You’re standing in line at the grocery store in yesterday’s clothes, fussing baby in your arms, hair pulled into a greasy ponytail. The cashier gives you a once-over before commenting, “This is nothing, Honey. Just wait until she’s three!”
Even if she’s right, in that moment her words are far from helpful. A mom in a difficult moment doesn’t need to hear that it’s only going to get worse.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for truth telling. I believe in going into a new situation with your eyes wide open, so I think it’s important for parents to know what they’re getting into, regardless of the stage. But I also wholeheartedly believe that parents need all the encouragement they can get, regardless of the stage. And the truth is that each stage brings its own set of challenges and joys.
What New Parents Really Need to Know
I may not have entered the teen years yet, and maybe when I get there all I’ll be able to do is tell people with young kids how horrible it is, but I don’t think so. I think if you look hard enough, you can see the difficulty and the beauty in every situation. So for all the soon-to-be parents out there, here’s what you really need to know about the first few years of parenthood:
1. You will be exhausted. People for miles around will see the bags under your eyes. They will make comments about how tired you look and you will want to stab them with whatever sharp object you find lying nearby.
However, before you know it, your baby will not be waking every two hours and you’ll find yourself slightly more rested. Every once in a while you’ll even miss those middle of the night feedings.
2. You will either spend a small fortune buying disposable diapers or a huge chunk of time cleaning cloth ones. Occasionally your baby will pee or poop several times throughout a diaper change and you will feel physically ill for having wasted so much money or time in a five minute span.
But one day in the not so distant future, your child will go into the bathroom to poop and when you ask if he needs help wiping, he’ll holler, “No, I can do it!” And as you dance around the kitchen in glee, a teeny tiny part of you will be sad that your baby doesn’t need you for this task anymore.
3. Sometimes babies cry for no reason and/or for long periods of time. You may have done everything you can think of and nothing is working. You’ll feel like a failure. You’ll feel stressed and annoyed. If another adult is in the house, share rocking duty. A baby can sense when you’ve had it and it will only make the crying worse.
Babies also laugh for no reason. You make a weird sound and it’s the funniest noise they’ve ever heard. Their laugh will be the sweetest noise you’ve ever heard. Record it. Also record their hiccups. One day when they’re older and you’re having a rough day, you can listen to the recordings and they will remind you why you love your child.
4. You will no longer be able to leave the house with only a moment’s notice and just a purse slung over your shoulder. Outings will require time and preparation, especially at first. You’ll make five trips to the car with all the gear you deem necessary.
After the second or third kid, you’ll discover that although it’s not wise to leave the house without a few necessities, the travel swing and pack ‘n play really don’t need to accompany you to the grocery store. You will also discover that you can carry an infant car seat (with infant inside), a diaper bag, a purse, and a kicking and screaming toddler all at the same time. You are Wonder Woman (or Superman). Give yourself a pat on the back… after you put all that stuff down.
5. Your child will frustrate you in ways you didn’t know were possible.
She will also amaze you in ways you didn’t know were possible.
6. The times that you’re running late will be the times when your toddler finds a worm in the driveway and wants to follow it’s painstakingly slow progress to the lawn. Take a deep breath, ask yourself if whatever you’re in a rush to get to is that important, and if it’s not, let him watch the worm.
If you’re paying attention, you’ll get to see the world through eyes that are experiencing everything for the first time. It is refreshing and humbling and has a way of reminding you what an honor it is to raise this little human.
7. Your child will go through a phase where the only thing he’ll want to eat is chicken nuggets. This phase will directly coincide with your friend posting on Facebook about how her kid’s favorite meal is quinoa, raw asparagus, and kale smoothies. Immediately block this friend, give your kid an extra serving of whatever fruit he’s willing to choke down, and know that eventually his tastes will expand and you are not a bad parent if your child won’t touch spinach.
Remember this: People only share what they want others to know. The friend with the kid who eats weird, healthy food is not perfect and does not have perfect children. You can bet she’s not leaving status updates about how her five year old won’t sleep in her own bed at night or how her two year old’s tantrums are about to drive her insane.
8. You will have days when all that keeps you going is the thought of bedtime. And you will have nights when you crawl into bed and cry because you are positive you are a total screw-up as a parent.
First of all, you’re not. Secondly, remember this; children have an awesome ability to love and forgive. Take advantage of it. And take a lesson from it.
9. You will hold no other job that will fill you with as much self-doubt, second guessing, and guilt as parenting.
You will also hold no other job that will fill you with as much pleasure, wonder, and love as parenting. For all of its frustrations, it is very rewarding. Just ask any parent who has had the joy of feeling little arms wrap around their neck or watched their child do something nice for someone simply out of the kindness of her heart.
10. Here’s the most important one. Until you are a parent, you will never understand the depth with which you can love someone. You love your spouse, your parents, your brothers and sisters. But the love you have for your child is unlike anything you will ever experience. It is overwhelming, overflowing, and never ending. If every moment from birth onward was awful (which I hope you realize is not the case!), it would still be worth it, just to experience this love.
A lot of people will tell you to enjoy every moment, but the truth is, there are plenty of moments you won’t enjoy. You’ll wonder why you got yourself into this, how you’ll get yourself through this, and if there’s any way to get yourself out of this.
But trust me when I say that there are many moments that make it well worth the effort and heartache. And at the end of the days in which you’re tempted to give up, you will watch your child sleep, wonder at the fact that you made that beautiful little one, and realize that there is no one you’d rather be than the parent of your children.