Parenting, for me, has been a bit of a slow burn. Some people swear that it was love at first sight when they met their first child, that they knew instantly they were a parent. But that definitely wasn’t the case for me. I didn’t feel like a parent for a long time.
If you want to know the truth, I’ve never been a “baby person.” That first year is just a whole lot of eating and pooping and crying for months on end. In the beginning, I mostly felt like I was just playing house … but doing a whole lot more work.
We tend to think our lives will be filled with these big “make or break” moments that form us, but really it’s just a series of little moments that make us who we are. That’s how it was for me anyway. I still remember my first “aha moment” when I thought to myself, Dude. I’m actually a real parent. Weird. I would have expected it to be tied to a nursing triumph or something sentimental like rocking my baby to sleep, but nope. It was the first time we had ever gone on a road trip with our first child. We drove to the beach and spent the day playing in the sand, but that wasn’t the part that stuck out to me.
It was while we went through a drive-thru to grab some food on the way home. My husband paid for the food and passed over the paper sack to me, and as he headed down the road, I sat in the passenger’s seat unwrapping and passing out food. It wasn’t anything earth shattering, but suddenly I had a flashback to all the times I had seen my mom do the same thing for my dad and us kids on road trips over the years, and I had this really strange “Whoa. I’m the mom now” moment.
Then there was the time when we had a mouse problem (oh the joys of living in the woods with backyard chickens!). My husband had put out mouse poison throughout the house in places where we thought they would be safe from our dog and our crawling babe, but one morning I came across one of the little, green cubes lying in the middle of our kitchen floor and had a mild (or possibly more than mild) panic attack.
I called my husband freaking out. I called poison control freaking out. I felt like such a complete failure for not having my eyes on my baby 24/7. In the end, we realized that she hadn’t eaten any of it (thank goodness!) but it was a super scary moment for me as a mom and a realization that I truly was responsible for this little life. That’s some pretty heavy “real mom” stuff right there.
Once we had two kids, I had another one of those moments. My daughter was 2 and a half years old and my son was a newborn, and I decided that I was feeling brave enough to make my first foray out into the world with both of them in tow. We went to the grocery store. I had my son strapped into a baby carrier and my daughter was riding in the shopping cart. Things were going pretty well, and we were just about to head to the checkout when my newly potty-trained girl had to use the bathroom. As I abandoned my cart and squatted next to the toilet to help her whilst a sleeping baby snored on my chest, I couldn’t help but think, “Whoa … I’m totally an actual parent.”
Now, as I watch my two little ones while resting my weary third-trimester pregnancy backaches on the couch, I have very solidly arrived into the territory where I finally feel like a real parent. As they stack their blocks and play dress-up and banter back and forth, I stop and think, I made those perfect creatures, and I smile at how far I’ve come.
I am not, nor will I ever be, a perfect parent. But I have finally settled into this role and am able to own it for better or for worse, thanks to this series of little moments that made me into a mother.
It’s funny how the smallest and most mundane moments of our everyday can shape us and mold us into parents — especially the challenging ones.
So if it still feels like you’re playing house — take heart in knowing that you aren’t the only one. Not everyone is a “natural” parent, but with time and practice, you can grow into this role and it can be a really beautiful thing.