I mentioned here that enjoying my children was a difficult concept for me to understand, let alone live into. I was confused and ashamed at first. And you might be judging me. But trust me, lots of parents struggle with how to fit children into all of their other hopes and dreams and goals and plans. It’s not so much that our children get in the way of those…
Wait… Actually they do.
It’s in the best way possible, but it’s hard to see it in those early years. The transition to motherhood brings a full assault on those hopes, dreams, goals, and plans (assuming they were anything otherthan having children).
Becoming a mother brings to the surface all of your self-absorption and selfishness. Sure, you can go on being the selfish human being you once were; working, shopping, resting, and dining out as you like. But there’s a little human who will protest and make you aware of how your choices affect them. And you can choose to keep putting yourself first and remain at war with this infant, or you can start carving out a yet unknown path towards balancing your own desires with the needs of your new child.
I didn’t realize how selfish I was until I had my first child. It actually started during pregnancy. With my hormones and body locked in a never-ending race to see who could change the most wildly each day, I was a hot mess. Cravings were intense and immediate, so when one came on – whether it was the need to puke, go to bed at 6 p.m., eat two bowls of ice cream, or get out of that yankee-candle-smelling-room asap – I obeyed the impulses. Life shifted somewhat abruptly to being all about the pregnancy. Conversations with co-workers, friends, family, and strangers all focused on how far along I was, whether I knew the gender, whether this was my first and if I would be having any more. I started to resent that a part of my identity was slipping away as the status of this pregnancy seemed the most important or interesting thing people wanted to know about.
Post-pregnancy, the baby was definitely the most important and interesting person. But that wasn’t the hardest part for me. It was the conflict between what I wanted to do and what the baby wanted or needed. It was all of the ways that my life and my body and my schedule and my relationships changed. In short, it was all of the ways that “my” wasn’t the most important anymore.
Selfishly and secretly, I wanted to be able to just add baby to the mix as if it were an accessory. But in reality, baby changes everything. Everything from the laundry detergent you use, to when and how you eat dinner, to whether you go to that party, to when in the world will you ever see a movie in the theater again, to when will you be able to be away from the baby or milk machine for more than 3 hours?! Everything changes.
But if you can lean into it, it changes you for the better. It has the potential to re-orient you towards an Other. In fact, it’s not unlike marriage in these ways…If you’re open to it, it can rip your heart open to levels of empathy and joy and love you’ve never known before. If you let it, it will steadily chip away at your selfishness as you have daily opportunities to choose to put the Other first.
In my teens and early twenties, as much as I wanted it to be true, I couldn’t say for sure whether I would put myself in harm’s way for another human being. Since having children, it’s not even a question. I would absolutely die for any one of my children at any moment. I’m light years from selflessness, but becoming a mother is helping me to more fully live into the person I’m created to be. One selfless decision at a time.
How is motherhood changing you? Have you had similar experiences of reckoning with your own selfishness? Have you had an opposite experience of having to dial back how much you sacrifice yourself for your children, and make sure you’re taking care of yourself?