The other day I looked down at my phone and discovered bite marks in its case. Not from a dog – from my baby. Why, you ask? Because I have become a mother who lets her baby bite her phone if it makes him happy. This is just one example of something I’ve found myself doing that I swore I would never do when I became a parent. I also swore that I would never be the kind of person to gush, “You don’t know love until you have a baby” (gag). Yet, on the very night our son was born, I caught myself thinking the exact same thing. Ironically, these are things that used to annoy me about other parents, and I judged them for it. I had grand ideas about how I would be a “better” parent, and how I wouldn’t change who I was simply because I became a mother.
These experiences remind me of research on the ‘end of history illusion’ (by psychologist Daniel Gilbert and others) showing that, no matter what age, we think that we have finally become the person we “truly” are, and are no longer going to change. However, when we look back over the past ten years, we discover that we have in fact changed in ways big and small. Who we are may only seem stable because our circumstances usually remain stable. Yet, when those circumstances change – whether by baby, moving countries, changing jobs – so might we. We also find it easy to look back and see how we have changed, but difficult to imagine how we might change in the future.
I’ve also been humbled by these experiences. How can we know what someone is going through unless we experienced it firsthand? Reserve judgement. In the past months, I felt like bowing down to anyone who has a child – let alone two or three! I even wrote my parents a letter expressing how much respect I have for them, and how I understand some of the decisions they made raising my brother and me.
Last week I was on a plane to Canada with our baby. It was his first flight. He started crying and the teenager next to us made a show of covering his ears with his neck pillow. I, too, used to hate being on a plane with a crying baby. Now, I was on the other side. So, instead of getting annoyed, I took comfort in thinking: “Don’t worry, buddy, you might know what it’s like some day.”
Jessica Alleva, Assistant Professor at Psychology and Neuroscience