How Our Kids Change Us

I’m home alone tonight, which is unusual. My daughter returned to college this afternoon, after we spent the morning together casting early ballots and walking through fallen leaves. My older son is at a Halloween party with his friends, after working with me on his college applications. My younger son is at a professional hockey game with my husband, cheering on their favorite team, after playing in his baseball game this morning.

It was a typical busy day in our household, with everyone running one place or another – converging for a few moments to cheer on our baseball pitcher and once more to enjoy some mac and cheese, and then scattering again for various activities. It was chaos, and I loved it.

But, tonight, it’s quiet in the house, and I can’t remember the last time that was true. While I spend a lot of time and energy on work, enjoy a wonderful relationship with my husband, and have hobbies and interests of my own…my heart is always with my children.

Before I had kids, I slept in on weekends. I was a workaholic. I thought about myself more than I did others.

My kids have forever changed me.

Now I awaken if there’s a creak from down the hall, and I’m up before the crack of dawn.

Everything now requires planning – coordinated schedules, accounting for ages and interests, personalities and predilections.

My perspective on life has changed. I think more about their futures and that of our world. I worry more – about their safety and their physical and mental health, about the environment, about whether we’re setting a good example as parents, about how to help them to be independent while also knowing they can always count on us.

Generally, I’m an impatient person, always striving to accomplish goals, often multi-tasking, and not particularly willing to wait to get things done. Yet my kids have forced me to slow down. In the early days, I sat still and nursed them for hours on end. As they got older, I read them books over and over again – until I had memorized each word of Goodnight Moon and The Giving Tree. I’ve attended countless ballet recitals, Tae Kwon Do belt tests, concerts, theater performances, sports games, and science competitions. I’ve gone camping, coached soccer, and led a Girl Scouts troop. We’ve cooked meals together and bickered about what movies to watch. Because of my kids, I’ve lived in the moment. And I wouldn’t change a thing.

One large global study concluded that children’s behavior has a much stronger influence on their parents’ behavior than the other way around. And there are many beautiful tributes that depict how having kids has positively changed the lives of parents.

I’ve seen this too in colleagues and friends. How their maniacal focus on work was tempered after the birth of their first child. How family made them rethink their priorities and softened their hard edges.

The saying, “A mother is only as happy as her least happy child,” tends to ring true for me. While I know we’re each responsible for our own emotions, when my children are hurting, I feel it acutely. Whether they are stressed about school, struggling with social issues, or suffering from anxiety – I ache along with them and desperately want to ease their burden.

I also get to celebrate their highs – feeling pride and awe as they achieve their dreams: a hard-earned grade, a strike out, a successful performance, a hockey goal, a compliment, a job offer.

I adore being with my children – watching them interact, witnessing their humor and their smarts, their compassion and their inherent goodness. I love when they help one another – baking birthday cakes together, assisting each other with homework, talking about their worries. Family vacations are my favorite – when we get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life and immerse ourselves in adventures, exploring new places and cultures and foods together.

I see the world differently through their eyes. When they ask about politics or God, about science or relationships, I try to answer thoughtfully, honestly, and authentically. I admit that I don’t have all the answers. I agree that race relations, climate change, and socioeconomic disparities are troubling and demonstrate the work we still must do. I encourage them to form their own opinions. Often their thoughtful questions and unvarnished perspectives change my point of view.

Today, I’m less carefree and less spontaneous than I was 20 years ago, before I had kids.

And yet I’m a better person. More thoughtful, more compassionate, more real than I was before. I have a deep love and adoration for three people who wouldn’t walk this earth if not for the seemingly random coincidence that my husband and I found one another and formed a life together. I love them unconditionally and feel their love in return.

Because of my kids, I am forever changed. And I wouldn’t want it any other way.

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