As published in Romper.
Before having kids, I was kind of a badass. I wouldn’t say I had a black heart, but my heart might have been singed a little bit around the edges. I didn’t know that motherhood would change me, turning my singed heart soft and red, maybe even with cute little sequins. Motherhood has turned me into a big old softy.
My first career out of college was a court and public safety newspaper reporter. In that role, I reported on some gnarly incidents and trials, like murders, brutal assaults, and crimes against children, without so much as blinking. I quickly became emotionally “hard” because I had to be. I had to protect myself from becoming too involved in the stories I covered for my own well-being.
My emotional toughness extended well beyond the courtroom walls. I prided myself on not shedding a tear at weddings, and even funerals if the person who died wasn’t especially close to me. I just didn’t allow myself to experience the full emotional impact of situations that pull at the heartstrings. I thought of other things instead and gave permission to feel removed from the circumstances I encountered.
I didn’t understand that once I had children, separating myself emotionally from heart-wrenching and even heart-warming moments would no longer be an option. Motherhood has made me so much more sensitive.
From the minute we smell our newborns for the first time, or snuggle our adopted toddler, or watch them smile, or hear them laugh, or think of the miracle it was that they found life in this world with us, parents know a unique brand of love that we won’t ever forget.
As a parent, I empathize with every other parent out there. Although I’m not directly experiencing the panic of losing a child in the grocery store and the knee-weakening relief of finding the child again, or worse, I can’t help but put myself in that parent’s shoes. Every news story, each TV commercial with a slightly sappy premise, and every song on the radio speaks to me differently now. And they don’t even have to be about a child for me to dissolve into a pool of sniffly tears.
NOW THAT I’M A PARENT, I SEE THE CHILD IN EVERYONE.
Now that I’m a parent, I see the child in everyone. I realize that the lonely old man in the airline commercial waiting for his grown children to come visit him was once someone’s child. The fact that the man is old becomes secondary to him being lonely, and in him, I see my own 5-year-old son when his best friend at school won’t play with him. I see and feel the unifying emotions at the core of people, instead of just their superficial outer shells.
It’s clear that parenthood molded me into this mushy, sensitive person, but how? I believe that loving someone as vulnerable as a baby, who fully depends on you as their parent or caregiver to protect them from any and all harm, helps a person better appreciate the fragility of life.
From the minute we smell our newborn for the first time, or snuggle our adopted toddler, or watch them smile, or hear them laugh, or think of the miracle it was that they found life in this world with us, parents know a unique brand of love that we won’t ever forget. In turn, we know that the parent we are learning about in any given newspaper story, or the fictional parent we’re reading about in a novel, must experience that same unique brand of love we feel for our children.
IF WE’RE GOING TO RAISE CARING YOUNG PEOPLE, WE BETTER DAMN WELL BE CARING OURSELVES.
I believe parenthood does us a service by making us feel so deeply, and bringing children into this world and raising them is the act of uncovering our inner empathy and leaving it raw and exposed, again and again and again, every single day, for the rest of our lives.
There’s a reason why so many of us parents’ guilty pleasure is ugly crying while binge watching This Is Us. Feeling strong emotions not only is good, it literally feels good. Feeling is about living fully, experiencing every bump and curve in the road and sitting nothing out. Life is full of emotions, and nowhere is this so acutely demonstrated than in parenthood, through a baby’s adorable first laugh or the joy and heartache of your last child leaving the house for college. It’s a roller coaster ride of feels, and there’s no “chicken” exit once we have children. We’re stuck on the ride, like it or not. But I feel we are better because of the ups and downs of parenthood.
I thought I was strong before I had kids, because I didn’t cry and kept my emotions on the back burner. I now see that heightened emotions are an advantage of parenthood. Not only does being sensitive make us more alert to our children’s emotions and able to comfort them, it helps us be more aware of the emotions of everyone we encounter. This heightened sensitivity helps us be better people in general, even if that’s as simple as buying someone who seems to be having a bad day a cup of coffee.
If we’re going to raise caring young people, we better damn well be caring ourselves.