Slices of Life
Parenthood – losses and gains
I’m experiencing parenthood all over again – through my daughter. To be honest, it’s easier watching it than actually living it. For sure there’s less sleep deprivation and wet, sticky kisses. But seeing her go through all the things I did has given me various perspectives that I don’t think I could have recognized back when I was in the trenches and up to my eyeballs in dirty diapers.
It now occurs to me that parenthood brings with it both losses and gains.
One of the most obvious examples is the loss of sleep. After becoming a parent I coveted sleep for decades. (Yes, that’s a plural.) My babies never slept through the night; and then they turned into teenagers and I found myself waiting for them to come home by curfew. I went from a person who thought she needed eight hours of sleep to one who got by on about six.
During this time, I learned that sleep can be overrated. I adapted to the change and gained an endurance I hadn’t thought possible. I also drank lots of coffee. Another loss? That of time. Before children I had time for hobbies and interests. I read novels because I could. After children, I segued to reading short stories because they fit better into the time scheme of things.
While I lost the vast expanses of time to follow my own pursuits, I gained the gift of in the moment. In the moment moments are some of the richest experiences life has to offer. First words. First steps. An actual conversation with your teenager. Being there – in the moment – to appreciate the little and the big experiences parenthood has to offer made me understand the importance of right now.
BC (before children) I used to live an orderly life. I was good at being orderly and I liked it that way. But order and children are not a likely combination. In my experience they are a nearly impossible combination. While losing order, I gained messy, but good chaos.
Chaos – with children – is not bad. It is most often the opposite, except when you step on a LEGO at 2 a.m. with bare feet on your way to the bathroom. Then, chaos can be a bit painful. But it’s mostly good, if you let it be. LEGOs be damned.
Order is often paired with predictability. Before children I could schedule lunch with friends. I took long showers whenever I wanted without thought. I ate when I was hungry and didn’t worry about any stomachs other than my own. When you become a parent, prepare to throw predictability out the window. You may have the best intentions about feeding and diapering schedules, but you are no longer in charge. You answer to a tiny person now and with that you gain a talent for flexibility. Being flexible with your life and your schedule brings benefits.
You aren’t disappointed when something doesn’t work out because you didn’t have any expectations for the original plans. Flexibility allows (forces) you to be open to new outcomes and possibilities. It allows for and teaches you to compromise and go with the flow. It helps your kids learn these skills as well as they watch you adapt on the fly.
When I had my first child, I became a different person and a little (or very large) part of me was lost or at least changed forever. You may feel like your lose yourself (you don’t, really) but in losing the me, you are gaining an us. After having children you are never really alone again. Not really. It’s impossible to surrender a part of your heart to another human being without being connected to them forever. Unconditionally. And truly, us is better than me.
Parenthood changes you. You lose, you gain – so much more than weight. You become a different person. Someone you couldn’t have imaged before. But in my experience the gains outweigh the losses. The good far outweighs the not-so-good. And although in all honesty it is a ton of work, you’d do it all over again if you could. In a heartbeat.
Jill Pertler is an award-winning syndicated columnist, published playwright, author and member of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. Don’t miss a slice; follow the Slices of Life page on Facebook.