When you are going to have a baby, people are quick to tell you about how much your life is going to change. That is, if they’re not busy trying to touch your belly or asking you awkwardly personal questions. And after my son arrived, when strangers aren’t coming up to us in the grocery store and trying to touch him, they’re asking me how much things have changed.
Of course, having a baby did change everything, but not in the ways I expected. Yes, there’s less sleep, but it’s not like I was sleeping much the last two months before my little guy’s arrival. And there’s the laundry. So much laundry.
I talk about poop more. I sleep less. I’ve learned to eat meals with one hand, and found out floorboards squeak the least in my son’s room.
But, for me, the biggest changes have not been the ones I was warned about. The biggest changes were the ones I didn’t necessarily see coming.
How does motherhood change us? Here’s what the data (and our own experiences) show:
- Politics. With the birth of my son came more passionate political opinions. It wasn’t that my opinions themselves changed but how I understood the issues. Violence, vaccinations, child care, maternity leave, racial inequality, education – issues I’d worked on over the years suddenly became more real and more pressing.
Although a 2008 study found that having daughters makes parents, especially dads, more likely to be liberal, Jill Greenlee, an associate professor at Brandeis University and author of The Political Consequences of Motherhood, said in a 2014 interview, “The act of carrying and caring for a child allows women [to] think about issues in a different, more personal, more powerful way. While their stance on an issue may not have changed, the knowledge and emotion underlying their position does.”
- Career. Before my little guy was born, my plan was to return to a full-time job. It’s what my mom had done and what my mother-in-law did. Only it’s not what I did. Instead, I work from home, for myself, part time. I’ve realized that what’s best for my family – and for me – right now is a flexible work arrangement that allows me to work from home.
The research is a little murky when it comes to moms who opt to work from home as surveys still draw a thick line between working moms and stay-at-home moms. But, many moms – especially Millennials – want to be at home early in their children’s lives. With 21 percent of employed adults doing at least some of their job at home, 10.1 million women-owned business and employment sites geared towards moms who want to work from home, signs point to more women finding new and creative ways to balance a career and family.
- Faith. I was raised in the church and there are Bible stories I’ve heard thousands of times. Yet, with my son’s birth only a month before Christmas, I found myself wondering more about Mary, Jesus’ mother. On another Sunday, my heart stopped as the story of Baby Moses in Exodus was read: “The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw that he was a fine baby, she hid him three months. When she could hide him no longer she got a papyrus basket for him, and plastered it with bitumen and pitch; she put the child in it and placed it among the reeds on the bank of the river.” Moses was three months old when his mom put him into the basket. Three months old – the same age as my son at the time.
While half of parents report having kids had little or no influence on their connection to church, according to the Barna Group, many experience a change of relationship with religion after becoming parents. For example,17 percent of parents said they reconnected with a church after a long period of not attending once they had kids, and one-in-five parents say they become more active. One-in-10 even said that for them, parenthood spurred them to go to church for the first time.
- My Mom. On one of the days my usually happy little guy was not so happy and I was feeling particularly bad about the state of the house – baby toys strewn across the floor and dirty dishes taking over my counter – I found a new sense of awe for my own mother. I’m pretty sure I picked up the phone and called her to apologize for every time I was a brat and gave her a hard time. I’m pretty sure she laughed.
While there is also some strain on mother-daughter relationships for many new moms, I don’t think I’m alone in feeling more in awe of my own mother. Even Drew Barrymore, who has a rather complicated relationship with her own mom, recently noted that while having a kid didn’t fix their relationship, it did cause her to be more empathetic toward her mom.
Those supermarket strangers were right, everything has changed in the past six months since my son was born. But the biggest changes weren’t the ones in the books or the ones they asked me about. Rather, they’re in the ways that my little guy is helping to grow my heart. He’s helping to make me a better person, too.