I turned 40 earlier this month. That same week, NPR ran a story saying studies have shown people don’t anticipate how much they will change in the decade ahead – their opinions, beliefs, personality traits – even when they acknowledge how much they’ve changed in the past. We can’t imagine our future selves as being much different from our present selves. I immediately thought, “Well, it depends on the decade, doesn’t it? I changed much more in the decade from 20-30 than I did from 30-40.”
During the decade of my 20s, I lived in 8 different homes and worked at 9 different jobs. I also:
Dropped out of college and went back again.
Walked away from the religion of my upbringing.
Moved 900 miles away from where I had grown up.
Began my career in Human Resources.
Explored new spiritual paths.
Went back to school (for HR).
Suffered a pregnancy loss.
Bought my first house.
That decade was a whirlwind of change. In comparison, in my boring-and-stable 30s, I remained married, changed jobs once, moved once (28 miles away), and suffered another pregnancy loss . . . which reminds me . . . I also had three kids.
BOOM. Parenthood is the nuclear bomb of personal change. How have I not seen that?
I’m so used to thinking of a few years in my 20s as “when I changed” that I haven’t thought much about how I’ve changed since that time. Oh, I’m the first to tell an expectant mom how hard it is to have a newborn, or what that postpartum time is really like — yes, I’m that woman — and I think those sentimental Johnson & Johnson commercials are spot-on. I’ll tell anyone who might listen that having kids changes your life, but somehow I thought I was still basically the same person.
How I spend my time and money? Completely changed. Priorities? Completely changed. The ability to have any time to myself? Nearly annihilated. And I think I haven’t changed much?
There was a moment in 2003 that I will never forget, even as other significant memories from that year fade. We’d been home from the hospital with our oldest child for about two days. Our newborn didn’t eat well, breastfeeding was extremely challenging, and it felt like he rarely slept more than 20 minutes at a time. I had finally gotten him to sleep in his bassinette and stumbled out into the living room, where my husband was folding a mountain of miniature laundry. I sank into the chair, stared at him and said, “What the hell did we do? We’re completely responsible for another human being. Us.”
My husband had been ahead of me on this realization curve. He said, “I know! That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you!”
You don’t ease into parenting, no matter how prepared you think you are. The only way is headfirst into the deep end of the pool. Trying not to drown for ten years changes a person fundamentally. My present self and my 30-year-old self would likely have as unsettling and disconnected a conversation as my 30-year-old self would have had with my 20-year-old self.
I can only imagine (and studies say not very well) what changes the next ten years will bring.