Nine silly and serious ways the hidden joys of parenthood surprised Joanna Schroeder when she became a mom.
I never fantasized about being a bride or having babies. I had no specific career in mind, no white picket fence, no kids. I was happy with my work and my educational career. I didn’t think I needed more.
But then I met Ivan. He walked into the store where I worked and smiled at me in a way that was so nice, so kind, I found it hard to believe. How could anyone be this sweet? But he really was. He never asked me out, instead he slipped me his number in case I wanted to call him. Which I did the next day.
Three months later, I was pregnant.
Not long ago I wrote a list about the hard lessons Ivan and I learned by jumping into a complicated life without really knowing one another. One of those was about not letting the stress of kids damage your marriage. A lot of readers wondered why anyone would ever want kids, considering how often parents talk about the bad stuff these days. People are trying to keep it real by talking about the struggles of being a parent, and that’s great, but the truth is this: Parenting can be great fun.
I’m not trying to convert anyone to parenthood. Having kids is really hard. It does affect your relationship. It ruins your sleep, will frustrate you more than you’ve ever understood possible, and sometimes makes you pee a little when you jump on a trampoline. But there are also some incredible side-effects. I want to talk about those.
Note: There are loads of ways to have a family, and many don’t involve kids. Whatever your family looks like, I’m all for it.
1. My kids love me like nobody has ever loved me.
I’m not an exceptional mom. I can be short-tempered and internally-focused. I am not a great chef and I’m terrible at crafts. But I do my best most of the time.
But here’s the thing about kids – they don’t need you to be perfect to love you. Especially when they’re tiny, you are that child’s entire solar system. They’ll see you and smile like you are Ed-freaking-McMahon on their doorstep with a giant check. Because they love you that much, exactly how you are. They love your sagging butt, your stinky feet, your pimples, and your greasy hair.
This is not a reason to have a baby, because trust me, they won’t do that every day. And you have to be the grown-up in that relationship – that means your job is to be grateful for, but not dependent upon, their love. That love is a gift, and it’s not guaranteed, so you better not be a selfish jerk, neglect them, or do anything other than your very best at raising them.
But if you’re giving it your all, you’re going to be blown away by the force of their love.
My kids aren’t star athletes at this point in their lives, nor do we ever expect them to be. But few things in my life have been as amazing as watching my kids score their first points in their basketball games. Watching a giant smile of pride take over their faces made me tear up. It was a sense of pride like I’ve never known: pure, unfiltered, and exploding with joy.
It doesn’t have to be a sport, it can be anything that fills them with wonder. The first time they watch a butterfly lift off a leaf, or the first time they throw a ball and a dog fetches it. If you’re there with them in that moment and truly present, it’s like doing it all again for the first time, too. It makes your heart explode with happiness.
Life is full of magic. We forget it, but our kids remind us – even if it’s with uncontrollable laughter at their own farts. And you just have to laugh along.
3. I get to play with toys.
I don’t remember liking toys all that much as a kid. But now, few things are more fun than sitting down with my kids and their Playmobil sets. I love posing the pirates and finding all of the little swords and shields for the knights. I love setting up the ice cream shop and the vet’s office and then seeing the way the kids’ imaginations take over. I love hearing all of the different voices my son invents for the characters and the storylines that develop.
4. I get to pretend I hate pop music, but I secretly love pop music.
I recently joined a cult. It’s not something I ever thought I’d be a part of, but now I can’t help myself. It’s like a drug and I cannot get enough.
It’s called Taylor Swift.
My kids have reminded me that sometimes pop music is awesome, and I don’t have to prove my street cred. I mean, have you heard that old Justin Bieber song “Baby, Baby, Baby”? That is a great freaking song! You don’t have to subscribe to the full Biebs to admit that you totally want to dance when it comes on. Kids give us the opportunity to dive into the sappy and the saccharine and just enjoy it for what it is.
5. Through them, I get to see the universe purely.
If you’re like me, you can’t experience joy or happiness without a faint twinge of sadness for the people in the world who are suffering. My children are growing into that empathy, too, but it is in their nature to accept life as it is and be grateful for it.
