As I was walking home from dropping off our kids at school with my neighbor, he confided in me that his daughter had come home to him the night before in tears. He and his ex-wife share custody of their only child and it had been her weekend. He told me that she had given their daughter a guilt trip over a recent school project involving personal photos of herself, in which the girl had neglected to include any of her. In addition, she had made her feel bad for not making her a Valentine’s Day card.
“How selfish! I thought that motherhood would change her,” he exclaimed as we rounded the corner of our street.
I feel that there is a popular assumption that being a parent is going to some how make us better people. That with the emergence of this small life we are now in charge of, we shed a life time of neuroses and bad behavior.
If only it were so easy. To make any change in ourselves, we must first acknowledge that there is something that needs to be changed. However, so many of us are not even aware that how we go about in life, might be less than functional. I think about how strange we sound to ourselves when we hear a playback of our own voice or look at photos taken of ourselves when we were unaware the camera was on us. “I don’t sound like that!” “I don’t look like that!”
Our self perception by design is flawed, because we only know what it is to be ourselves from the inside. The kind of objectivity that it takes to see ourselves through the eyes of others, is a skill that must be practiced and is not some sort of instantaneous switch with the birth of our children.
Of course there are those things that do change in our lives simply because we suddenly find we no longer have the time or energy to give to small behaviors or lifestyle choices that were not particularly meaningful to begin with. In my closet, there hangs dozens of vintage dresses I have collected and worn during my life before parenthood, before the days of falling asleep by 9pm, or mornings in which I was the only one I needed to get ready.
Now with the exception of a special occasion, I dress for function and speed. The same can be said of many of my relationships, for better or worse. Acquaintances that required time and energy, but had little return other than filling a social calendar have faded away. Friendships now must be maintained with real effort to keep them from going the same way. In fact, as far as self reflection, there is even less time than before, so again, why do we assume that becoming a mother or father is going to fix people.
For the lucky, we find our transformation in the eyes of our kids. Kids don’t change us, unless we are ready to change. We see our actions or inactions reflected in their eyes and hopefully we modify these behaviors for their sake. We hear our voice in our words repeated by our children and we see ourselves in the pictures they draw of us or in the questions they ask about our wrinkles, our flab, or our grey hair. And we are given this opportunity every time we spend time with our child.
We grow as people because we listen and what we hear strikes a chord within us. As for our kids? They are mostly concerned with their own experiences. The world is huge for them and remembering our precious feelings is simply not in the forefront of their growing, active minds. Our time with our children is truly short in the big picture of our lives. Be sure to remember to take a minute and really listen. We’re all a little screwed up, take advantage of the help that’s right in front of you before they grow up and move away.