A few weeks ago, a friend suggested that I write a post sharing “what I wish I had known” before becoming a parent for all those people who read my blog that might not yet have children. It sounded like an awesome idea, but I have to admit that I struggled with it. In a nut shell, here’s what I wish I had known: EVERYTHING. Parenting is a seriously overwhelming undertaking and it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what information would have helped. However, there are a few things that I wish I had better understood and here’s my attempt at trying to share that with you.
1.) Parenting is Mentally Exhausting: It’s common knowledge that parenting is physically exhausting. I won’t even bother boring you with the lengthy details. Waking up with a newborn is the most tiring task you will ever endure. If you are as lucky as I am, then the exhaustion will continue right on into toddlerhood. I’ve had a few parents that tell me that their toddler sleeps until 10, and honestly, I want to punch them in the face. Unfortunately, my kid is an early riser. 6:00am is now considered sleeping late in our household. But just like everything else that comes along with parenting, you get used to the exhaustion. Your body adjusts. Being tired is just the norm.
But what I was really unprepared for is the mental exhaustion. Having a newborn requires being on high alert at all times. You are constantly checking on your child. You analyze every facial expression, every odd movement, even the color of their poop. When you finally get them to sleep, you’ll spend your time glued to the monitor, making sure you can hear them breathe. I thought this mental exhaustion would pass, but then my child became capable of moving and I was constantly chasing him and childproofing things and making sure he didn’t fall down the stairs or smash into the coffee table. Once he became more stable, I again thought this stage would pass, but then he learned to talk and he wants to converse with me about everything under the sun and ask me 4000 questions for the entirety of the day. Here I am, at this very moment, thinking AGAIN that the mental exhaustion will pass, but then I know at some point soon he’ll be in elementary school and I’ll spend my mental capacity organizing his sports schedule and forcing him to complete his homework every night. It’s probably safe to say that I will be mentally exhausted for a very long time. At least until he’s married, I’m sure.
2.) You Will Have No Idea What to Expect: There’s really no efficient way to prepare for parenthood. And no, having a puppy is not at all like having a child. As a dog lover and owner, there’s a chance I uttered that phrase before I became a parent. It is true; a puppy may require you to get up now and again at night to let it outside to pee. However, a puppy won’t latch itself to your breast and suck the life out of you for 45 minutes at least three times a night. Additionally, you can’t just open the back door and let your newborn out into the yard to take a shit and then conveniently lock him in a crate while you head out to run a few quick errands.
You can enroll for all kinds of classes about how to care for a newborn, but that doesn’t entirely guarantee that you won’t put the diaper on backwards during the first mid-night change in the hospital. You can read 14 different breastfeeding books, but that doesn’t ensure that you will be able to breastfeed successfully for the minimum of 12 months, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. And you know what? That’s totally fine. Parenting is a learn-as-you-go kind of undertaking. And as unprepared as you feel, don’t worry. You’ll figure it out.
Similarly, I can’t say that having one child has prepared me in how the hell to handle having another one. I’m guessing that the transition from one child to two will be just as insane (if not more so) as welcoming the first child into our family. But like I said, I’m sure I have no fucking clue as to what it will really be like until we get there.
Come to think of it, it’s probably a good thing that we go into parenthood without really understanding what is about to go down. Otherwise, we might just be smart enough not to have children at all.
3.) Parenting Doesn’t Change You: When you hit a milestone birthday, like 21, 30, or 40, people always ask things like, “So how does it feel?” or “Do you feel older?” And the answer is this: “No, dumbass. I feel the exact same way that I felt yesterday.”
Similarly, I think a lot of people assume that becoming a parent will change you. Let me fill you in here. Just because you carried a baby around in your belly for 40 weeks doesn’t mean that in the exact moment your child enters the world, you become a more responsible, more knowledgeable, more capable person prepared for raising a baby. Surprisingly, you are the same clueless, naïve, inexperienced person you were the day prior to giving birth and it will take many months (or years) for you to actually feel like a parent. On the day we brought my son home from the hospital, my husband and I sat in the kitchen eating lunch like normal. Then, we laughed and laughed at the hilarious, weird fact that there was a newborn sleeping in the next room. And not just any newborn, OUR newborn.
