I have said many times over that parenting is the hardest job I will ever love.
Back when I was pregnant with my first child, the most common piece of advice I received was, "Enjoy your sleep and freedom now!" While that is part of what makes parenting hard, it would have been nice to receive some advice that was a little more specific.
With three years of parenting under my belt, here is what I wish someone had warned me about before I became a mom:
Emotional Changes: Since becoming a mom, I have been riding the emotional rollercoaster that is parenthood — a ride that leaves me feeling both exhilarated and vulnerable at the same time.
I didn't know that after I had children, news stories about injured, missing, abused, or exploited children would take on entirely new meaning for me. I wasn't prepared for the instinctual and overwhelming sense of love and protectiveness I would constantly feel, even while witnessing my child in the throes of a tantrum.
And I wasn't aware that at any given moment, I could feel pride, embarrassment, and fear all at once...like a couple weeks back when the temporary Nanny's unfortunate halitosis came head-to-head with Lucas' extremely sensitive sense of smell.
I was taking the boys and the Nanny out to lunch to introduce them to each other, and when the Nanny, who was sitting next to Lucas, bent over and asked if she could color with him, Lucas put his hand over his nose and mouth and froze, his face filled with panic. I immediately understood what was going on, and prayed that Lucas would not blurt out, "Ew, your breath is stinky," something Husband and I have heard many times over!
But Lucas didn't say a word. Instead, he looked to me for guidance, hand still over his nose and mouth. We were sitting near the restrooms, so — using every ounce of restraint to hold back my laughter — I quickly said, "I know! The bathrooms are a little stinky."
Lucas, picking up my cue, took his hand away from his face, smirked, and replied, "Yes, Mommy, they are really, really stinky."
Physical Changes: While the pain of childbirth is a distant memory, the silvery stretch marks I got while pregnant with Justin that now call my stomach home, are not. Nor does the sagging, wrinkly skin just under my belly button seem anxious to depart any time soon.
The physical change I was most unprepared for though, was how my body would respond to breastfeeding. I had read about breastfeeding women burning an extra 500 calories a day and often quickly losing their "baby weight," so you can imagine my shock when, after Lucas was born and I began to lose weight, my milk dried up. In fact, it was on my first Mother's Day, when 10 minutes into my morning pump session I hadn't pumped more than a few drops of milk, that I knew something was wrong. An emergency call to my lactation consultant revealed that some women need to "hold onto their fat" in order to make milk. I was/am one of those women. And as it turns out, so was my aunt, who breastfed all four of her children, and my sister, who breastfed her three.
The good news is, despite my stubborn baby weight, I feel physically stronger than I ever have. Nothing says stamina or endurance like carrying a 30-pound toddler in one arm and a basket full of groceries in the other.
Career Changes: For me, the most startling change has been in my professional life. Despite all of the education and years of work that I have invested in my career, nothing could have prepared me for the constant internal struggle I now feel between working and wanting to be at home. I am still surprised at the ease with which I have given up certain professional aspirations in exchange for others that will hopefully afford me more time with my children. And while I still maintain that working helps me to be a better mom, I had no idea that after I had children I would be so willing to consider giving up my career entirely in order to be with my boys all of the time.
Relationship Changes: The changes I have experienced in my various adult relationships are the most profound, and the area about which people are the least likely to forewarn you.
While I knew the challenges of parenthood would have an effect on my marriage, I was still surprised by the change in my relationship with Husband.
I didn't think it would be possible to love Husband any more, simply by watching him give the boys a bath or watching him play every evening with them, but I do. And when we returned from a recent "romantic" vacation, and Husband jumped out of the car — leaving the door wide open — and ran to scoop our boys up in his arms, my heart melted.
Another change in my adult relationships is the instant bond I feel with other mothers, as if we are in a secret society — a society in which we all empathize with the sleepless nights, public tantrums, and seemingly endless parade of childhood illnesses.
So, would knowing what I know now have changed my path to parenthood? Of course not! While I may lose the baby weight, I will never be the same person I once was, and I am happy for that. Even though there is so little time to get things done, and I feel exhausted most days, I eagerly get myself up each morning to do it all over again.
It's all because of love. And no matter what somebody tells you before the baby arrives, there is no way to put into words the unbelievable, gooey, gushy, all-encompassing, overwhelming feeling that is the love of a parent for a child.