There are moments in parenting where you realize that you used to be a Grinch. You may have been the nicest, most selfless and empathetic person you knew, that anyone you knew knew as well, and you were still a Grinch before your children arrived. I know this to be a truth of the world.
It’s your heart.
No matter how big it was to start with, your heart grows three sizes, at least three sizes, after you have a child.
It won’t happen the same way or at the same time for everyone. Some parents will feel the swell the first time they see their child. Some will feel the gradual increase over the years of their child’s life. Some will never even notice the change until one day, when they have a rare moment of peace and clarity, they feel their enlarged heart pulsing and pushing against their chests, wanting to burst free from their rib shackles. The Grinch heart is gone. The three sizes enlarged heart has emerged.
Sometimes I forget how small my heart used to be and then I remember as the surprise of the change strikes me while watching the Little Prince solve a problem on his own, or while having a conversation with him, or while getting out of his way as he embarks on an adventure of his own choosing. Sometimes the realization, the remembrance, hurts. My heart is still newly in this size and the rest of me isn’t sure what to do with it. Sometimes it is a relief. Sometimes it is everything and sometimes it is nothing. Except, that isn’t true. Always, it is happiness and love. As all hearts are. Even Grinch hearts.
I knew happiness and love before children. My heart was full with them for the people in my life and the beauty of the world around me. I never contemplated it but I never understood it either. It was just there. Then, for me, after the arrival of the little prince I couldn’t help but notice the gradual change within my chest. There was a swelling. Sometimes it felt like pride. Sometimes it felt like joy. Sometimes it even felt like frustration and disappointment. I couldn’t not notice.
I felt more than full to the point of overflowing, to the point of bursting.
This isn’t a call for everyone to run out and have children. This isn’t an argument that parents have a capacity for love that is larger than nonparents. This is simply my new understanding of our physiological truth as humans. When you have a child, your heart grows three sizes. Three sizes at the very least.
I have a hypothesis that this process, this enlargement, happens anew with each additional child, and maybe one day I will be able to test that idea. In the meantime, perhaps all the parents out there can chime in with their own experience: When did you notice your heart had grown? Did it happen all at once? Was it gradual? Did it grow again with your second? With your third?