Everyone always said that becoming a parent changes you in unexpected ways.
I’d heard how new mothers and fathers experienced a different kind of love, and how parents learned patience. A lot of people said that becoming a parent made them less selfish, but pre-kids I never really understood what that meant. Many first-time parents lamented being blindsided by the very real strain that raising a child put on their marriage.
So while I knew to anticipate sleep-deprivation, diapers, the terrible twos, and picky eating habits, what really surprised me was how being a mom helped me improve all of the relationships in my life — from my marriage, to my friendships, to the way I relate to other family members.
It wasn’t so much that I was intentionally selfish pre-motherhood. I lived alone, managed my own time, and essentially did what I wanted, when I wanted, because independence was a big deal to me. I was proud of what I called my self-reliance, but looking back, I have to admit that I was self-centered. Not surprisingly, a lot of my relationships suffered because of this, and I had no idea why. Now I know that it was because I was so focused on myself that I didn’t have a good grasp on what other people needed. I also didn’t have a true sense of what I really needed to be happy, either.
Becoming a parent changed all that.
Because of the fact that I felt invalidated a lot growing up and that my needs often went unmet, when my daughter was born, I vowed to mindfully work hard on not treating her the way I’d been treated myself as a child. Since I felt like grownups never listened to me, I decided to listen to her from the minute she was born. When she was a baby and she cried, I never ignored her. After she grew older and could speak, I stopped to listen to her, both when she complained and when she was excited about something.
Taking care of another person these past five-and-a-half years has helped me understand that we are all basically little kids inside; we all have the same needs, regardless of our age. When I learned to truly take the time to see my daughter’s perspective and figure out what she most needed to be happy and healthy, I came to see that all human beings want essentially the same things, and that we are all deserving of the same care and effort we give our children.
All of us, regardless of age, want to be heard and validated.
We want to feel safe — physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
We want to know that our quirks and our faults won’t alienate us; acceptance is essential to our well-being.
Everyone needs rest, structure, and something good to eat.
When we are crabby, most of the time we simply need a hug, some kind words, and a lot of reassurance.
Human touch is a potent healer.
Punishment is isolating and criticism is just as bad; these things can make us sick in our bodies and our minds.
We need to know that we matter to someone, we want to laugh, we need to go outside and get some fresh air, and sometimes the best option is to go home and take a nap instead of being stuck in the aisles of the grocery store.
These needs are universal.
Parenting helped me to awaken and exercise my compassion muscle. When I began relating to everyone in my life, including myself, with the same thoughtfulness and understanding I gave to my daughter, miracles began to happen. My love life improved a thousand percent. My friendships deepened. I got along better with difficult family members and I started to learn to love myself — something I’d struggled with for as long as I can remember.
Kids and grownups alike act out when they lack something, are misunderstood, or don’t feel well. Since I have come to understand this fundamental truth, I’ve been more able to forgive my loved ones in their less-than-ideal moments. I don’t react as defensively anymore. Now I go into problem-solving mode and immediately try to figure out what is at the heart of the issue. What hole needs filling?
Does my daughter need a warm bath, an oatmeal cookie, and an early bedtime? Perhaps my husband needs more alone time to decompress after a long work day. Maybe my friend is overwhelmed and needs me to come over and help her clean her house while she vents to me about her stressful job. Could it be that the other mom who seems so catty with her backhanded compliments is really just super-insecure and needs someone to take her to lunch and tell her she’s doing a good job in spite of everything?
Caring for my daughter from infancy on has been a mindful practice of learning empathy, and I’m getting better at it every day. That’s not to say that it isn’t often a challenge, because it is. But it’s the tough times when I remember to extend a little kindness towards myself too, and then everyone benefits.
Motherhood had changed me in so many ways — some changes I’d counted on, and others I never saw coming. But of all the lessons parenting has taught me, I am most grateful that learning to show up for my daughter has also taught me how to be there for other people, too.More On