bench. She skilfully handles two young children while (discreetly) feeding her newborn.
These mothers are selfless. They are looking after their kids and in doing so, they forget about themselves.
It’s not that you can’t be a good person if you’re not a parent, of course. And while many non-parents are incredibly generous and caring, there are plenty of parents who are selfish, irresponsible, even abusive.
But most of us become better persons when we become parents. Our children teach us selflessness, patience and forgiveness. When we learn to forgive them, we learn to forgive others. I only wish we could learn to forgive ourselves.