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6 Things I Understand About Being a Parent Now That I Am One

There are many aspects of parenthood I don't think I ever could have understood fully until I became a parent. In the last nine months, I've learned about empathy, patience, and sacrifice. I've tapped into feelings I never knew existed. I've begun to see the other side of important societal topics. I am grappling with learning how to let go of my incessant need for control. I've become "that mom" I always joked about pre-baby.
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USA, New Jersey, Jersey City, Mother kissing baby boy (2-5 months ) in bed
USA, New Jersey, Jersey City, Mother kissing baby boy (2-5 months ) in bed

There are many aspects of parenthood I don't think I ever could have understood fully until I became a parent. In the last nine months, I've learned about empathy, patience, and sacrifice. I've tapped into feelings I never knew existed. I've begun to see the other side of important societal topics. I am grappling with learning how to let go of my incessant need for control. I've become "that mom" I always joked about pre-baby.

Below are just a few of the things I am now beginning to understand about parenthood.

1. An indescribable feeling of love for your child

For years, I kept hearing and reading about the sheer love one feels for their child. It's hard to imagine how that kind of love feels; the only way you can truly understand it is to experience it. I'm not sure I felt this emotion at the very beginning, but it began to wash over me gradually as the weeks turned into months. And then, suddenly it seemed, the feeling hit me, like an all-consuming, thunderous wave crashing against a shoreline. Boom!

I was very anxious before our daughter arrived. My life is over. What if I stink at this being a mom thing? Am I going to have any time for my dating coaching business, which I've spent the last 3 years building? What if I don't feel a connection with her? What if I resent motherhood? And that's just a sampling of the worries that filled my mind pre-baby.

There are days when I feel exhausted and like I'm the main character in my own personal version of Groundhog's Day. I look out before me at the stretch of the next 18 years and think to myself, Oh my God, how am I going to do this day in, day out? But then I am pulled back into the moment by a coo or a squeal or a laugh (or a poop) and back into my child's eyes, her gummy smile piercing my heart. And I am suddenly reminded of how blessed I am to have this tiny human being in my life.

2. Mom guilt

Ah, mom guilt -- always heard about it, never quite understood it. Until, that is, the second my child left my womb. And so began what feels like a persistent merry-go-round of guilt. Am I doing it right? Am I making the right choices? Am I screwing her up for life if I do or don't do x, y, and z? The countless baby and mom blogs and endless media articles on parenting don't exactly help assuage mom guilt; in fact, they often feed it. Unfortunately, mom guilt doesn't appear to be a passing stage of motherhood. I've polled several of my mom friends with older children and all of them have said, "No, Neely, mom guilt never ends."

3. Breastfeeding in public

I can now fully appreciate this contentious debate. Before I became a mom, I thought it a bit weird to be whipping out your boobs in public or even in front of friends and family. When I had our daughter, I decided I wanted to give breastfeeding a shot. Consequently, all modesty went out the window (I hated those dang nursing covers). I began to see breastfeeding as a natural, beautiful way of nourishing my child. Frankly, I didn't have the energy to care about who was looking and what they were thinking.

4. Hey, want to hear all about my kid?

Several years ago, when I was single, I met a few friends who I hadn't seen in a while, for lunch. All of them had kids. If I were to tell you that nails on a chalkboard would have been a more pleasant experience, I would not be exaggerating. That lunch was two hours of talking about other people's kids and the minutiae of parenthood: the latest baby devices; the sworn-by techniques to soothe an upset baby; the bowel habits of little ones; the "kids say the darndest things" stories. Of course, I couldn't relate to any of the conversation, leaving me to grin and bear it for what seemed like eternity. The experience was one big, gigantic reminder of my single status and my aging ovaries.

I never used to understand how people could talk about their kids incessantly. Yes, we get it: Your kid is hilarious; your baby is the cutest baby in the world. I used to tell myself I'd never be that person. But now that I'm a mom, I can see how one becomes totally consumed by their child or children, and how the conversation between a bunch of fairly new moms can become singularly focused on kid stuff.

I do find myself veering into this territory. It's not that I don't have anything else going on in my life (I run a dating coaching business, after all!), but I find myself yearning to share stories of my daughter (her birth, the milestones, the doctor's visits, her eating habits; you name it!). It's also nice to be able to chat with and relate to other moms, because, you know, that whole "am-I-doing-it-right-mom-guilt" thing. See #2.

5. The movie Parenthood

Parenthood has been one of my favorite movies since it came out in 1989. But what does a person without kids (or a person who has not assumed a primary caregiver role) really know about parenthood? I'm not sure one can fully appreciate the film and it's many plot lines until he or she becomes a parent.

When our daughter was born, somehow her arm was broken during delivery. It was terrifying. From the very first moments of knowing her, I felt fear and worry. As I was lying in the hospital bed recuperating from my c-section, my mind wandered to Parenthood. There's a poignant scene near the end of the film when Frank (Jason Robards' character) is talking about his youngest son Larry, the black sheep of the family, to his oldest son Gil (played by Steve Martin).

When speaking of the worry a parent feels for his or her kid, no matter the age of that kid, he remarks: "You know, it's not like that all ends when you're eighteen, or twenty-one, or forty-one, or sixty-one. It never ends. There is no 'end zone.' You never cross the goal lines, spike the ball, and do your touchdown dance. Never."

Here was this beautiful being who I'd now be worrying about for the rest of my life. I don't think I ever fully understood what Frank was talking about until I became a parent.

6. How much you can finally appreciate your own mom (and/or dad)

Like many mother-daughter relationships, my mom and I have had our ups and downs. Now that I've become a mom, I'm starting to develop more of an appreciation for and acknowledgement of her struggles and sacrifices. Perhaps that's one of life's cruel ironies; you finally begin to understand and relate to your parents when they're in the last chapter of their lives and you're knee-deep in helping this tiny creature begin her first. Parenthood is an unrelenting, isolating, and often thankless job (I see that now). Moms (and dads!) are doing the best they can. They don't always get it right. They let their children down. They make things up as they go along. It can take becoming a parent to gain this wisdom, to begin to let go of the anger and disappointment from our youth.

How about you? Do you have anything to add to this list now that you've become a mom or dad? Leave your comments below.

Follow Neely Steinberg on Twitter: www.twitter.com/TheLoveTREP