In addition, just because you enter the world of parenting doesn’t mean that you ultimately want to give up your pre-baby hobbies, like drinking wine or getting your nails done (though you may do these things much less frequently). Depending on your personal interests, becoming a parent doesn’t mean that you can’t still be a marathon runner, or a career driven woman, or someone who enjoys some alone time now again. You don’t have to replace your monthly book club meetings with mommy and me classes or your weekly date night with your husband for catching up on laundry and a good night’s sleep. You will still be the same person with the same hobbies and interests as you had before you had a child. It’s totally acceptable to still make time for those things (and very healthy, too) and you don’t have to feel guilty about that.
4.) It Doesn’t Get Easier: Every time I see a new mother struggling, I immediately feel the natural need to try to comfort her by assuring her that in time, it will get easier. However, I have to stop myself. The truth of the matter is this: it doesn’t actually get easier, ladies. But don’t get discouraged. Let me explain.
Every stage has its challenges and its perks. Having a newborn is a total pain in the ass because you’re up all night and the breastfeeding can be really tough. Then again, newborns are pretty portable since they will pretty much sleep wherever for long stretches of time. Now that my son is two, it’s so much easier because he’s a little bit more self-sufficient, but at the same time he is sassy and stubborn and energetic almost to a fault. I’m sure that when he’s a teenager, it will be so nice to have finally passed the needy newborn thing, but I bet waiting up all night praying to God that he’ll make his curfew without crashing his car will be super stressful. So here’s the deal. It doesn’t get easier, but you get better at it. You get better at managing the chaos and anticipating the challenges. You get better at staying organized and being prepared. You learn to stay patient and to handle your anxiety. Parenting is a lifelong process and it will always be challenging, but just like all the other parents in the world, we will be just fine. With that, I’m going to go refill my wine glass before I continue on here.
5.) It Doesn’t Always Come Naturally to Mothers: Many people assume that women are born with a natural maternal instinct that immediately kicks in as soon as they become pregnant. One person actually told me that women become mothers when they get pregnant and men become fathers when they meet their baby. Here’s a more realistic version of that statement: A woman becomes a mother when the baby is born because she doesn’t have a choice and she is the only person who can provide breast milk at 2:00am. A man becomes a father when his wife finally threatens to divorce him unless he starts helping with the baby.
Additionally, they say that women begin nesting even before the baby is born because of this natural motherly instinct. The truth is that not all pregnant women want to take on the task of researching and registering for 4000 baby items and washing bins of baby clothes, but that shit has to get done before the baby is born and someone has to do it. It doesn’t automatically mean that she is more prepared or more “ready” than her husband.
On the same topic, I’ve heard a lot of people talking about the instant motherly bond during that skin to skin contact right after the birth of a baby. I only know my own experience and I’m hoping you won’t judge me for this, but I’m not exactly sure I felt that “instant” connection. Here are the honest thoughts that went through my head immediately after giving birth and they occurred in this exact order: “I’m so thankful my son is here and healthy. It feels SO amazing to have that weight of a massive baby out of my body. I AM VERY HUNGRY.” I didn’t cry tears of joy or feel like I had become a mother instantaneously. And you know what? I think that’s perfectly fine. Maybe it took me a few weeks (or months….) to settle in to my new role, but I don’t feel guilty about that. I think it’s normal and honest to need some time to adjust. In my experience, it turns out that parenting was not a “just add water” kind of concoction and that’s totally acceptable.
All in all, there’s nothing that I (or anyone else) can say that will prepare you for parenthood. Plus, everyone’s experience is totally different. I’m kind of an anxious, frazzled hot mess in general so taking on motherhood has been an adjustment for me. But trust me ladies, if I can do it, you can do it. And in the mean time, after our babies are born, we can drink as much wine as we need. Thank God for that, right?