It’s hard to imagine your life being altered beyond all recognition. From your schedule to the way you handle sticky situations, starting a family kicks off growth in unfathomable ways. If you’re a parent, you know this to be true.
Having children changes nearly everything about your life—without being fully prepared no matter how much you spend at Babies R Us. If you thought you knew yourself, you were wrong. If you had a sense of what obstacles you could handle, you were wrong about that too. Becoming a mother translates to a Ph.D. in personal growth, stretching yourself to new abilities that you perhaps never thought yourself to be capable of.
As I think back, the reason my mom always referred to the years before having children as “BC” is due to the change you undergo through becoming a parent is practically impossible to explain, or even comprehend.
Life before becoming a mom is like living in black and white, life after kids is like living in color; or like living in the Matrix versus living free of it. There are so few situations in life where things can dramatically change in such a short amount of time. Becoming a parent irrevocably alters your outlook and the trajectory of your life.
Previous to having a baby to care for, you plan your time, your career, your social life, and possibly care for a husband, and maybe a clingy neighbor or elderly grandmother. Maybe you have a cat or dog or bird (like I did).
And then, you wake from the fog of giving birth and realize you’re not in Kansas anymore. This little being that was birthed from you transforms your role as a woman into something much more. You’re now entirely devoted to keeping this small being alive.
As I’ve grown over the last 16 years of motherhood, which includes four children, massive amounts of sleep deprivation, and immeasurable amounts of patience that can only come from God, I’ve learned a lot about myself, to say the least.
Here are 10 abilities you don’t know you have until you become a mother:
#1 – Your Ability to Survive Without Sleep
For the first two weeks after the birth of your child, you can survive completely on adrenaline and the awesome smell of your very own baby. Yes, it’s true. You feel elated, in love as though Cupid himself cast a spell upon you. Warning: this lasts exactly two weeks, then you crash. You’ll realize that the adrenaline is replaced somewhat by coffee, yet the baby scent still captivates you. Fast forward to baby number two, then three, and you can kiss a good night’s sleep goodbye for what seems like forever. There is hope, you just have to hang on for five or so years (unless you keep having kids). Be patient, you might sleep through the night again real soon, okay, in ten years. The great news is that you will make it through on short naps and falling asleep while reading stories at the bedside.
#2 – Your Ability to be Patient
Everything you did before becoming a mother now takes exactly 437% longer to do now that you have a newborn. Laundry for three people takes a week to accomplish, you can’t seem to unload the dishwasher, you have no idea when you cleaned the toilet the last time–strangely, none of this matters and you barely notice. You’re perfectly content watching HGTV from the glider for hours while you nurse and burp your baby. You learn patience in new ways as your child needs exactly 100% of you, and everything is completely new. Changing a diaper takes 15 minutes, then just as you settle into the chair, she poops again. You re-do, repeat, and rehash the same four activities (nurse, burp, diaper change, outfit change) about a hundred times a day. You had no idea you were capable of this. It is a miracle.
#3 – Your Ability to Handle Noise and Chaos
Noise becomes your norm, not the abnormality. Happy screams of glee along with major meltdowns seem banal after a while. As the kids grow and your family multiplies, so too does the noise. Remember, even moms can have timeouts — take yours when the kids have too much energy. Or, send them outside to the trampoline, or out front, or to their rooms for a rest time. Or put on another Baby Einstein video. Just enjoy the toddler meltdowns before the Xbox years are upon you. Noise will become your friend in strange ways as it means your family is growing and thriving.
#4 – Your Ability to Give up Your Body
Once you have a child, your body is no longer your own. Once you begin the doctor’s appointments while pregnant, it’s key to try and send your mind elsewhere while they poke, prod, draw blood, check your cervix. Your body is like a vehicle in the shop—get used to it. If you nurse, this amazing thing happens and you find your body is like a 24/7 convenience mart for your newborn—you are always open and available for feedings, and it is taxing but rewarding in ways you never imagined. As kids grow, they continue to hug, hold onto your leg for dear life, climb on you like a monkey, and need you physically. Your body is a tool to feed, comfort, guide, caress, bless, and nourish.
#5 – Your Ability to Experiencing Joy and Wonder
Before becoming parents, most of us have forgotten what it is like to see the world through the eyes of a child. Toddlers have the ability to see things for what they are—the awe of butterfly, the intrigue of a dog, the interest of a snail crossing the path. Seeing the world through your child has an infectious way of taking you back to the simple things of this world and helps you relish the small pleasures and beauty that God created. Savor the wonder that they inspire and try not to lose this as you grow older, it will serve you well.
#6 – Your Ability to Handle Stressful Situations
Embarrassment flies out the window when you recognize that your life will include stressful situations from here on out. From nursing in public when your blanket falls off your shoulder to potty training accidents, rest assured that there are understanding parents everywhere who have got your back. Parenting is full of stressful situations that you will one day laugh about. At the moment, the grocery store meltdown seems insurmountable. In hindsight, you realize that you did the best you could given the circumstances. Finding a mentor who has been there before you can help, along with deep breathing and calling a friend to commiserate. You will begin to handle these stressful situations with more grace than you ever knew you had.
#7 – Your Ability to Sacrifice So Much of Yourself
Sacrifice is a loaded word, one that you might not fully understand until you become a mom. Initially, you sacrifice your body for the creation of this new life, but this is just the beginning. You sacrifice your dreams and desires–often the child we bear has struggles we did not anticipate. Your time is no longer your own. Your career often takes a back seat to parenting demands. You might prioritize your home, your husband, and your family in ways you could not foresee when you were merely thinking about starting a family. Children often change everything and now, you’d gladly lay down on the train tracks for this little being.
#8 – Your Ability to Multitask
If you came from a large family or have a career that requires you to multitask, you might have some semblance of how you might be required to multitask like a mother. If you have a husband that travels or works long hours, or other small children to tend, juggling becomes the norm, not the exception. Waking up early to nurse the baby, wake the toddler, brush your teeth, make breakfast, sing a song to cheer the crying baby, get the toddler in the car for preschool…you get the idea. If you’re blessed with a colicky child, you might have to learn how to cook dinner while simultaneously jostling your baby in the front pack or backpack. You do what you have to do to survive and thrive. No, it’s not the Hunger Games, it’s parenting 101.
#9 – Your Ability to Give Up Personal Space and Privacy
While you have kids under the age of five or so, just hold loosely to your sense of personal space and privacy. Kids don’t understand that mommy likes to use the bathroom on her own. Just get used to it. After you’ve given up your body for pregnancy, it’s funny how having kids climb into bed with you or hang out in the bathroom while you shower ceases bothering you that much. Eventually, they will begin to honor your privacy requests as you teach them about their own privacy needs. It’s just slow going, so be patient.
#10 – Your Ability to Grow as a Leader
No one tells you in advance to think of how you’ll act as the leader of your little tribe. Your mothering leadership style will grow and evolve as your children get older. Will you be the fun mom? The all-business mom? Will you harness teachable moments as they ask questions and make mistakes? Will you teach them from the Bible on a daily basis? While it does help to think through some of these things while expecting your first child, often your leadership style develops gradually over time, and as you expand your family. When you look back, you’ll see how much you’ve grown as a person and how you’ve been able to match your kids in leadership as they grow with age.
Lauren Hunter is a writer who loves the big picture of God’s journey we are all on together. Married to her high school sweetheart, Lauren lives in Northern California with her husband and their four children. Her latest book is Leaving Christian Science: 10 Stories of New Faith in Jesus Christ.