Parenting in general, and adoptive parenting in particular, is not all rainbows and unicorns. There are plenty of struggles and challenges along the way. But parenthood is also an incredible opportunity for personal growth. Here are three ways I believe that parenting my kids has made me a better person:

I understand that they’re not only “mine.”

My children didn’t grow inside of me or nurse from my body. We didn’t spend day and night together when they were first born. Today, my name is on their birth certificates, and I absolutely believe I love them just as much as I would if they had been my biological children. But both of them knew another mother first, and I think this fundamentally changes how I parent them. I always want to honor their birth parents. I always want to acknowledge that they are “real” and have an important place in my kids’ stories. I always want to hold in tension the joy that my kids bring to my life and the great loss that they (and their birth parents) experienced that makes this joy possible. This is weighty stuff. But taking it seriously makes me more empathetic and gracious, and for that I am grateful.

I savor the firsts.

I’m not a particularly emotive person, but I came unglued when my daughter lost her first tooth. It took me a little while to realize why this felt like such a momentous occasion. It was her first “first” that I got to witness. She had taken her first steps and spoken her first words in someone else’s care. Our first Thanksgiving and Christmas together were my firsts as a mom, but she had memories of Thanksgivings and Christmases that came before. Even with my son (adopted at a much younger age than my daughter), there were milestones that I missed. Can I tell you the truth? I grieved every single one of these milestones. But that also made all of the firsts that we did (and do) get to share that much sweeter. I am grateful for the little moments with my kids because I know the reality of missing many of them. And this gratitude undoubtedly enriches my life.

I get to see our family (and love) expand.

If you would have told me at the beginning of my adoption journey that in five years, my life would look the way it does now, I would have laughed in your face. I tell my kids often that adoption makes everything bigger. Our family has grown exponentially since I adopted my kids. Now we make overnight trips to see former foster parents and social workers, I text a birth mom pictures and funny stories, and I share lots of laughter (and sometimes tears) with the moms of my kids’ biological siblings while the kids play together. It sounds ridiculous to say, but I once thought that my capacity for love was fixed, that my love was a finite resource. Though it was my first nephew that first showed me the error in this thinking, watching our family expand into this unwieldy, beautiful tribe has sealed the deal. My life is better because I get to know so many people who are important to my children’s stories. Over time, they have become part of my story too, and I am better for it.

Adoptive parents, what would you add? How has parenting your children helped you to grow as a person?