When I was expecting our daughter I did my due diligence as a parent to be. I read all the books. My husband and I attended prenatal classes. I ate well, took the required vitamins and gave up my precious, precious wine. I had a hospital bag packed and ready to go. The nursery was stocked with every possible essential. I was ready. At least I felt as ready as I possibly could be.
And then I had a baby. I had a pretty easy pregnancy and although I wouldn’t call my labour and delivery a piece of cake they went pretty much as well as these things go – except for the bazillion stitches I was left with – I say bazillion because my doctor said it was best I just not worry about how many she actually gave me. Thank goodness for that last minute epidural that I never would have got had the kind hearted nurse not fibbed a bit and told the anesthesiologist I was only 7 cm dilated when I was more than 9. There is a special place in heaven for people like that, you know when the time comes. I got though all of that relatively unscathed (minus the stitches) and was feeling pretty good about everything, for about 5 minutes.
Nothing can truly prepare you for parenthood. It’s something you honestly can’t wrap your head around until you are smack dab in the middle of it. But wow, just wow, there is a lot of shit that nobody tells you. A LOT. I’m assuming there is some kind of contract parents sign, swearing to never tell unsuspecting potential parents to be just exactly what they are getting into. I have not seen this contract yet. But perhaps it’s verbal – just a silent understanding that if we start to warn the up and comers they will run screaming the other way and never get to benefit from the the joy (because of course there is joy) of parenthood.
Here, in no particular order of horror, are some of the things about being a parent that nobody bothered to tell me ahead of time:
It will be years before you pee or shower alone.
You get use to this one pretty quickly actually. And seriously, once you’ve given birth you really have nothing left to hide. Privacy now is just something that online hackers breech.
You will eventually learn to not hate Caillou/Barney (insert any annoying character).
I know the bald four year old is whiny as hell and the creepy purple dinosaur (is he a dinosaur?) is, well, creepy. But the first time they calm your savage tiny beast you forgive all of their annoying, creepy flaws and embrace them with open arms. In fact even the creepiest of the creepy – yes I’m talking about In the Night Garden – will start to make sense to you.
You should have waited.
Now this won’t apply to every parent since plenty of parents today don’t marry until they already have kids, or don’t legally get married at all – but if you are going the more traditional route and getting married and then having kids then this is for you. We got pregnant exactly one month after getting married. And yes on purpose. I was 37 when we got married and my biological clock was ticking away telling me “get on this now!”. So I did. If I had it to do over again I would have waited. I was six months pregnant by the time we took our honeymoon and by the time we celebrated our first wedding anniversary we already had a 2 month old. I love my daughter to death but in hind sight it might have been nice to actually enjoy being a married couple for a while before becoming parents too.
You will learn to sleep in positions you could never hold while awake.
If you co-sleep or even just let your little one crawl into your bed from time to time you will soon learn that your body, while sleeping, is capable of assuming some pretty amazing positions. It can defy gravity. I don’t know how many times I have woken up to find myself precariously dangling off the side of the bed. And the most amazing thing is that you actually SLEEP like that. Not just toss and turn and try to get comfortable all night. Maybe at first, but eventually you just adapt, because you have no choice.
You will become an expert on poop.
Grown adults without kids do not talk about poop. For grown adults with kids, talking about poop is as ordinary as talking about the weather. You will discuss, size, shape, consistency, frequency, odor and color. And these things will be important to you.
Nothing will be simple ever again.
Remember when bedtime consisted of putting on your pajamas (or not, I miss sleeping nude), brushing your teeth and crawling into bed? Me neither. Bedtime is now a “routine” that takes an absolute minimum of one full hour. On a good day. Trips to the grocery store, especially with very young kids, requires it’s very own checklist and a stiff drink (of coffee) before you even get out the door. Doing anything with a baby or young child in tow is at least twice, usually more, as complicated and time consuming as it use to be.
Your standards of clean will change.
I use to have a clean house. Not just tidy, but clean. You could eat off the floors. Laundry was promptly folded and put away. Dishes were never stacked in the sink. Now? The floor gets cleaned if my feet stick to it (and if I can identify what is causing the stick maybe not even then). Clean laundry often sits in the laundry baskets until I have run out of laundry baskets and have no choice but to put it away. The dishes in the sink get taken care of when I have exhausted my Tetris skills and can no longer even find a slot to slide a knife into the stack.
You will cry over spilled milk.
If you chose to breast feed and/or pump you will come to value breast milk almost as much as a pay cheque. I recall one night, when I was really new to pumping, I had two precious ounces in a bottle that I had just expressed and I was so proud of myself. I don’t know if it was exhaustion or just clumsiness, but I managed to drop the bottle and lose the entire two ounces. I cried like a baby. It was like I had won the lottery but my ticket blew away before I could cash it.
You will cry over everything.
Creating life, as beautiful as that may be, wreaks havoc with your body. And I’m not even talking about the changes you can see. Those are nothing compared to the changes you can’t see. The ones you feel. You will experience feelings and emotions that will sometimes makes you wonder if you are losing your mind entirely. Between wildly fluctuating hormones, exhaustion and the absolute weight of being responsible for another human being you will sometimes be a complete emotional wreck.
Parents are meaner than mean girls.
This may have been the most shocking thing I discovered when I became a parent. Other parents can suck. Big time. Mommy wars are real and they are brutal. I have never in my life encountered such a judgmental, know it all group of people in my entire life before kids. Find the nice ones and hold on to them. And better yet, be one of the nice ones. One of the best things a struggling parent can receive is acknowledgment from another parent that, yes, you’re doing a great job. Parenting is hard but you’ve got this.
Grandmas do not know everything.
When you first bring that baby home, it’s freakin scary. If you are lucky you might have your own mother or mother in law close at hand to help you out. In the beginning you eat up everything they tell you. And why wouldn’t you? They managed to help at least one kid of their own survive to be an adult so surely they know what they are doing. Savour that time because before long you will actually realize they probably don’t know any more than you. That essentially they were just winging it all those years, exactly like you are.
You will become THAT parent.
I know you had high expectations. Your kid would never have a fit in the grocery store. The TV will never be a baby sitter. You will never, ever yell at your kid. And now? Your kid does have tantrums in the store but you keep snacks on hand to feed the fit and you if you forget that snack you grab a box of crackers from the store shelf and get them into your toddler’s hands as fast as humanly possible. You have no qualms about plopping Billy in front of Netflix for half an hour (or longer) so you can make dinner, send an email or just shut down. You have yelled at your kid. Not often and you feel bad every time it happens. But it happens. Trust me, your goal to become the perfect parent will soon be down graded to – err good enough.
Nobody knows what they are doing.
Seriously. Even those “experts” that wrote all those parenting books you eagerly ate up in the beginning know exactly no more than you do. Most of us come with a certain amount of parenting instincts. For the most part you are best to just trust those instincts and hope for the best.
It’s worth it.
Of course this is the one thing they DO tell you. That all of it – every tear, tantrum and panic attack (oh I forgot to mention those) is just worth it.