This week, my little boy turned five years old.
I still can’t wrap my head around the fact that I’m the parent of a five-year-old, and that this year, I’ll be the parent of an elementary school student. Somehow, those parents always seemed to me like super-adults, who are way more mature than I am, and have life figured out.
Part of me is still waiting to feel like a grown-up.
That feeling of being unqualified for this part of life got me thinking about the last five years that went by so fast. While those five years were happening, I was constantly dealing with phases that seemed endless. Age Five once seemed so far away.
Because I can hardly believe it’s been five years, in some ways I feel like the same person I was before baby. But I also know this half-decade has been full of experiences and lessons that make me someone I wouldn’t recognize six years ago.
The first, and probably most obvious lesson was that having a baby sucks. I know I’d already assumed it was before I ever had one, and I think most people also know it on some level, but having lived through it first-hand gives me a level of sympathy for new parents that I just couldn’t have otherwise felt.
People in my life I care deeply about who recently began this journey for themselves, have finally been able to commiserate with the fact that society tells us that having a new baby should be the most joyous time of our lives, and how fraudulent new parents feel when those days and long nights with a newborn are actually miserable.
I remember that feeling of “Why am I not as happy as everyone thinks I should be?” and seeing no light at the end of the tunnel. There are many reasons I’m now glad to have had that experience, and one of those reasons is being able to say, “This time sucks, and it’s ok to acknowledge that. It doesn’t make you a bad parent. The best thing you can do for your baby is to go easy on yourself. This phase will be over someday, sooner than you think. And no, I’m not going to tell you to cherish every moment of misery just because it’ll be over soon. It’s ok to be relieved when it is.”
Having a baby is hard in its own way, but then comes the Terrible Two phase, the Threenager phase, and whatever Four is (I don’t know if there’s a cutesy name for what happens then), and those are a different kind of challenge.
Those years gave me a mixture of joys of firsts, as well as tears and pain the likes of which only a small child can bring.
Through those ups and downs, I was unknowingly gaining valuable skills that I’ll benefit from for the rest of my life:
- I learned patience.
As much as my wannabe-hippy-teenage self wanted to think I was patient and non-judgemental, nothing tests and stretches my patience like trying to teach and care for this little person whom I care so much about and feel so hopelessly responsible for.
- I learned (and am still learning) by trial and error, time management.
I thought I was busy and tired before, but now I know that nothing is as busy and exhausting as being a parent, and trying to maintain a shred of who you are separately from parenthood.
Trying to balance everything I wanted to make time for has taught me so much.
- I learned what unconditional love is.
Sure, there are other people in my life I never stopped loving, and love to be around constantly. But continuing to love a person who so often makes me not want to be here is a whole new experience.
- I learned to stop worrying about being judged by others.
These years have been full of experiences of knowing that people are staring, judging my child, or maybe the way I care for my child… from bottle-feeding to grocery store meltdowns. I wouldn’t wish this embarrassment or shame on anyone, but I know that slowly, I’m becoming desensitized to condemning glances and snide remarks, and I’m glad for that.
This whole experience so far has given me another huge thing I thought I’d never achieve, and that I now cherish so much:
Empathy and forgiveness for my own parents.
So many memories of my own childhood, wondering why the adults around me were so angry, so unfair, so misunderstanding, so something have come to light as I catch myself doing or saying some of the same things that used to puzzle me.
Sometimes, it’s “Now I understand why mom yelled so much.”
Sometimes, it’s instead, “Now I understand how [insert some parenting mistake here] happened. It doesn’t make it ok, but here I am, making the same mistake. This is hard. I didn’t know.”
Every year, I gain more and more understanding about the human beings my parents and other older family members are.
I’ve been learning, by experience with my own child how hard it is to raise a child, and that they, just like me, still had their own feelings to wrestle with.
I’ve been learning, via stories that were never told to me before now, what kinds of things they had in their lives, both during and before becoming parents, that affected their choices and subconscious actions.
I’ve been learning, by confessing my current difficulties, and receiving in return admissions and apologies, that they, and probably all other parents, carried guilt and trauma and were in a constant state of trying to improve and hoping to break the cycle.
As I mentioned earlier, part of me feels like a fraud, like I don’t have it all together like all the other parents do, like I’m still a juvenile just playing house, and having all the real adults fooled.
Now I know that my own parents felt (and still feel!) the same way.
I’ve even heard them use the new word, “adulting” the same way many young adults do to describe things that are just hard to deal with. I know many younger adults who are just starting to experience the “What? Me? An adult? Who allowed that? I’m not ready!” crisis.
That’s a feeling I’ve been waiting to outgrow. Now I’m starting to realize it might never go away. Every person is learning as they go, still feeling like they’re not good enough, and occasionally succumbing to the inner child who says “I need an adult.”
I may not feel “ready” for everything parenthood brings, but I think maybe every parent is secretly wondering whether they’re qualified to try to guide a child through life when they barely know what to do themselves.
My son was unplanned.
Most of my life, I was very sure I did not want to be a mother.
Adjusting to this unexpected life change may have been hard, but I’m so glad this happened.
Being Mom has been an incredible, rewarding experience, and I can’t imagine life without this amazing little boy.
These last five years have been both so fast, and a whole lifetime, but I know that sooner than I think, I’ll be writing the ten-year version of this. I hope that by then, I’ll have learned and improved even more, and that my son knows I’m trying as hard as I can to be the parent he needs.
Happy birthday, light of my life. ❤
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