My parents sometimes tell me that I changed their lives more than any other single person, including each other. I am their firstborn child, and it was only after I became a mother myself three years ago that I finally understood what they meant. My own two children have completely rewired my priorities, routines, and emotions. Becoming a parent myself has also added depth and texture to the gratitude I have always felt towards my own parents. Here are 17 things I would like to tell my own parents now that I have become a parent myself.
1. I am truly, truly sorry for what I did to your sleep.
I expected some midnight wakefulness on the front end of this parenting gig, but I had no earthly idea what we were really in for. And now I realize that you didn’t warn me how bad it could really get because the chronic sleep deprivation that you were enduring during the early years of my life, have made it almost impossible for you to recall those years in any detail. So, thank you for enduring years of irrational and determined resistance to sleeping, 2am screaming marathons, and demands in the wee dark hours for company, drinks, dry sheets, the vanquishing of monsters, etc.
2. Thank you for saying no to me.
Until I became the mother of a toddler and a three year old, I never realized how much energy it takes to keep saying no over and over again—even to things like touching power-points and playing with scissors. Thank you for setting some limits and sticking to them in the face of repeated and vociferous (and did I mention repeated?) demands. Those no’s helped teach me to be more patient, appreciate my possessions, and cope more effectively with frustration.
3. Thank you for reading me so many stories.
Until you have to read Fox In Socks every single night for three weeks, you don’t truly appreciate the degree of sacrificial patience it can take to read to toddlers. Thank you for reading to me at all times of the day and night when I was little. I know there were probably times you would rather have been at the dentist than reading me Are You My Mother for the 452nd time, but all of those stories ignited my imagination and established reading as a lifelong passion.
4. Thank you for teaching me that poo does, indeed, belong in the toilet.
Thank you for changing approximately 5500 of my diapers. Thank you, also, for spending many hours convincing me that using the toilet properly really is an essential life skill, for wiping my bottom countless time, and for repeatedly wrestling me out of wet clothes and into dry ones. Also, if I was anywhere near as difficult to toilet train as my own kids are proving to be, then I apologize for the couch, carpet, and mattress I undoubtedly ruined all those years ago.
5. Thank you for answering approximately one million questions that started with the word “why”?
Listening to little person chatter gets tiring (and, let’s face it, sometimes boring, too). Thank you for all the times you stopped what you were doing and paid attention to me when I wanted to talk to you. Thank you for taking my childish contributions seriously and for asking me questions. Thank you, in particular, for answering innumerable “why?” questions (and particular kudos for doing that in the pre-Google era).
6. Thank you for loving each other.
Parenting can feel a lot like being the logistics manager of a small business—a 24-hour on-call business with customers who are impossible to satisfy completely. Thank you for making each other a priority despite the continuous barrage of demands from your knee-high charges. Thank you for hugging and kissing each other, for sharing, for speaking nicely, and for using please and thank you. In other words, thank you for treating each other lovingly and respectfully, the way you were always telling me that I should treat people. I was watching.
7. Thank you for trying so hard to figure out what was best for me.
Parenting is 1001 daily decisions and not all of them have easy answers. I rarely feel completely sure that I’ve made the right call when I’m deciding how and when to discipline, when to hold a line or to compromise, and where to draw that line in the first place. Thank you for all the time, energy, and emotion you spent on trying to figure out what was best for me.
8. Thank you for not telling me that I could do anything I set my mind to.
You didn’t raise me to believe I could do anything (because, let’s be honest, it was apparent from quite early on that astrophysics lay outside my field of strengths). However, you raised me to believe that doing what I was interested in would lead me to figure out what I was good at. And that doing what I was good at would help make me happier and the world a better place.
9. Thank you for feeding me.
Until I gave birth to a child who apparently never feels hungry, I had absolutely no idea how much creativity, effort, and anguish can go into getting a child to do something as necessary as eat. Thank you for feeding me. Thanks for making sure that I actually ate. And special thanks for never telling me, “Oh, he’ll eat if he gets hungry enough,” in the last two years.
10. I’m sorry for all the worries I’ve caused.
Until I had a baby of my own, I didn’t really understand that having children means watching a big piece of your heart walking around this big scary world—climbing trees, traveling in cars, and sometimes getting their bodies and feelings hurt. I didn’t really understand that my own birth granted you fear right alongside love. Thank you for embracing that burden of vulnerability, and for loving me enough to worry about me.
11. Thank you for showing me the world.
When you are little, your family is your whole world. So thank you for taking our little family out into the big wide world. Thank you for showing me so many different people and places, for embracing adventure, and for teaching me to do the same.
12. Thank you for saying “I love you.”
I was lucky – I never doubted that you loved me. But I was extra-lucky that you also said it out loud. Words matter, especially when they are “I love you,” “thank you,” and “I’m sorry.”
13. Thank you for loving my children.
Now that I have babies of my own, I realize how precious and awe-inspiring they are. Sure, I have hours when I’m just done chasing a toddler around, and if you leave me alone with my kids for too long I am likely to end up bored, stir-crazy, and craving a glass of wine. But even when parenting is high on hard work and low on happy feeling, I know my children are miracles. Thank you for loving them with the same whole-hearted, focused, and transparent love you lavished on me.
14. Thank you for teaching me your beliefs.
Thank you for taking me to church while we were growing up, and for telling me what you believed about God, the universe, and the meaning of life. This gave me a starting point. It gave me an enduring belief that all this matters, somehow, and a solid framework of meaning that I could test, question, and adapt as I grew and changed.
15. Thank you for always letting me come home
Thank you for letting me move back in with you at 26, when I wanted to quit being a psychologist and write a novel instead. That worked out better than any of us expected. Thank you for keeping an open door throughout years of globe-trotting. You have provided a safety net that helped enable me turn my face to the wind and embrace adventure.
16. I forgive you.
Last week I heard my three year old cry out from the next bedroom. I was hurrying to get to him and he was hurrying to get to me. When I opened his bedroom door he was trying to come out, and the corner of the door hit him in the face and split his lip wide open. I felt terrible. Mum and Dad, I want you to know that I forgive you for those times when you accidentally hurt me, or you lost your temper and said things in ways you wish you could take back.
17. I love you.
Thank you for parenting me then, and being friends with me now. Thank you for all that you did then, and all that you still do now to support and encourage me. Thank you for, so much of the time, looking like love to me.
Featured photo credit: parents via i.huffpost.com