Every parent talks about how their children have changed them, how they have made them into different people, challenged them, and taught them about themselves in beautiful and profound ways. I used to eavesdrop on my parents’ conversations, hear them laugh with friends about the shared frustrations of bedtime, the shift in priorities, the play dates and the terrible twos. I used to wonder how they could all nod in approval and such similar stories, even though their friends’ kids were different ages, different people. But now I understand.
Taking care of children changes you; loving children changes you.
You go from being a selfishly-focused person to someone who is all too willing to put her dreams on hold for someone else. You go from wandering through your days thinking about what you need to do for you, to prioritizing a little person’s needs above your own.
There are moments of frustration and defeat followed by moments where your face hurts from smiling. Nights where you want to pull your hair out, only to wake up to a new day where everything is so simple and pure you forgot why you were even angry in the first place.
I never imagined I’d be writing these words at twenty-six, penning about how a child has completely changed my life. But in becoming a bonus parent to my boyfriend’s son, I recognize so many parts of myself have shifted, have grown, and have become better.
And I have him to thank for that.
For all the parents out there—bonus, biological, or somewhere in-between—I hope you can agree. Here are thirteen ways taking care of children changes you.
1. You recognize the value of letting things go.
I’ve let go of my favorite set of red porcelain dishes that now sport an assortment of cracks and scratches. I’ve let go of my decorative floral display that somehow got wedged between the bedframe and the wall behind our bed. And I’ve let go of the hope that everything I love and own will stay perfectly intact when living with a ten-year-old.
And that’s okay. I’ve recognized that maybe there are things that need to take up less of a priority in my heart—a set of dishes is one of them. A child’s heart is not.
2. You become far more patient than you thought possible.
In my prior life (during and post-college) I was a full-time middle and high school teacher. It was those years where I learned the value of patience and how to quiet my mind when I want to scream. It was these lessons that have translated to being a bonus mom.
When you become a parent, your patience skyrockets. You somehow learn not to explode and let a string of swear words loose. You somehow learn to take deep breaths, count to five in your head, and speak in your‘ parent voice’ that means business but actually isn’t any higher in volume. It’s truly a God-given gift.
3. You are tired. All. The. Time.
I used to laugh at the mom memes that said, “There isn’t enough coffee in the world for being a mother,” but now I get it.
I never thought I would be that type of twenty-something person that was going to bed at 9PM, but here we are. After my 14-hour ish days of writing/coaching and being a mam, boy, does my bed sound good.
4. You listen to your gut more.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in ‘parenting,’ it’s that I know far more than I realized. When I first stepped into a bigger role in Austin’s life, I was scared I wouldn’t know what I was doing. I was terrified people would see right through me and know I wasn’t equipped to really be his mom.
But then, I just did it. I figured it out. I made mistakes along the way, but I loved with my whole heart and somewhere along the way it became a natural rhythm. Now, I don’t question my decisions. I don’t take steps back and let other people lead. And I’m not afraid to take on the good, the bad, the ugly, and the downright beautiful. I trust my gut because in my gut, I’m Austin’s mom, and that’s what matters.
5. Your life becomes dictated around food.
Why are kids always hungry? And why is my entire life really just a stop-and-go between the last time Austin has eaten and the next time he will. 😅 I mean, seriously, where do they put it all?
6. You focus more on the milestones than the end goal.
Perhaps this is my experience with Austin and his dyslexia, but I’ve learned to celebrate milestones over end goals. I’ve learned to look at the little things, little steps over the big picture. And I’ve learned that anyone else’s progress is really irrelevant compared to ours.
Perhaps we aren’t quite where we want to be yet, but that’s okay. Life isn’t necessarily about getting from point A to point B as it is about learning to embrace the journey and finding bits and pieces of happiness right where you are.
7. You find validation in little hands, little smiles, little faces.
Over the years I’ve found validation in my schoolwork, in my grades, my job performance, my writing, my views online, my social media followers, my family, my friends, myself. Some of these places have been positive; some have led me to emptiness and a lack of true fulfillment.
But every time I look at Austin’s smiling face, his nod of approval, his pure joy and his “I love yous” I realize that his happiness is really all I need. He’s become one of my greatest reasons for living, one of my greatest reminders of my value, strength, and worth.
8. You learn to scale the importance of moments by how they affect your child.
Something I didn’t understand until I became a ‘parent’ is how much you soak up from your child. Taking care of children changes you. Suddenly, your child’s joy is your joy. Their pain is your pain. You could be standing in a room of a thousand excited people, but if your child feels unsafe, unhappy, or excluded, you feel that ache in your chest, too.
9. You find that what used to stress you isn’t the same anymore.
I used to stress about deadlines, but since my focus has shifted to incorporate Austin, I’m a lot better at meeting and prioritizing them around what we have to do. I used to drop everything for work, but now I know that there are more important things that living in my inbox or being glued to my phone.
What stresses me now is finances, where Austin will get the best education, if he’s happy, and whether or not his father and I are giving him a good life.
10. You slow down.
I’ve always been a full-throttle person. I’ve always gone at full speed and thrown myself fully into things I cared about, from passions to people. Becoming a parent, though, has somewhat lessened my speed in regards to relationships. I’ve learned to slow down, to soak up every moment with Austin, and to be more present rather than hurrying to the next thing.
With an auditory processing disorder, sometimes Austin hears the world differently. It’s taught me that going at a fast pace is far less important than understanding and taking time to listen to him (and learn from him, too).
11. You find more value in time than you ever have.
Above everything else, time is something I value the most. I value the time I spend with Austin before he goes to his mom’s on some weekends. I value the time I spend with Austin’s father because we’re often so busy during the days. And I value the time I get to spend on myself and my work because it’s become a precious and important part of my self-care.
There isn’t ever enough time, but I’ve learned not to stress about it passing, but focus on appreciating it more as it goes by.
12. You discover that life doesn’t go according to plan (really ever) and somehow that’s okay.
One of my biggest flaws and strengths is my planning. I like to have a schedule, a goal, and a means of getting there. Sometimes this is a great thing, and sometimes it’s really frustrating and stressful. But being a mom to Austin has shown me that you can do all you can to make things fall into place with ease, and they will totally fall apart.
Somehow, it all does work out in the end, though. It’s just teaching yourself that the messiness is okay, too.
13. You learn that love is everything.
Truthfully, it doesn’t matter how ‘perfect’ you are as a parent, how much money you spend, or even the things that you do. It matters that you show up, that you care, and that you love. Everything will shift, grow, and change. But love should be there. It’s truly all that matters.
Featured Image Credit: Markus Spiske