Simple things, like how real movies are to them, are so special. Movie theaters are the most glamorous and amazing places in the world. A box of Junior Mints and a small bag of popcorn is the childhood equivalent of dinner at Nobu, but without the credit card debt and the sneaking feeling that you don’t belong.
My kids also get to choose what they believe about God, faith and humanity. They aren’t jaded. They don’t know about sectarian violence. Some children do, of course, way too many. But in our family, we have been privileged with the opportunity to teach our children that if there is a God, He or She loves everybody regardless of religion, and that He or She just wants people to be kind to one another.
It’s the fresh start many of us which we could have.
6. I get to heal my own wounds.
Nobody was raised perfectly, and none of us are raising our kids perfectly, either. But one thing that’s incredible about being a parent is the opportunity to heal the wounds of your childhood by doing things differently. This is your family, and you get to create the dream you always dreamed for yourself.
I’m in awe of how so many parent-friends of ours choose to be very conscious about how they raise their kids, and the way cycles of abuse are being broken as a result. I’ve seen the freedom a family feels when shame is released, or when a tradition of “man up” masculinity is disassembled and replaced with conscious and healthy role modeling.
Each of us who chooses to be a parent gets the opportunity to parent the way we always wanted to be parented. Even if our families were near-perfect when we were small, we get to create our own, and that is glorious.
7. I’m inspired to be a better person.
This year, I’m trying to leave behind the persona I like to call “Hulk Smash Mommy”. Or at least put her away and save her for a truly apocalyptic scenario.
I have a loud voice, strong opinions, and people who know me don’t mess with me. Make that double for my kids. But I’ve had to learn to calm way the hell down as my kids have gotten older. I don’t need to enter tough situations by exploding through brick walls and I’ve learned to take my loud, angry voice down about a hundred notches when it comes to my kids.
As my dear friend Kirsten Clodfelter says, one of the best parts of being a parent is “being challenged every day to level the f*ck up as a person.”
8. The moment I first realized that was my kid.
Regardless of whether you or your partner gave birth, or if your child was born to you through adoption or foster care, when you see that kid and realize he or she is yours, your heart is shattered and re-formed into this entirely new organ. It beats to a different cadence, it thumps louder and deeper, and with more power than you ever knew.
For me, it didn’t happen instantaneously. My friend Summer told me when I was pregnant, “If you aren’t ready to hold the baby right away, that’s okay. And you might not feel something the first second like you see in the movies, and that’s okay, too.” I’m glad she said that, because I wasn’t ready to hold my first son right away. I’d had a horrible, painful labor and I was exhausted. I just needed to breathe for a moment. But Ivan was there next to him and he kept turning to give me updates.
“He’s got a line between his lip and his chin, just like me!” he said, rubbing his own chin, with tears in his eyes. And then I felt it. My partner’s joy at the birth of his son spread through the room like lightning. That was the moment when my old heart started to fail and my new heart started to grow. That was my son – our son, and he was a new human. It was a feeling unlike anything else.
9. The profound bond I have with my amazing husband, cemented by these tiny humans.
A lot of people, including me, have written about the category 5 hurricane that comes through your life when you have a baby. Your body isn’t your own and your hormones are a freaking mess for years to come. You never sleep, you have baby poop on your sleeve. It really is gross and terrible in so many ways.
What’s worse is when you settle into a pattern of short-tempered resentment with your partner as a result. It’s common, but it doesn’t have to be permanent. You have to choose to not let that become your life.
What has stuck with me is the incredible love I had for this man the moment our first child became real to us. No matter what happens between us, Ivan is half of these small humans that I love so very much. Even in the worst of times, I’ve loved him immensely just for that.
But our marriage has grown stronger because of what these kids have given us. Of course, this isn’t true for everyone and it almost wasn’t true for us. But we are bonded now by seats together watching pee wee basketball, or long car rides to Disneyland while listening to a Hardy Boys audible book. We’re bonded by helping them when they’re sick and listening to them laugh. I love the kids more every day, and I love my husband more every time I see him reflected in my kids. Not just his genetics, but the things he teaches them. The way they say “dude” and all their matching haircuts.
The truth is, love creates more love, but you’ve got to be willing to nurture it. That’s the glory of being a parent.