Five years ago, and before I had kids, I thought I knew what it would be like to be a parent. So I wrote and published a book about my beliefs and fears about joining the parent ‘hood.
While some people undergo the parenting paradigm shift and leave their prior selves in the distance, mine is on the shelf above my desk, for all the world to see. While it is a funny, thoughtful, moving and — I don’t know — brilliant account, there are some things my 32-year-old, white-furniture-owning, effortless-cross-country-traveling self might have been a tad naive about.
Now, I am the mother of a 3-year-old and a 2-year-old who are the center of my universe. My book, though still insightful, seems to be a showcase for all I did not yet know. So I’d like to issue a correction of sorts. Here are some of the things I was wrong about:
Now, I wear my crunchiness like a badge of honor. Though I didn’t formally enlist any of the above parenting styles, I did sample from them. I did skin on skin with each of my newborns daily for the first two months of their lives, I wore them in front packs more often than not and I believe in progressive education. At any given time, my backyard looks like a hippie commune: My kids run around with their shoes and shirts off, tummies covered in paint or dirt. It’s part Huck Finn, part “Lord of the Flies.” Play is a child’s work, and their work is painting paper, rocks or the asphalt driveway. They study bugs they find in our yard, they dig in the sandbox, splash in puddles. It’s a very messy life, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Then: I wrote about a friend’s house: “Every surface is adorned with their child’s artwork. There was no sign that adults even lived there and I couldn’t get a sense of who this couple was, other than parents to their artistically inclined son. Where had their identities gone and was this what I was destined to become?”
Now, my entire house looks like the outside of a refrigerator. You would think, upon entering our home, that we have every single thing my kids have ever drawn on display. We do not. I am not saying that every single thing my kids draw is a masterpiece, but how do you choose what not to hang up? My youngest just learned to draw circles and did so in every color. She was so proud of herself when she presented the picture to me. How can I not consider framing that picture or hanging it from the banisters?
Then: I implied that out-of-control kids were the result of parents who were too permissive or not involved enough. I also implied that parents who “let” their kids carry on in public were pushovers.
Now, I marvel at the depths of my ignorance. On more than three occasions, I have been that mother: The one whose kids are carrying on in public and there is nothing I can do about it. We’re talking arched-back, bribery-proof, ear-piercing screaming tantrums that have elicited all sorts of reactions from passersby. I’ve gotten eye rolls, sympathy glances and even one man who assumed I was kidnapping my own child, because why else would she be so resistant to getting up off the dirty floor of the hardware store and coming with me? Karma taught me a big lesson. I now know that the way kids act is usually not a reflection on the parent, nor is it something you can control. Kids have big emotions that need to come out somehow. Usually in public, for all the world to see.
KIDS ON PLANES
Then: I wrote, “I realize it’s hard traveling with kids: there are air pressure changes, restlessness, and tantrums… But you can at least try to come appropriately equipped.” I also wrote: “I don’t care if it takes a village to raise a child. This is a plane, not a village, so why is your kid suddenly MY problem?”
Now, I have flown with my kids once. (Once is the operative word here.) I took my own “advice” and prepared— no joke — for two months beforehand. I packed new toys, favorite old toys, plane related books, non-plane related favorite books, changes of clothes for the kids, changes of clothes for us, “good-will” bags with a funny note, candy and ear plugs for the passengers in the 12 seats surrounding us. And still, it was a disaster. To give you an idea of how big a disaster, I will share two lessons I learned: 1. Even if you change everyone’s clothes, the vomit smell never fully goes away; and 2. I’m not getting on a plane again with our girls until they can fly it themselves.
Then: I wrote, “I understand that priorities shift when you have a baby, and your world turns upside down, but when you condescend: ‘You don’t know love until you’ve had a baby,’ I don’t think I want to know you anymore.”
Now, I can still say I don’t think there’s any room for condescension, but I also know there are no words for how much I love my children (which frustrates me as a writer). The words either sound cliche or Hallmark-y, but my feelings are real. Over three years of being a parent, I have felt my heart expand almost daily. This isn’t meant as a brag. Rather, it’s been as painful a process as it has been joyous: The realization that I could not go on without these two beings in my life is a scary one. You’re a hostage to fate when you love like this. They are my favorite people on the planet and I marvel daily at who they are and who they’re becoming. I feel as though whole new rooms — no, multi-million dollar additions — have opened in my heart over the last few years.
I now know, through parenthood, perspective and time, that becoming a mother is also about embracing insanity for at least a little while. I love the mom-friends I’ve made during these last few years like sisters, and though we all have different beliefs and ways of doing things, we still support and mutually respect one another, because we know — and treasure the fact that — we’re all in this together.
Two things I was really right about in my book?
Then, I wrote: “It should be required by law that you can’t even consider procreation until (at least) your wedding photos are back from the printers, if not also hung on the wall in frames.” I love my children; they have changed me in all the ways I feared they might, and in other ways I never imagined. I love my husband more with every sleepless night and each unloaded dishwasher. But I am also happy we had seven glorious, private years of reckless napping and spontaneous sex, travel to foreign lands and conversations that did not involve poop or laundry or ear infections.
SOME THINGS ARE BETTER KEPT BETWEEN YOU AND YOUR DOULA:
A birth announcement should never, ever include the words birthing tub or mucus plug.
Carrie Friedman is a writer and mother of two. Her latest project is the blog What I DIDN’T Expect When I Was Expecting.
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