Hi. You might not recognize me. I’m your post-kid self.
I may not go to the movies as much as you, or even know what movies are in the theater, but I do get cartoon jingles stuck in my head every day. So, it’s almost an even trade. Ok, maybe that’s not the best place to start with you…
Point of praise: It’s good that you had big ideas about what parenting would be like, but they’re all gone now. These days, you could write a hefty hardcover filled with all the things you once thought you’d do when you became a parent. Chief among them: Never change! It’s funny now to think about how you thought motherhood would be. (You’ll hate reading that line, but like it or not—you have no idea.)
You think you will be different, that your kid will be different, that motherhood won’t change you. Ha—you even think you won’t let your kids eat in the car! When your best friend laughed quietly at that, I know it hurt you, but trust me on this: you can’t imagine the restraint she was showing.
I remember how much you hate those “It changes everything” baby shampoo commercials. And I remember your eyes-rolling when your best friend would say things about “three year olds,” as if she had some knowledge that went beyond her own kid.
You’ve been through some tough times—abortion, ectopic pregnancy and the fear that you might not able to have a baby—so I’ll try to be easy one you. I have a lot more forgiveness than you could spare. I think I traded it for sanity.
I can still see you, after the ectopic rupture, sitting at a friend’s baby shower, feeling outside of the precious mom circle. You hated how moms seemed to form an exclusive club. There were times you wanted in. And times you looked down at them. How could another mother, a complete stranger, act as if she knows your friend better than you, just because they both have kids?
There’s no way to say, “You’ll see,” without condescension. People are different and they change in different ways, but there’s something that runs through nearly every person upon becoming a parent. Something that changes you.
Here’s (just some of) what you don’t know: Parenting can be so lonely. And hard as hell. And it opens you up to a level of self-doubt that would have washed you out to sea before you had kids. And you will become bonded to other women, women you don’t know—through pregnancy pains, childbirth—however it goes, midnight nursing—or bottle feeding, sleep-deprived insanity, Target tantrums—in unimaginable ways.
For now, you feel that connection as that thing that shuts you out when you’re with friends who’ve recently become parents. Later, you’ll know it as that thing that keeps you sane. The bond between mothers (parents) is an intense thing—it can make friends of strangers and strangers of your friends. Don’t worry—you’ll still keep the old friends around, at least the good ones, but you’ll need lots of new mom-friends if you’re going to survive motherhood.
I hate that you looked askance at parents who left work by the clock to get home to kids or had a different schedule to match the school day or who never said yes to post-work drinks. I wish I knew how to go back in time with an understanding of how it would feel when you are the one rushing off not to be late for pick-up, not wanting your child to be the last one waiting.
I wish there was something I could say to you, to make you understand how important such things will become. We could be allies—young singles and tired mothers—if we only knew how to say these things to each other. If future-moms and future-dads could see ahead to what they will want out of their jobs, maybe work would be a different place. The problems mothers—and fathers—face won’t improve. Not until you can imagine how much your needs will change, how the center of your solar system will shift.
It’s so interesting for me to watch working pregnant women just before they go off to maternity leave, and to listen to new moms with infants talk about parenting. The things they say, I have said those things. I have had those conversations—about sleep, about childcare, about how nothing will change, about how I will still be the same person.
The current focus on what sets us apart, as opposed to the common struggles we all will go through, may be part of the reason that this country—and the companies employing its citizens—is so hard on parents. If only non-parents could see how much that culture, that insistence on a life that isn’t much of a life, impacts them, too. You could literally run marathons (the flexible workplace would help with your intense training).
I wish you could imagine that, because I could really use you on my side.
Thanks for listening,
You, mother of two