Before I had children, I was a freelance writer for small local magazines in San Diego. I worked when I wanted to work, slept in late, and spent a lot of time taking my dog on long walks on the beach. My husband and I bought a new construction home, providing a blank slate from which we could slowly create the house of my dreams.
During those years before children, much of my free time was spent fretting over little things like: Would the creeping thyme that I planted grow in full sun or would it die? Where would my next travel destination be? Should we go out to dinner or eat in?
By my early 30s, I had a three-year-old and infant triplets. My life had changed so dramatically from those carefree, childless days that sometimes I was depressed. I had to discover who I was and what I wanted out of life all over again.
There are certain undeniable truths about being a parent that people will tell you before you are one, but you won’t understand: you will have to be selfless, you won’t get as much sleep, your marriage will change.
What my kids have taught me about myself have been monumental. They’ve shown me who I really am. Their ability to bring out the best (and the worst) in me has, in itself, been an important life lesson.
Here are seven others:
1. Play more, worry less.
Life as a parent has become increasingly hectic with competitive sports being the norm, parents who work long hours to afford nice houses and cars, and an over-reliance on technology keeping us glued to our screens. All of these things are what make up 21st-century living. But they don’t have to make up our entire lives.
My children have taught me the importance of slowing down and the importance of play. My brain tells me I don’t want to play; I don’t like to play, I don’t have time to play. But when I concede to dropping whatever I am doing and sitting down to play cards, build LEGOs, or color with my kids, my day gets a little easier. Some days we go outside for a walk or bike ride together or play hide-and-seek at the local park.
As adults, we get caught up in the big adult responsibilities of life, and sometimes we forget what it’s like to play.
2. Carpe diem, baby!
Out of everything I am learning from my kids, this is the biggest struggle for me. I have learned that it is difficult for me to appreciate the moment I’m in. It is hard when you are a mom in the monotony of life to live in the moment. To enjoy the moment when that moment is frantically driving kids around to their next extracurricular activity.
But the moment is all we have. It’s all the moments that really matter the most. If we don’t learn to enjoy the little moments, then we will let life go by without actually enjoying it. Kids know how to live in the moment, and they show me every day that I need to stop thinking about what is next on the agenda and enjoy what is happening at that very moment.
3. Drop the tech and listen.
My phone is my lifeline. By that I mean I work from it, my calendar is on it, I make phone calls with it, and I connect socially using it. My phone often feels like an addiction that I need to go to rehab for: just as a crack addict needs one more hit of the drug, I feel like I need to look at my phone every minute.
Some of my most guilty mom moments are when I realize that my children have been trying to talk to me, but I am reading a text or an email, completely shutting them out of my technology bubble. It takes a conscious effort every day to put the technology down and appreciate that face-to-face interaction and show the people I love that they have my undivided attention.
4. Unconditional love.
Friendships ebb and flow throughout the cycles of life. Marriages fall apart. Even family feuds can lead to the estrangement of relationships. But we are forever a parent, responsible for loving and caring for another human being, one we brought into this world.
I don’t always agree with some of the things my children do. Sometimes I wonder how they were born from me since we have such different personalities. Despite anything they ever do or who they become in life, I will always love them because they are my children.
5. Marriage is more than love.
I have learned through having kids that marriage is so much deeper than love and sex and having fun all the time. Most of us get married because we have common interests with someone, we are sexually attracted to them, we fall in love. After we have kids, perhaps we have to work harder to maintain these components of marriage, but new things become important as well.
My husband and I have grown more connected through friendship and teamwork. We don’t always agree on parenting tactics, but we are always a united front. Because we are in the trenches of parenthood together, there is an allegiance that breeds respect for one another.
6. Be a better person.
Before I had kids, life was all about me. I did whatever I wanted when I wanted to. Being a parent has taught me that life isn’t all about me. We are all living on this planet together, and so we should endeavor to make the world a better place. I teach my kids about recycling, water conservation, giving to others, sticking up for the underdog, working hard and trying your best. As I teach my kids how to be good citizens of the world, I am also teaching myself.
7. Don’t forget your dreams.
Before I had children I thought that having children would complete my life. I thought that it was all I needed to fulfill me as a person. What I learned after having children is that I needed to find my own passions and dreams independent of childrearing.
Just because I have kids doesn’t mean I no longer get to have my own life. While it’s true that most of my time is spent taking care of my children, I make sure to prioritize my personal relationships, passions, and dreams into my life. I nurture my personal relationships by going on trips with my husband and friends. I take care of my body by going on walks and practicing yoga. And I’ve fulfilled a lot of my dreams in the past year through writing essays and books that have been published. My kids are not my whole life; they are a beautiful extension of my life.
Parenthood is far more challenging than I anticipated it would be. I have learned that there will be days where I feel like a supermom, and other days I will feel like the worst mom in the world. Some days I can do it all with a smile on my face, and other days I feel like I wasn’t cut out for the job. The beautiful thing is that my kids love me on the good days and the bad days. In that way, they have taught me about true love and acceptance.`
This essay was originally published on Parent.co.
Megan Woolsey is the co-editor of Multiples Illuminated, writer, and publisher living in Northern California with a very supportive husband and a wild bunch of red-headed children – a set of triplets and their big sister. Megan has been published in The Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, BLUNTmoms, Bonbon Break, Mamalode, In The Powder Room, and is an essayist in two anthologies. When Megan needs a break from the kids, you can find her perusing her social media pages – Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.