Things I wish I knew before I was a Parent
Parenting is the hardest but most rewarding job you can do. It doesn’t come with a manual though or a set of classes that gives you a certificate in how to be a good parent. After all, every child is an individual and so too are parents. Imagine trying to write the huge manual that would be needed to deal with every possible scenario being a parent might bring! By the time you read the manual (after reading the books about pregnancy and giving birth of course), your child would probably be an adult and possibly well on the way to having their own child. And the manual would go out of date quickly as society changes. If there was a manual like that, it would take away the fun of learning who your child is. You want to help them develop their own personality and discover who you are as a parent. That doesn’t mean you should go into parenthood knowing nothing. There are some things that can help you be prepared for the wonder of being a parent. So here are 10 things I wish I knew before I was a parent.
The perfect parent is a myth. This is the number one thing I wish I knew before I was a parent. We all strive to be this perfect parent. But the perfect parent doesn’t exist. Perfection is an impossible standard to hold yourself to. Perfection doesn’t exist when it comes to being a parent. Parenthood is a steep learning curve. You need to get to know your child. You need to get to know who you are as a parent. As your child grows and develops your parenting skills will be tested. You will adjust and adapt as you try to be the best parent you can be – but that doesn’t mean perfect.
Sleep is a luxury – but it is also a necessity. If you feel you’ve mastered the sleepless nights, got a good nap time routine, are in control and getting enough sleep, then enjoy that feeling. Your baby won’t stay in that stage for long and you’ll have to figure out this next stage. It’s amazing how quickly you can adapt to getting less sleep. But it is still a necessity, so heed the advice of those who say you should sleep when your baby sleeps. Those tasks you feel you need to do can probably wait.
It’s okay to accept help – and it’s also okay to ask for help. Your child is the most precious thing in your life. You want to protect them. You want to prove you are the “perfect parent” (but see number 1!). You don’t want to admit you are struggling. But you are not the only one who views your baby as the most precious thing, who wants to protect them. And it’s okay to ask for help – because those grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends, they have all struggled with their children and understand how difficult it can be. They want to help.
Comparison is truly the thief of joy. Children develop at different rates. Yes, there are development milestones, but sometimes children take longer to hit particular ones. This doesn’t mean something is wrong with your child. They all have their own timeframe, their own strengths. Try not to be drawn into a comparison with other parents about how quickly your child is meeting their milestones. You soon learn that they do grow up too quickly. Although it is okay to be jealous of the parent who has their baby sleeping through the night before they are 8 weeks old!
You can’t leave the house quickly with a baby or toddler in tow. You need to wrap up the baby, make sure you have enough nappies, wipes, nappy cream and a change of clothes just in case. And don’t forget their favourite toy to keep them amused. Your toddler will dawdle, might decide they need a snack or the toilet and will most likely refuse to sit properly in the car seat while you try to strap them in. All this means leaving the house turns from a quick trip to the shop into packing for every eventuality.
Parenting changes you and your relationship. Some people expect to be changed by parenthood; some expect a baby to slot into their life as it is. The reality is that becoming a parent changes you more than imagine. Suddenly, everything you do revolves around that child who you want to protect. You will no longer take free time for granted. You will make silly noises, play silly games, watch annoying children’s TV programmes – and will enjoy it more than you realise. And your relationship will no longer be about just the two of you. You and your relationship can adapt to parenthood.
Babies take up a surprising amount of space for someone so little. Their little size doesn’t equate to how much they need. After all, they need a safe space to sleep, lots of changes of clothes (babies are messy!), a pram, a constant supply of nappies and wipes. And don’t forget the bottles, breast pump, sterilising equipment, bibs, a high chair and a changing bag. All that is before you consider baby bouncers, walkers, toys and teddies. So prepare to give up more space than you think to make room for your baby.
Time really flies when it comes to babies. People aren’t lying when they say they grow up too quickly. So enjoy every moment. Take all the pictures you can. File all those precious memories away. As your baby grows, you will forget the lack of sleep, the nappy changing and the toddler tantrums. Instead, focus on the first time they smiled, or laughed, or said I love you. And suddenly those memories will seem so long ago, as they turn from newborns, to babies, to toddlers, children, teenagers, adults. Savour those moments – they are precious and pas too quickly.
Parenting is the hardest job in the world, but the rewards are worth it. That can be hard to believe when your baby has spit up on you for the fourth time that day or taken their dirty nappy off at the end of their lunchtime nap and thrown the mess around their cot. Those are the hard parts. But then your child falls asleep on your lap, or brings you that book to read (for the 100th time) or brings home a gold star from nursery. All these little things, seeing them grow, that is when you understand the power of being a parent.
Your friendships will change. Having a baby is a life-changing event. It changes you and it can change your relationships with those around you. Your social life is no longer your own. What is important to you is different. Your topics of conversation are no longer the same (yes, you will talk about poo!). Some friendships cannot cope with these changes. That isn’t your fault. And it isn’t your baby’s fault either. Changing friendships is part of life, of changing priorities as we grow older. But the good news is you will develop new friendships thanks to becoming a parent.
And there you have it, the top 10 things that I wish I had known before becoming a parent. Of course, just like the parenting manual could be endless, there are many other things I could have added to this list. But once you become a parent, the learning doesn’t end as soon as your baby is born. As your child grows and develops, you do your best to shape them into decent human beings and learn about them and yourself along the way. Parenthood is a wonderful journey where you both learn together.