I’ve pretty much always been close with my mom and my dad. I never really went through a notable rebellious phase in my teen years, and my mom has always described my personality as a kid as “xi nai,” or “adorably affectionate” in Taiwanese (I may be adding the “adorably” part). So, of course, I’ve always known that they love my sister and me. But, since having Emmy and experiencing how my heart comes close to exploding on a daily basis, I suddenly realized THIS is how my parents feel about US. Whoa, mind blown.
As I’ve been grappling to understand my identity in relation to new motherhood, I’ve found myself seeing my parents through a new lens and thinking a bit more about what it must have been like for them to become parents and watch us grow from babies to women, to having kids of our own. Here are five things I’ve realized about my parents since becoming a mother myself.
1. They used to be young.
My husband Alex and I were talking about how Emmy will always see us as “old,” but damn it, we’re still young(ish)! It lead me to think about my parents when my sister and I were babies, or kids even. My mom and dad had us young, in their early and mid-twenties, so it was startling for me to realize that in my earliest memories, my mother wasn’t even my age yet (32). They were really just kids having kids.
2. They had no idea what they were doing.
In my mind, my parents have always been all knowing and, prior to Google, my go to resource for random questions. How long should I boil this corn on the cob? Is there something wrong with my car? What is this rash on my arm? Honestly, I still call them with questions like these. But, let’s be real guys, when my parents became parents they were even younger than I am now AND they didn’t have Google, WebMD, Baby Center, iPhones, or lactation consultants to tell them what they were doing wrong. They were improvising and making up a lot of stuff along the way – and they did it free of the crippling fear we new mothers face today with the overabundance of information we have at our fingertips.
3. It hurts when they see us cry.
As I learned in the the first moments of Emmy’s life, as parents we are hardwired to respond when our babies cry and will go to great lengths to make sure they are happy and thriving. I am pretty certain that instinct doesn’t go away just because our babies grow into adults (or dramatic teenagers). I think back now to all those times my mom comforted me post-heartbreak, or how my parents must have felt when I absolutely fell apart when I didn’t make it into my top college choices. They assured me over and over again that everything would be fine, that I would survive this. But, when I didn’t come out of my deep blue funk, they pulled their ultimate trump card: since they had anticipated a private school tuition and I would be headed to a school with significantly lower cost, what if we used that extra tuition money for a new car? My parents are clever people.
4. It may be a little awful to be the firstborn child.
Since Emmy entered our lives, I’ve realized that the firstborn comes out of the womb carrying a world of expectations, unknowns, and all the new parent naivety, hope, and sheer wonder that subsequent children are maybe not expected to shoulder as much of. After all, your first child is the one that forged your new identity as a parent; prior to her, you were just some schmuck eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (or at least I was). I’m the youngest of two in my family and definitely noticed when we were younger that my parents could be a lot harder on my older sister than they were on me. As a kid, I figured it was because my sister was clearly the achiever and the brains between us two – there wasn’t a thing she wasn’t good at: she brought home top grades in super hard classes, she played piano, she could draw, write, dance, was popular in high school AND universally loved by every and any educator that met her. But, her achievements were always a given rather than recognized as something specific and special to her. It makes me wonder if your firstborn child, no matter what age they are, will always carry the weight of your expectations and wide-eyed hope from when you were a newly minted parent.
5. They have regrets.
My mom confided in me the other day that she regrets how much they worked when my sister and I were kids. My parents were immigrants in a new country, chasing the American Dream, so of course at the time it seemed like the right thing to do. At the heart of my mother’s regret is a simple thing though: if she could do it over, she would have made the time to be with us, ask more questions, and show more curiosity about our lives when we were younger. She didn’t realize how quickly those days would be gone. I’ve been struggling lately, wondering if I’m doing the right thing by putting my career on hold to take care of Emmy. While maybe I could take my mom’s regret as validation for the choice I’m making, I think what it actually means is that no matter what choice I make, there is no right answer. I will always have regrets, something will always have to give – but I’ll have amazing memories and experiences, no matter what road I pick.