Children are a big part of life. We were all children once, and whether you decide to have some of your own or not, you will probably be around children many times as an adult. Your best friend might have some kids and will probably crowd your social media feed with pictures of precious cheeks and chubby baby legs. Eventually, your family gatherings will be populated by little humans. They will be at your morning coffee place, your farmer’s market, and your favorite movie theater. They will infect your life and your heart because getting close to a child is one of the most incredibly rewarding experiences. I have learned so much from the children in my life. Said children are not my own—I have never had kids, and I’m not sure that I ever will, but I have held many jobs that require me to work with kids. I have been a camp counselor, nanny, and kindergarten teacher, and I have loved each job for what the kids have given me. Below are some things that I have learned while taking care of other people’s children:
1. Children are two hands full and feet on the wheel.
Children are a lot to deal with. They are demanding little beings with limited ability to fend for themselves, and why shouldn’t they be? They didn’t choose to be brought into this world, and they are incredibly vulnerable for the majority of their kid years. If you have pets, then you can probably understand the level of care that is needed. Before you got your dog, you could go out whenever, take surprise road trips, even move to a different country just for the hell of it. But with the addition of your four-legged friend, life became dramatically less spontaneous. You can’t just go out on a Thursday night and roll into work on Friday. You need to be home at some point to feed your pup and take him for a walk. Your dog might have some medication that he needs, and paws can’t very well open those push and twist bottle tops. The same is true for children. They need about ten times as much care as your dog, especially if you want to do it right. Of all the kids I’ve met, the happiest and most adjusted ones are from families that are invested in their children’s lives. When parents take an interest, the kids notice. They may not always thank you for it, but they’ll be glad you did.
2. You won’t always like them (no matter how cute they are).
I’m sure that when some of you imagine your future, you see cute little toddlers snuggled in your arms. You envision an overwhelming love that bursts forward from within you and wraps around your family like a giant, soft cardigan. Yes, you should always love your children, but that does not mean that you will always like them. Kids are emotional and quick to trigger, which means that at times they will be a literal nightmare. If they’re super tired or hungry, they will transform into a screaming, inconsolable version of their former selves. They will whine when they don’t get what they want, they will do the whole tantrum thing, they may even go off in the middle of your cousin’s wedding. This is all just part of the package, and it is crucial for their development that you ride out that wave. It’s okay if they’re annoying you. You still hold all the cards, and you should not give in to their every whim just to get them off your back. If they don’t learn appreciation and respect at that age, it will only get harder when they become teens. Care for your children, love your children but be judicial in what you give them.
3. They tell it like it is.
Kids are so much more perceptive than you could ever imagine, and they will comment with an innocent honesty that most adults wouldn’t dare. Their eyes are seeing the world without the history and biases of a full life. It’s such a beautiful thing to witness, especially as an adult because it often takes a child to remind you how much simpler life is than any of us make it out to be. We, the adults, run around with constant worries on the brain. When are our bills due? Why doesn’t my boss promote me? How exactly does health insurance work again? We’re like a bunch of headless chickens all trying to get to a meeting on time. It’s hectic and stressful, but spend a day with a kid and you’ll learn that it doesn’t always need to be. They talk about their interests and their dreams. They use their imagination constantly. These are all things that shouldn’t stop just because life starts to push back, they should be used to overcome the obstacles that we all face. And trust me, if you want an honest opinion of how you look in that dress, just ask a six-year-old. They won’t hold back.
4. Not wanting kids is okay.
I was recently talking to a friend of mine, and I asked her a very personal question—does she want kids? She’s married and in her thirties. She is very good at adulting. Many people would probably assume that she’d say, “Oh, yes. I was waiting for the right time, and I think that time is finally here.” Her answer surprised and delighted me. She told me that she wasn’t 100% sure, but that she likely would not be having kids. She felt that, as a teacher, she had the opportunity to positively affect children’s lives every day, and that she didn’t need any of her own to feel fulfilled. I nearly stood up to applaud her. So few people—though more and more in recent years—seem okay with not having children. I think that not having children is a perfectly fine, even beneficial choice to make. There are a lot of children in the world. Some don’t have good homes or many opportunities, some don’t even have food or clean water. You can change a child’s life without having one yourself, and I think that deciding to do so is a noble and brave choice.
5. It's okay to want kids, too.
Having stated the above, I will say that wanting to have children is also perfectly respectable. After spending eight months teaching four and five-year-olds in Taiwan, I was baby crazy. I thought that my ovaries would explode if I didn’t put them to good use. Sure, I was fresh out of college and not in any semblance of a relationship, but that didn’t stop me from fantasizing about what it’d be like to spend time with my own little munchkin. Seeing those kids every day was the highlight of the eight months I spent there. Watching them grow into complex, caring individuals was the greatest feeling in the world. If you have considered the challenge ahead of you and still want children of your own, then when the time is right, go for it. The world can always use parents like that.
6. Kids don’t need your crazy names to be unique.
I have to admit, I love the trend of interesting baby names, but like any other rational human being, I have my limits. There are some names that I see these days that leave me scratching my head at a loss for words. The most interesting thing about this trend is that kids don’t need a funky name to be unique, they just naturally are. Every child that I have ever taken care of has been different in some way. Our youngest years are our most honest, and you really see kids expressing their most unique interests at that time. One of the little girls that I nannied for in Italy was ten years old and obsessed with Iron Chef. We would watch Iron Chef on the TV and routinely put on our own Iron Chef competitions at her house, complete with a baker’s hat and timed rounds. The same little girl was choosing to study Mandarin in her off time for no other reason than an interest in the language. A little Italian lady studying Mandarin in her room and going all out in the kitchen in a mock cooking competition? I loved it, I couldn’t get enough of her. Allow kids to be themselves, and you will be amazed at what they bring to the table.
7. You can love kids so much, even if they aren’t related to you.
If you have kids, then you probably know about parental love. It is an intense and consuming kind of love. But you may be surprised by how much you can come to love a child who isn’t even related to you. All the kids that I have taken care of have left a mark on me in some way. I’m not talking physical scars, though that’s definitely an occupational hazard, I mean marks on my heart. Even in a very short amount of time, I have come to care for kids so much. They are such amazing little creatures! You can’t help but feel some protection over them and pride in who they can become. The best thing about this is that, in adopted families, there is no reason that the love they feel for their children should be any less legitimate than natural born families. Children are lovable, and they should be loved by everyone who is a constant presence in their life.
8. As long as they know that you love them, everything will be all right.
Since we’re on the topic of love, I want to share with you a final takeaway message. Make sure that your children know that you love them, because that is the most important thing in the world. In all likelihood, they will screw up. They will break curfew, they will disobey you, they may even be rude to a teacher in class. And I’m willing to bet that you did the same when you were their age. All of this is never a reason for a child to lose their parent’s love. You may say that I don’t know what I’m talking about since I’ve never had any kids of my own. You’re right in some ways. This statement is not based on faultless evidence, it’s just based on the experiences that I’ve had with children from many different families. The Italian family that I nannied for also allowed me to live with them. For four months, I spent every day with this family. I was amazed by their beauty, their culture, and their food. My waistline did not thank me for it, but my taste buds did. The most amazing thing about them, however, was the obvious love that the parents had for their children. Every night would be spent together as a family. Dinner was always eaten at the table with plenty of chatter and laughing. Those kids loved their parents so much, and I would attribute that to the love their parents constantly showed them.