Children, for many, are delightful—provided they aren’t yours. “I have nephews,” chuckled an acquaintance at happy hour the other week, “so I don’t need kids myself.” I tried not to let the comment bite as I sipped my Beck's Non-alcoholic, juggled my floppy one-month-old, and lobbied corn dog bites to my two-year-old. The sentiment lingers in the air: Kids mess with one’s mojo, freedom, lifestyle. What self-possessed woman would want that?
Certainly having kids brings with it many sacrifices. But in these early days of taking care of two of them, I can’t help but be surprised with the many ways in which these little people teach me about—of all things—myself! It’s not that I entered parenthood looking for that, but they’re delightful surprises nonetheless. In the spirit of our generation’s love of self-discovery, let’s count the ways having kids doesn’t hurt your path of personal discovery but actually improves it.
01. You learn where you came from.
We can look at scrapbooks, childhood diaries, and photo albums, but the fact remains: We cannot remember what it was like in our earliest years of life. Ages one through five are pretty much a blur. In a funny twist of fate, our most impressionable years on earth are the ones we can’t remember.
That’s where having kids can give us some insight. Watching your kids grow up in these early months and years provides a remarkably vivid picture of what we were like before we could remember. So small, helpless, vulnerable, messy—and curious! The list could go on. For me, it’s been truly eye-opening and humbling to see my little daughter, completely dependent on me for everything, encountering the world firsthand. In an unexpected way, it gives me insight into what my life was like before I had long-term memory. And it really hits home in the most palpable way because as much I’d like to embrace the feeling of being an independent person in adulthood, I wasn't always like that.
02. You unlock a part of your heart (and brain!) you never used before.
Tolstoy famously wrote, “There are as many loves as there are hearts.” That line best explains how I felt when a baby first entered my life—a new heart entered the world and, with it, a new love for mine. With each child, it’s as if my heart expands.
In a parallel way, as we grow relationships with children, we use our brains in ways we’ve never used them before. In fact, research shows that parenthood actually activates and rewires pathways of our brains. Talk about tapping into a part of yourself you hadn’t yet discovered!
03. You push your mind and bodily strength to the max.
Yes, the more difficult aspects of parenthood have their benefits as well. No pain, no gain, right? Whether getting through labor or just getting through a long day, moms experience many long-term benefits from the many challenges they encounter. According to Katherine Ellison’s 2005 book The Mommy Brain, women’s brains grow in numerous ways as they juggle the tasks of parenthood—from efficiency and resilience to creative and emotional intelligence.
04. You're motivated to snap out of bad habits that were holding you back.
For some people, having kids is an impetus for change in an area we previously lacked discipline to tackle. My father, for instance, stopped smoking before I was born. For me, parenthood has helped me treasure my sleep and therefore tackle the problem of staying up late and sleeping in past my alarm. I’ve also been forced to manage my time better, which has reduced my worst tendency: running late.
05. You have an unpredictable diversity of experiences.
And lastly, parenthood fills each day with innumerable delightful experiences, laughs, and endless possibilities. When sharing your world with a new little autonomous being, you never know what’s up next. As Jennifer Senior describes in her 2014 book All Joy and No Fun, the rewards can be hilarious and lasting.
Despite all these benefits parenting brings to parents, we ultimately know it’s not about ourselves. Best of all, parenting, like nothing else, has the potential to pop our personal bubble, draw our focus to others, and increase our gratitude toward those who raised us.