My life changed profoundly last summer because our baby was born, and I became a mother. I felt like writing something about that experience, so here is my attempt.
I was not one of those people who always imagined I would have kids. Deep down, when I asked myself whether I wanted to be a parent, the answer was always yes, but it was an idea that seemed very abstract. Because of this, imagining my life with a child was always somewhat difficult. I didn’t spend a lot of time growing up around young kids and babies, so in turn, I didn’t have a lot of direct experience with babies or young children to inform my expectations about becoming a parent.
So, I prepared for the birth of my kid like I do for most new experiences: by doing a lot of research. I read a lot of books. I trawled online message boards. I took classes on caring for newborns. Despite all this research, nothing could prepare me for the moment our baby was born, and the months that followed.
I can’t fully articulate how profound the change from not being a parent to becoming a parent was for me. It’s a single moment in time that completely changes the trajectory of your life and the substance of your thoughts from then on, forever. You can anticipate a birth or adoption or some other act of becoming a parent to a child, but there will always be a distinct moment in time when it happens, and from that single moment on, your life is profoundly changed. I’m sure there are other experiences like this, where in a single moment everything changes, but I can’t think of many that are as common as becoming a parent, or as black and white in the “before” and “after” stages.
And that’s one of the things I find so interesting about parenthood: it’s such a big event, but also profoundly mundane. Hundreds of thousands of people become parents every day, and billions of parents live on this earth right now. For something so earth-shattering to an individual, it is also so mundane and commonplace in the scope of human history.
That dichotomy is a good metaphor for so many things about parenthood. It’s sublime and boring. It’s effortless, the love and joy, but also so much work, some of it repetitive and dull, physically and mentally tiring. It’s holding a baby when they are sick, it’s holding their hand when they learn to stand. It’s watching your baby discover new things and growing, and it’s endlessly practicing skills and caring for a small human who still needs so much help to understand and navigate the world. It’s anxiety and hope, it’s tears and joy. There is nothing like it that I’ve ever experienced in my life before. It is both the hardest thing I have ever undertaken, but also a job and calling that fills every part of my being and thoughts, and so the effort required to go about being a parent is almost forgotten at times because it is such an integral part of who I have become.
Parenthood has also changed my relationship with time. There is an old saying about having kids that goes “the days go slow, but the years go fast,” and as trite as it seems, I’ve found myself reflecting on those words constantly. Again, it comes back to this strange dichotomy that invests all of parenthood’s moments. Sometimes, time is agonizingly slow. The weeks I spent in full-time care of my baby on parental leave were some of the hardest in recent memory, because taking care of a baby full-time is exhausting, physically and mentally tiring. The minutes can drag by, especially in the dead of winter, especially when no one is sleeping well. I think sometimes we are afraid to acknowledge how hard it is, and that by saying that it’s hard that we will somehow rob it of joy, too. Or that there is only one way to be a parent, and that it is either reveling in how joyful it can be, or lamenting how hard it is. It can be both, and it is both, sometimes at the same time.
And yet, time also flies. Babies and young children change so much over a few short weeks and months. There is no other period of time where a human will grow or change or learn as much as in the first three years of life. Looking at pictures of my kid from even a month ago triggers nostalgia for how they were then, and how much they have grown in the subsequent weeks. This means that the struggles with one period of time, while all-consuming in the moment, also tend to go by quickly.
Having a kid also anchors me at a certain point in time. I can look ahead ten years, which is fairly mundane in my own life, but now anchor it to the age my child will be. This gives time a strange duality: what it means in my life, vs. what it means in my child’s life.
I still don’t feel like these words capture what it means to be a parent, what it has meant for me personally, how much I’ve grown and gotten to know myself in different ways since becoming a mother. I do think this theme of duality that I’ve explored a bit here is apt, though, given how what was once just me in my mind is now me plus my kid. I’ve always loved Brandi Carlile, and she has a beautiful song called The Mother that puts it perfectly, so I think I will end with the lyrics to the first verse:
Welcome to the end of being alone inside your mind
You’re tethered to another and you’re worried all the time
You always knew the melody but you never heard it rhyme