I remember scrolling through social media before becoming a mom and complimenting my friends’ kids on their cute facial expressions and outfits. And it was in one of those instances that I first heard the expression in English “living vicariously through your kids.” But of course, it wasn’t until I had babies of my own that I understood how rewarding it is to get to show them the world — and dress them like my little dolls!
What I believe that expression doesn’t account for, however, is that while as parents we are able to offer our children the experiences we both had or wish we could have had, we also get a do-over for ourselves. Yes, seeing life through your kids’ eyes is incredible, but what’s even more invaluable is having the opportunity to revisit your own childhood memories as an adult and create a new reality for yourself, full of hope, purpose, adventure — or whatever it is you’d wanted and never had.
Obviously, you can go back to your past at any time, but having kids makes this process extremely more special. Being a parent prompts you to put yourself in your child’s shoes at the same time that you put yourself in your own young self’s shoes. You try to understand, for example, why your little angel drives you crazy and think back to when you did the same to your mom and how she reacted. Suddenly, it’s not just a matter of handling a situation differently but having the opportunity to look back with forgiveness and gratitude.
Usually, when you think about what parenthood teaches you, we automatically revert to patience — and boy, is that true! But there’s such a larger opportunity for personal growth if we take the time to reflect on and recognize it. I’ve been amazed at how much I’ve been able to learn about myself and my potential after having kids — the intensity of my triplet reality definitely contributes to it — and it’s become my mission to invite other parents to pay attention to how their kids not only make them better but more importantly, how they can magnify the qualities we already have.
To sum it up, here are the three ways I believe being a parent can promote self-development (if we allow ourselves to become as simple as we once were in our childhood):
- Forgiveness: our kids, especially toddlers, witness our frustrations first-hand all the time. Still, at the end of the day, we’re their favorite humans in the whole world. And while we may notice their quickness to forgive and usually do the same — because, let’s face it, being mad at little cuties is just so hard! That’s not what happens when dealing with other adults or even with ourselves. How about we take a hint from our littles and not only look back at our painful memories but also at our current grudges with different eyes? How can you choose forgiveness today?
2. Gratitude: whenever a term becomes a buzzword, we start taking it for granted. But the more I take time to be grateful, the more I understand what gratitude really means — intentionally choosing not to take anything for granted. And there’s one thing in particular that my kids do that instantly reminds me of that: since they don’t yet grasp the concept of money or cost, whenever they receive anything new (even if it’s been in the house for a while), they get wide-eyed and say “You bought it at the store FOR ME?” While I can’t say for sure what they’re feeling, my interpretation is that they feel flattered, blessed and grateful. As if to say “wow, mom, you went all the way to the store, thought of me and got this?” It doesn’t matter to them if it was someone else that got it or if I didn’t really have them in mind. They just take it and run with it with such gratitude; it just warms my heart. Why can’t we continue to do the same after those magical young years? Yes, we’re more aware of the hardships of the world, but we can still choose to appreciate the little things just because it only does well to everyone involved.
3. Hope: little kids have a limited understanding of time. I’ve learned two days or two weeks means absolutely nothing to them, yet they still remember any promise you make and bring it up almost daily — depending on how interesting the topic is. Their excitement and anticipation have shown me how being hopeful doesn’t have to be so hard. Again, just like gratitude and forgiveness, it’s a simple choice. You wake up; you’re ready to live another day full of new adventures. Yes, our adventures don’t involve toys, but rather work, bills, headaches, but aren’t there fun parts to it as well? Choosing gratitude will show you exactly what those parts are.
Next time you take pride or joy in living vicariously through your kids, I hope you remember your kids also give you the daily opportunity to see the world through the eyes of the child you once were. How amazing is it to understand the complicated and still choose the simple? For me, this is one of the biggest gifts that parenthood brings.