What I Gave Up When I Became A Parent (Plus 7 Things I Gained)

For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be a mom. So after years dreaming about it, and over a decade professionally caring for children, I had a very good idea of exactly who I would be as a parent. This idea came with a long list of "I wills" and "I'll nevers" that I knew I would begin to accurately implement the moment my children joined the world.

Here is a VERY small sampling:

Breastfeeding? Yes! For at least two years.

Toys? All wooden and cloth. My kids will be explorers!

Clothing? Adorable, clean and well pressed.

Parenting? I got it. Dad can relax and play after work. Wonderful alone time will also be had when the kids go to bed promptly at 7:00.

Then my actual children arrived, and reality ensued. It looked more like this:

Breastfeeding? Why does no one tell you how much it hurts?! “If it hurts you’re doing it wrong” — except for the first few times, they should say, it always hurts then — or for me for the first few months. With numerous lactation consultant visits, infections, many tears and lots of pain I made it a whole six months before moving on.

Toys? A lot are wooden and cloth and my kids often explore. But they also greatly enjoy their toys that are plastic, those that make noise, those that light up, and they especially like the ones that do all three.

Clothing? My daughter is the preschooler in the fluorescent striped sundress, Christmas tights, pink high-tops, and medusa hair.

Parenting with hubby? Although we strive for quietude and rhythm at the beginning and end of our children’s day, our days are spent with a 99% productivity rate and our "alone time” is the five seconds before we fall asleep.

As is clear, once my kids arrived, I quickly began racking up my "I’ll nevers" while also disregarding many of my "I wills." In the face of this increasing inability to live up to my expectations I also began to feel like a failure; which was not fun at all.

So after reveling in the failure feeling for a while, I did the only thing that made sense to me at the time: I gave up my list. And in the giving up I gained these seven things:

1. Acceptance

Pre-kids I had a very good idea of who I and my family would be and what our lives would be as a result. Acceptance allowed for the release of the “perfect” family, parent, daughter, or son perceptions, and created a space for us to appreciate who we are in reality; whole people with unique gifts to share. Acceptance also opens the door for embracing life for the blessings it does hold, rather than focusing on marks not met. Room is still left for mutual dreams and expectations, but with acceptance space opens for each of us to be valued as our true self, with the knowledge that we'll be nurtured, loved, and able to authentically grow without the burden of comparison or judgment.

2. Presence

My inability to meet my expectations was a place I brought my attention to often. As I gave up my list it became clearer that this thinking (along with all the other tasks I knew I needed to accomplish in a day) were the things taking away from the intention of my list in the first place. I now work to bring my whole self to each moment. I also leave my smartphone out of reach while with my kids, as it is one of the biggest presence busters of all.

3. Community

It’s awesome to share a less-than-ideal parenting moment and have it met with a, "I am so glad you shared that, it makes me feel normal!" EVERY parent has had less-than-stellar moments. If you have friends who don't share their moments, or who use your personal struggles as an avenue to pad their ego, reach out and add some supportive people to the mix. Having a group of people who also support and love your kids is the added awesome bonus!

4. Partnership

My husband is amazing, and I am so thankful to be in this together with him. We are all better for our joint participation and even in the craziness, or because of it, have so much to laugh and love about.

5. Forgiveness

Many times I feel like a giant "FAIL" is hanging above my head. Like the time my son fell out of a shopping cart and into the produce crying "I told you I needed a buckle!" Or the time my kids were having a pillow-like fight with stuffed animals (after they'd been asked to stop) and accidentally hit me in the face, which prompted the elephants responsible being thrown immediately into the garbage, which led to loud screams, which led to me saying "Keep it up and the alligators are next," all to the disgusted looks of Costco shoppers. Or... you get the idea.

We make mistakes. We set goals that aren't always achievable. Forgiveness helps us realize that mistakes and misses are OK, that parenthood most definitely does not equal perfection, and that as long as we continue to do our best (even when our “best” could have been much better), we can move forward with compassion for ourselves, new knowledge, apologies when necessary and laughter where appropriate.

6. Love

It's so big there are no words for it. And in experiencing and using this love to intentionally support our relationship, really focusing on lifting our kids up in our love, we've also increased our capacity for patient, loving, sincere engagement. This joy is multiplied when we see our children interacting with the world from the same lens. And when our love does not immediately shift our presence to the aforementioned blessings we are happy to still have found numbers 1, 2, and 5 to help us out.

7. Gratitude

I love the amazing people I have the blessing to call family, and the wonder, mess, and beauty of it all. I gave up my list of what I needed to do to be the best parent, but what I found as a result was better than I could have ever planned for, and for that I am forever grateful.

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