I thought I knew what I was doing when I became a parent. I’m the elder sibling and the oldest cousin in my family, so I changed many diapers when I was still a child myself. I volunteered in a daycare during college, I’ve conducted infant research in a psych lab, babysat often, and have done science outreach with age groups ranging from elementary school kids to teens in college. I wanted to have children for as long as I could remember, so I also spent many years before becoming a mother reading parenting advice from all corners of the internet, downloading parenting books, talking to friends who were parents…
And then, it finally happened. In spring of 2016, I became a mother. And I found out:
Yeah. I knew nothing.
There are SO many things that surprised me about becoming a parent, and a working mother in particular. I could easily write a novel (or another thesis) on that insane learning curve.
But one of the most pleasant surprises I got was discovering how much I would learn from my child.
My son is currently a toddler. He’s talking and starting to be more independent. He’s exploring the world fearlessly, and every so often he lets out a shout of “I DEEDET!” (translation = “I DID IT!”). He shouts this with a huge grin on, and sometimes even stops to applaud himself or give me a high-five. The funniest thing, to me, is that he’s getting excited over very small things, like getting a book off a shelf, or fitting a single piece into a puzzle. But his enthusiasm is contagious, and his instinct to celebrate himself is inspiring.
When he does this, I act like a ridiculously proud mother (forget Bringing up Bébé!), and I stop and laugh and cheer with him. These moments where he acknowledges and celebrates his little achievements light up our hours together.
He made me think—was there ever a time when I had that kind of confidence? When did it get lost?
Would it change my perspective if I celebrated all the little things I do? And can I even interrupt my own fairly constant narrative of self-criticism long enough to do so?
I’m trying it out. We all celebrate the big moments that happen really infrequently (like getting a paper into a great journal, or giving a dynamic talk. But these things are hardly daily events (I wish!!!). Inspired by my son, I’m trying to celebrate the small victories.
I had a stacked schedule and was on time for everything all day? “I DID IT!”
I served a healthy dinner on time that consisted of more than fruit, cheese, cereal, and yogurt? “I DID IT!”
I cleared my inbox? “I DID IT!”
I held my son and calmed him while he got his vaccinations, and I didn’t cry or scream myself? “I DID IT!”
Admittedly, I don’t yell “I DID IT!” out loud while clapping with an ear-to-ear grin like my son does when he manages to take his socks off or puts his arm the wrong way through his coat sleeve– because that would make me look crazy, right? I just kind of quietly say “I did it,” to myself, and see how that feels.
And it is surprisingly rewarding to acknowledge my victories in this way. It’s such a small thing to do, and takes so little time, but I think it’s starting to slowly change how I see myself and my efforts. Life as a working mother is incredibly demanding—there’s just sooo much to remember!— and it’s easy to berate myself for not doing enough either as a parent or a scientist. I don’t know if changing that narrative by acknowledging these small victories has made me more confident, but I think it’s making me a bit happier. Saying “I did it,’ also helps me see where I put my energy on a daily basis, and where the payoffs are.
I’m so grateful to my son—my youngest, most adorable, most loving, most runny-nosed, and most humbling mentor—for teaching me such a sweet lesson.