To say motherhood changes you is a huge cliché, but it’s also true. I think of my life before Baby B as “B.C.—Before Children.” It’s a whole different world now. B.C., I promised myself I would never tell boring stories about my daughter. And yet the other day, I was telling my BFF that I was glad it was getting chilly outside because Baby B got to wear her new beret. I can’t help it; everything about my baby is interesting to me (and she looked smashing in her beret, by the way). Clearly, there are major physical changes in motherhood as well (my kingdom to fit back into pre-preggers jeans!). But there is another change that I didn't really anticipate, and that is my mindset about parenting.
To be honest, B.C., I always felt a little like a fraud dolling out parenting advice as a school psychologist, without being a parent myself. I was a fairly knowledgeable “fraud,” to be fair. I held parent nights where I’d give sound tips for parenting. I’d freely advise parents in meetings what to do. I even did an interview for Parents Magazine. I reasoned that my advice was actually superior to advice of a school psychologist with a child, because mine was completely objective. I never made my advice for kids about what worked for me or for my own child. I gave just the facts and research. So in this way, maybe not having kids was an asset in my job (not to mention the fact that B.C., I had waaaaay more energy and time to give to my job).*
Now that I’m a parent, I am very aware that there is a danger that I will project my personal parenting experience onto other parents. At one of my schools, there was a support staff member who had a child with ADHD and eeeeeeevery child she saw she thought had ADHD. She saw ADHD lurking under every rock, so to speak. She always recommended the same things that she did for her child to every family. I could have predicted what was coming out of her mouth before she said it at every meeting, because it was always really about her child. Worse yet, she was always recommending unproven, unresearched treatments. She meant well, but she didn’t understand the importance of keeping the focus on the child we were all talking about. Sure, you might have some personal experience in parenting that could be useful, but you gotta keep it in check.
Even in my pregnancy, I knew that being a mother would change my outlook on my job. When I was taking developmental histories, I had a renewed excitement for learning about the pregnancy and early years of the children I was working with. I found myself wanting to know more and more (“Um, tell me again about how you got your child to be a good sleeper?”). I was filing away experiences parents had with possible future scenarios I might encounter. And I thought I could detect that parents were a bit more open about sharing. Maybe my giant belly gave me some street cred?
Now that I have Baby B, I definitely see the world differently, as a psychologist. When I see a child with autism wring his hands, they become my daughter’s hands, and I wonder what its like for the parent to see their child this way. When a parent tells me their child is being teased, I flash to what it would be like to have Baby B to come home and cry because she was teased. Every child is now my baby, on some level. And I know I have more empathy and understanding with parents because we have shared the experience of looking down at a little darling all your own and wanting the absolute best for him or her.
I realize this may come off as me saying that psychologists without kids can’t fully understand the business of parenting. If someone had said that to me before I had kids, I would have been annoyed at him or her. It’s like someone smirking and patting you on the head and saying, “you’ll understand when you’re older.” That’s not what I’m saying; I think I was a fab psychologist before I had kids, I just think I may become a better psychologist now that I’m a mother.**
And since I am loving my new role as a mom and psychologist with parenting street cred, I am on a kick to get all my 30-something educator friends to have babies too. A few weeks ago, I brought Baby B to my Elementary School and told a teacher colleague she should get a baby because they’re so awesome (showing Exhibit B, wearing baby leg warmers and beret). My colleague mused that she was worried she wouldn’t have enough love and energy for both her students and children. Au contraire!*** Having a kid makes your love for students deeper. In my mind, every child is now someone’s baby. Sure, that “baby” may be getting in trouble or making bad decisions, but it makes you more empathetic toward the parents, who are often doing their best with the tools they have.
As a psychologist, I always intellectually understood a parent’s love for a child, but now I can feel it too. It’s an amazing, indescribable feeling. And I truly believe that the experience of motherhood will continue to make me a better psychologist. Now if we can just do something about fitting back into those pre-pregnancy jeans...
*Why do people say, “not to mention…” and then go ahead and mention it? Discuss amongst yourselves. **Toot! Toot! What’s that? My own horn. ***That is what Baby B said in her head, while wearing beret.