On Becoming a Parent: 7 Things I Learned in My First Year of Parenting, Part 1
Let’s just start by saying that my son is nearly 18 months of age.
A lot has happened (in somehow, what seems to be a very long, and a very short period of time). I recognize that my perception of this first year can (and probably will) change. Still, part of the reason I wanted to take down my feelings here and now, is because of the proximity. The freshness. My feelings are pretty raw. And while I know that they’ll soften some, there’s a vividness… a clarity marking my experience as authentic. Un-romanticized. Maybe, un-apologetically accurate?
Anyhow, I think it’s also important to recognize that it’s taken me a full 18 months to actually sit down, process, and in turn write about this experience. If we had any questions about the impact that becoming a parent has had on my life –
there is your answer.
Now, for just a teensy-weensy little bit of context.
I wouldn’t call myself a natural born Mother. Becoming a parent wasn’t something that I had dreamed of growing up. It wasn’t something I had always wanted, something that I couldn’t wait to do – it was a question that came up repeatedly. A question that for me to be able to answer, required research, self reflection, analysis, personal accountability, discussion, more discussion, bravery, a bit of ignorance and then courage –
a whole lot of courage.
Yes, I do tend to overthink things.
So, there’s that.
But for me, making the decision to become a parent involved more than just taking the leap. First, I’d have to develop a complete understanding of the requirements, possibilities, risks and sacrifices of the job itself, and then I would have to determine whether or not I, myself, was capable. This (for me) was no easy task (more about self doubt in a later post!).
Over the course of my life, decision making always came with this intricate, complicated, exhaustive process. I’ve attributed it to a few different things: 1. Perfectionism. A quality that can be beneficial (for things like attention to detail, motivation & execution), but is inherently flawed, because “perfection” doesn’t really exist. Quite the dilemma. 2. Intellectualism. Typically, I rely on my gut instinct to ultimately make a decision (this feels most authentic). However, being an intellectual person, this feels ignorant and completely irrational. So, in order to justify the use of my instinct, I have to understand all of the possible outcomes first, to the very last detail. (Even just writing this feels diabolical. But it’s true.). 3. Lack of Control. I think it’s possible that at the root, we can attribute a lot of our “uncomfortable spaces” to difficulty with loss of control. At least, I have found this to be true for myself. In any decision, no matter what I decide, I never truly have control of the future. Of a situation. Even of myself, sometimes.
After gathering loads of information, talking with friends, countless conversations with my husband and even more conversations with myself, deciding to try to have a baby was still probably 80% gut instinct, 10% intellectualism and 10% blind faith.
A close friend recently asked what had ultimately had tipped the scales. Looking back, I realized that it was, in fact, timing. Timing had played a crucial role.
It usually does.
At this time, I was peering over the horizon of my 34th year. I wasn’t sure what my true calling in life was (update: still don’t know). Ryan and I had just celebrated our 3rd wedding anniversary. With the help and support of family, we successfully purchased our first home, and the conversation of whether or not to start a family just. kept. coming. up. People around us were asking, the family grew curious. It felt like a natural progression, like the natural time to decide.
After all of the research I had done, and all of the intel I had gathered, I found I was most concerned about having to let go of who I was – of the life that Ryan and I had built together. Things like watching Netflix on the couch with surround sound, or getting drinks out, just because we felt like it. Sure, we had responsibilities. We had jobs and stressors – we had a mortgage – but was it all relative? I had nothing to measure it by. And I had dealt with stress, anxiety and depression for most of my life (and had it under control), but I was always so focused on myself. One of my greatest fears was that I was too selfish to be a dedicated, committed, “good” parent. That I wouldn’t be able to tuck away my own wants, needs and desires and put my child first. That I wouldn’t love my child enough to do this day to day (sure, everyone “says” you will, but really, what did everyone know about me?).
My second fear was that I didn’t have the energy. That I wasn’t equipped with the extroversion, excitement and youth (or the personal where-with-all) to keep a child occupied, content and wildly entertained all day. Everyday. This, seemed like a monumental task. I was so painfully boring. So… adult.
Lastly, I was worried about doing the job right. Could I really raise a good person? Did I have what it took? Could I nurture this child, keep this child safe and protected…always? This one was the worst, because again, control. Control is the limiting factor, and some things are just simply out of our control.
Here’s what I knew. There was something about being a mom, that in my perception, gave a person a certain, resolve. Mom’s I had known all shared this particular quality – a unique depth of character, like layer upon layer of moral fiber, steel and grit…layers they didn’t wear like a badge of honor, but rather were sheathed within, like a cloak of invisible armor. Like Superman hidden beneath Clark Kent. No one flaunted it. It was a part of them. A truth that they couldn’t deny, and couldn’t remove. It came with the experience – like it or not. And as you sat opposite one another, discussing even the most superficial of subjects, behind that mom’s expression was an entire story of unspoken subtext. An allegory of understanding, wisdom, compassion and duty. I could see it. And deep down, I wanted to be strong enough to attain it.
This, in and of itself, might have been enough. But if I’m being honest, there was something else. By this time, my father was sinking deeper and deeper into the depths of dementia. It was crippling, not just for him, but for my mom, for the rest of us. She was approaching the point where she could no longer safely keep him at home, and the frequency in which she reached out to me, to my sister – well… she needed us. Between the complex web of healthcare, doctors and MediCal, the number of difficult decisions she faced and just the shear weight of it all – I couldn’t imagine her bearing it alone. With no one to help steer the process, to share the burden.
What if, as years trickled by, Ryan found himself in her position? This thought haunted me. Even though I knew my fear was irrational, I couldn’t bear the thought of him having to go through this on his own. Alone.
Would I have decided to have a child without timing being a factor? I hope so. But honestly, if circumstances had been different, I’m not so sure. Some of us are born knowing we want to be parents (well done!). And I want to be considerate of the fact that there is an element of luck in even having the chance to choose. But if this is you, my hope is that this very personal account of what the first year has represented for me might give you some insight into your own process. At the very least, help you feel less alone.
I write, both to document and to learn from my experience. I share it in the hope that it sheds light on someone else’s experience. However, please note that this is just my experience – yours might be different – and that is totally OK! These decisions are yours to make, and yours alone.
Becoming a parent was an adjustment for me. A BIG one. And I’m still learning to adapt daily. At this point, I can say with sincerity that I do not regret my decision. And it has changed me, I think for the better. Of course, not without a lot of growing pains, practice, persistent self reflection and tears – but if we’re being honest, what important life changes don’t come with these things? 🙂
Here are 7 Things I Learned in My First Year of Parenting: (…up next!)