25 Things to Know Before You Have Kids
When I was younger and without children of my own, I thought I had it hard. I had to work eight hours a day, find time to go to the grocery store, and.....um, really that's it. Everything else was optional. In fact, even going to the grocery store wasn't imperative, since I could just go out to eat or have cereal for dinner - things my childless self liked to do quite often. I did clean the house, but I did it all in one day when the mood struck me. That's the key difference between having no children and being a parent - going from doing whatever you want with your free time to trying to remember what "free time" is. What follows is a list of things I have painstakingly learned over the past five-and-a-half years I've been a parent. Many of them I've had to learn over and over again, as I am either very stubborn or not very bright.
25 Things I Wish I'd Known
- You are not in control. The little people are in charge, and just because you are doing everything the baby book says, it doesn't mean they have to nap, eat, or do anything you want them to do.
- Breast feeding is hard. It doesn't matter how much you read about it or how many classes you take. It doesn't matter that it's a perfectly natural act dogs and cats are able to accomplish. It's hard, and sometimes it doesn't work no matter how many warm compresses you apply, how many special foods you eat to increase milk supply, or how many calls you make to your lactation consultant.
- It is not the end of the world if you have to give your baby formula. You are not dooming her to a life of allergies, skin disease, and stupidity. We are lucky to live in a day and age when formula is closer to breast milk than it's ever been before. My aunts got cows milk mixed with molasses when they were infants. They turned out okay.
- Never start a sentence concerning your child's behavior with, "He would never...." As soon as it leaves your lips, he will do just that. My oldest fell in a swimming pool, right after I told an anxious onlooking adult he was very careful and would never fall in.
- Your baby is probably not autistic. Autism is everywhere in the media, and you will analyze your child's behavior looking for signs until you're practically having a panic attack. Most children don't have autism or any other disorder. Try not to worry unless there are real red flags showing up.
- You need friends with kids. Your childless friends will not understand why you don't want to pack up your baby and all her crap and head over for a movie night, where you will spend all evening trying to soothe her to sleep in a pack-and-play in a strange bedroom and not get to watch the movie at all.
- Let people help you. If you have relatives or friends that will do it for free, use them. If not, cultivate a relationship with a very good babysitter. You need time off - time to go to dinner with your spouse, go to the grocery store by yourself, or to just lie down and take a nap without having to listen to the buzz of the baby monitor.
- Your parents will tell you, when you are about to have a baby, how wonderful you were as an infant. They will get all nostalgic and talk about how raising you was the best time of their lives. This is true, but it is not the whole picture by a landslide. That first year is full of poop and sore breasts and laundry and no sleep. Don't feel bad if you don't cherish every moment. It is okay if you find baby care trying, exhausting, and even boring at times.
- Your baby will find strange new ways to confound you. He will do things you never read about in any of the fifty books you read while pregnant. The books have a few useful tips, but mostly parenting is on the job training.
- You will mess up a lot. You will make a lot of mistakes, but kids are very resilient. Most of the things you mess up won't scar them for life. It is really hard to remember this in the moment.
- You may be overwhelmed by the responsibility you feel when you look at your baby. It can be terrifying to look at her tiny baby body and realize your job for the next eighteen plus years is to raise her into a whole, real, walking, talking adult person.
- Your dog is a dog. I know the dog is your "baby" before you have kids, but after you have them, Fido is low man on the totem pole.
- You will be so excited for your baby to start solid food. Then, you will have an experience akin to attempting to play "pin the tail on the donkey" blindfolded and drunk with a donkey who is also blindfolded and drunk, and regret having ever opened that first jar of baby pears and rice cereal.
- Speaking of rice cereal, kids don't like it, and it makes them constipated. Don't try to force-feed them rice cereal. If they don't like it, try oatmeal.
- You will forcibly murder anyone or thing who threatens to wake up your sleeping baby. I have kicked the dog, yelled at my father-in-law, screamed at the garbage truck and given dagger eyes to my older son for such crimes.
- Before you had kids, did you ever say something like, "I'll never let my kids play video games at the dinner table?" Yeah, you will let your kids do whatever it takes to get them to sit still and quiet so you can have a halfway decent meal at a restaurant the one time you've been out this month. I have been known to let our little ones eat milkshakes and french fries for dinner, if they'll be civilized in public for fifteen minutes.
- Lots of people will tell you what you ought to do with your kids. You will see people parenting vastly differently than you. This is okay. Stick to your guns, and do what is right for your family. It's not going to look like anyone else's.
- Let your dog clean up the spit-up. It's gross. Leave the room if you have to. But it will save you a lot of time.
- Your house is never going to be completely clean again. Lower your standards. Everyone is happier that way.
- It is forgivable if you yell at your kids sometimes. I try not to, and I hate it when I do, but really, even if it's not the best response, it is perfectly understandable when you've stepped on the same lego contraption five times in the same afternoon and have asked the contraption's constructor to put it away six times.
- It really, really hurts when you step on legos.
- You will become a connoisseur of time management. The baby's napping. You need to prep dinner, exercise, fill out the baby book, call your mom, clean the bathroom... the list is never-ending. You can't possibly do it all, so you'll choose what's most important and leave the other stuff for another day or never, which is okay.
- Sometimes the most important stuff is getting yourself a nap or a hot bath.
- Parenthood is a messy affair. No matter how many books you read, how introspective you are, how much quality time you spend with your kids, or how much yoga you do to stay centered and present, you are going to feel certifiably insane a good portion of the time. You will feel exhausted, annoyed, put-out, pissed off, and taken advantage of because it's a hard freaking job.
- You will do the hard freaking job because it is also wonderful. It's a mess, and it is the best thing that ever happened to your self-centered childless self. You will look at your kids sometimes and love them so much, you could eat them up, (a turn of phrase I found unsettling until I had children and felt it) and that is what makes it all worth it.