Unexpected self-actualization from parenting: How my baby forces me to do things that are good for me

Guest post by Kate
Em, Clover Wreath & a Dandelion

I’m new at this whole parent thing. Though I read about it and listened to other parents for years, I’ve been surprised by parenthood’s unusual joys. Your baby lighting up at the sight of your face is heart-expanding, but I expected it would be. What has surprised me is not the love that I feel, but the way such a tiny creature forces me to do the things that are good for me.

Babies, I’ve come to believe, are a distillation of humanness in its purest form. They are learning machines, and have not yet accepted the cognitive slop of modern existence in lieu of genuine experience.

My baby does not browse Facebook. He wants to go for a walk at dawn, while the birds are still singing and mist is rising off the lake by our house. I appease him. We get to the lake and sit in quiet observance of the turtles and the wind and the pink hue of the morning sky. A supreme satisfaction seeps in. I wonder, “why haven’t I done this for the past five years I lived here?” Answer: I was wasting time on the internet.

On another day, when the witching hour hits, and my son has tired of the toys and contours of the house, we head outside. I blow the seeds off dandelions, and his eyes light up. I do it again. I pick a flower and put it in his hand. He feels the texture. He’s learning, and he’s content. The sun is setting now, and the beauty strikes me. And, there again is that quiet joy. What would have been doing if my baby hadn’t been fussing? Maybe catching up on The Bachelor?

My son craves a balance of routine and newness. In the quest for newness, I am forced to be creative. To make up silly songs. Or sing songs I haven’t thought about in years. At a red light recently, I found myself belting out “Candle in the Wind” because he wanted to hear something. I’ve danced ridiculously almost every day. I make up stories of my son being an Old West sheriff while I bounce him on my knee because the motion reminds me of riding a horse. I am my son’s trained monkey perhaps, but he’s also a kindly drill sergeant – pushing me toward an ideal that I failed to meet in my pre-kid life.

Kurt Vonnegut reminded us that “Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.” In my pre-baby existence, I loved this quote, but struggled to practice its heeding. Because I was afraid of being lousy. Because passivity came more readily than creation. But, my baby doesn’t care that it’s lousy. He cares that he is learning. For him to learn, I must create.

And, when I create, I am more myself.

What are the ways your tiny drill sergeant forces you to self-actualize?

Comments on Unexpected self-actualization from parenting: How my baby forces me to do things that are good for me

  1. I love this so much. The pace of baby time really does force you to engage with the world in a new way. (Although I do also relish my baby-free internet time, maybe bc there’s so little of it?) I think having a kiddo also forces me to examine myself and who I’m being in the world. I’m finding thorny decisions much easier to navigate when I think about what I’d want the kid to do in that situation. She’s only 18 mos, so I’m not really modeling adult decisions for her per se, but basing choices now on what I want her to see as she gets older has kind of revolutionized my thinking on work, health, relationships, etc.

  2. This, this, all of this! I’m also noticing that my 10 month old has changed the way I take care of my body (for the better). We skipped baby food and are doing baby-led feeding (or weaning in the UK) which means she eats what we eat. So I’ve really started eating much better so that she can too. Same goes for moving our bodies and getting outside on a daily basis. Kids really can change everything! Some of my political views have even changed because of her!

  3. That life is an awesome thing! Little is 9 months and the way he experiences the world makes me look at it in a whole new way.
    He beams when we open the blinds together after his nap and it reminds me to slow down and enjoy the sunshine.
    How he closes his eyes to really savor a new taste makes me look at old flavors a new way.
    The look of pure joy on his face when we throw old bread to seagulls and they flock around his stroller. Never did I think those nasty birds would be good for anything, and now we look forward to them.

  4. I have a bad habit of not eating when I’m depressed. Well, in general, but it’s worse when I’m depressed. I’ve also never considered cooking for “just myself” to be worth the effort and so tend to live off snackable foods until my husband came home for dinner. But being light headed when the only head I might hit against a wall is my own is a completely different risk than knowing I will be holding or wearing my child. I found myself making myself breakfast while he sat in the high chair, or was strapped to my chest – real complete breakfasts like omelettes and oatmeal.

    Also, when feeling depressed or overwhelmed the instinctive desire is to retreat into a dark bedroom and hide. But you can’t hide from a newborn whose cries fill the house, or a crawler who will find you (or needs to be watched). What you can do is strap them into a stroller and just start walking. Funny thing about sunshine and exercise – they actually fight depression rather than indulging it. Depression is a disease that makes you want to avoid it’s treatment options the way rabies makes you want to avoid water. But babies fight that.

    Note, true post-partum depression may work differently. I have cyclic depression that happened to coincide with pregnancy and infancy.

  5. My bigger tiny drill sergeant is now 4 and is forcing me to distill my beliefs about religion and racism and healthy eating and respecting personal autonomy into their most basic elements, and then unerringly demands explanation for anything remotely illogical. I expect by the time she’s an adult I will have been forced into 100% self-actualization in pure self-defense.

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