Parenthood has the power to completely reinvent us.
As with most big life lessons, we tend to resist at first. Change is hard. Sometimes it takes weeks, months, or years of banging our heads against a wall before we realize that the wall is not going to move. Then we finally take four steps to the left and continue on our way.
Breastfeeding was my wall. I wanted my baby to feed when it was convenient for me. Not when I was tired. Not when I was cooking. I needed my toddler to let go when I told her to. No, not in a minute. Right now! When I was tandem nursing a toddler and a newborn, the toddler wanted to nurse every time the newborn did. Why oh why?
Numerous times I questioned breastfeeding, I questioned myself, and I blamed my kids for being “high needs.”
Then, I took four steps to the left. I let the house get messy. My husband cooked dinner upon arriving from work. I realized that my toddler took a minute to unlatch because she had milk in her mouth and she needed to swallow it. When I took a step back and looked at the big picture, I realized that the “breastfeeding problems” were not problems at all. They were my children’s refusal to conform to my unrealistic expectations. I am so grateful to my children for giving me the opportunity to recognize this. They were and still are teaching me that compassion is more important than rules.
As I was preparing to write this post, I tried to think of the most important lessons that our breastfeeding journey has taught my whole family. Then it dawned on me. These life lessons actually have less to do with milk and more to do with parenthood. So whether you breastfeed, bottle feed, are a foster parent, adoptive parent, traditional parent or crunchy, here are three ways that the power of parenthood reshaped my whole perspective on life.
I learned to trust that my babies know when they are hungry, sad, mad, or overwhelmed. My trust in their feelings reinforces their trust in themselves.
I learned to trust myself and my parenting choices. When I’m not listening to my inner voice, babies cry, fuss at the breast, or throw temper tantrums. When I am connected to my instincts, I make better choices, and the family thrives.
Advocate for myself
We all have a breaking point, but you can’t know your limits until you reach them. Parenthood will take you there on a high-speed train. I learned to ask for help when I was breastfeeding a newborn, and to say “wait” to my toddler. I learned that saying “I can’t help you right now” is not a sign of weakness or selfishness. It is a sign of me knowing my capabilities and me standing up for myself. And this is a skill that I want to model for my children.
When connection is missing, children will let you know in a million different ways. When I stopped long enough to watch, I learned to notice subtle differences in the way my children would behave at the breast. I tried to discover the real reason for resisting sleep, or for screaming at me for handing over the wrong colored cup, or for pretending to be a baby for days on end. Vibes were better between us when I took the time to really listen. I stopped scrolling through Facebook while nursing, I played Fireman Sam without eyeing the laundry pile, and understood the reason for more tears after spending a lot of time away. My actions would frequently reflect my culture or what I was taught to be the “right” way, and I learned, little by little, to open my eyes and ears to my children and less to society around me.
I thought I would be raising children, but it turns out that I have as much (or more) to learn as them. This new me is better, more compassionate, more trusting, and more patient.
Let me admit, though, that I did not sign up for this recreation of myself. I signed up for a new baby, not a new me. It’s so hard. I wish that this recreation of me could be done without banging my head against the wall so many times. But that’s how change works. The bigger the change, the harder the head-bang is. Parenthood gave me no choice but to reshape myself into the mother that a person needs. My kids are three and four now so I guess this is just the beginning.
Can I do this?
Well, I’ve come this far. I’m going to go out on a limb and say yes. Thanks, parenthood, for showing me what I’m capable of. I’ll try not to let you down as you throw the next lessons my way.
Has parenthood thrown challenges at you that you didn’t expect? How have you grown because of them? Drop me a comment below, I’d love to hear your experience!
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