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What is it that nobody tells you about having children?

Updated on April 2, 2014

No one told me that the toddler and preschool years would be like living with a messy, stoner roommate who is also really, really funny and really introspective

One minute you'll be enjoying each other's company--playing cards, watching funny cats on Youtube, just hanging out. Then you'll go to the bathroom and see toothpaste smears all over the hand towel and sink. You'll stand in the doorway and yell "Dude, you've got toothpaste everywhere, clean up after you brush your teeth." Your new roommate will come chuckling down the hall "Sorry, dude, I dropped my toothbrush after I put toothpaste on it, and I just forgot." And you'll both laugh because that's a good reason. Then the next day the same thing will happen. And the next. And the next.

And some days your roomie tries to weasel his way out of responsibilities, and those days just suck because there you are standing over your roommate like "Jeez, dude, just get a job, you can't freeload forever and by the way, I'm not picking up all the stuff you leave in the living room anymore and dude, you should probably stop eating on the couch because it's kinda getting gross" and you both just scowl at each other. And that makes you feel like someone's MOM which is the last thing you wanted to be doing. But seriously, you just don't want your roommate to take advantage of you and you really don't want to live in a grungy house. And also it would be great if the dude figured out how to do it himself so you didn't have to nag all the time.

You'll also have conversations that start with "Dude, how did you fall when you were just standing there?" or "Dude, what were you thinking when you drew on the wall with crayon?" or "Dude, how many times are you going to listen to that Beatles album?" or "Dude, did you seriously just touch the cat THERE?! that's so gross!"

But it's all good.

Having children amplifies your emotional experience – new higher highs and new lower lows.


It doesn't matter what people tell you, you won't believe it till you have them.

There is always someone telling us something helpful about having kids, but most of us think it will be different for us, or we'll be different somehow, better parents than those who whine about how hard it is.

It's exhausting: oh, that's easy - I'll just go to bed earlier and train the baby to sleep normal hours.

Babies cry All The Time: oh, no worries. I'll do the control crying thing. It's tough love really.

It's terrifying: oh, pft. I bungee jumped off a cliff last year - nothing scares me!!!

Yeah, nothing till your 3 month old has a fever fit at 2 am.

To be fair, this attitude isn't universal and is far more prevalent among very young parents who still think they're bullet proof in all areas. Older first time parents have already been beaten up a little by life and generally know enough to maintain a healthy fear about parenting.

Your emotional range would expand.

Nobody told me how much my emotional range would expand. That in just the first year, I would have feelings I'd never even imagined myself capable of, good and bad. That your little baby can make you feel lower than low, exhausted, upset, inept and angry, and the next minute you can feel like everything on earth was smiling on you; you hurt from laughing and your heart feels like it's literally going to explode.

Also, I didn't know that commercials (see next video) I once found cute or even saccharine would leave me sobbing and looking for tissues.

And, really, maybe people did tell me, but I wasn't ready to hear it or equipped to understand.

You will never feel completely relaxed again because you develop super senses.

Elizabeth Stone wrote, "To have a child is to accept that a piece of your heart will forever walk about outside your body."

I have an internal alarm clock set for, "what was that?"
I don't sleep without some magical part of my subconscious staying completely alert, listening for the tiniest whimper from a bad dream or footsteps on their way to the kitchen, sneaking cookies in the night.

I have supersonic hearing.
I can hear my child cry three houses away. I can also hear one daughter whispering to the other, "Let's cut your hair into bangs," through two closed doors and a sound machine.

I have future-vision.
I can spot "an accident waiting to happen" three steps before my child grabs the scissors from her sister. I see potential road hazards most people wouldn't notice when my girls are riding scooters. Like "dangerous" twigs that will catch the scooter wheels and make my babies fall.

I have a sense of life-balance which will forever tip in my daughters' favor.
Since becoming a mother, I consider everything I do, every decision I make though the filter of "how will this affect my daughters?" It's a different type of stress I took on, like an unofficial contract I signed with my girls that reads, "I will put your needs and wants ahead of my own." It is this intuition I cherish most because it ensures I am being the best mother I can be.

How hard it is to watch them go.

My oldest recently left for college, and completely unexpectedly, when she was gone it hit me like a punch in the stomach.

Most of the hard things about raising kids were about what I expected with my four... the lack of sleep when they're babies, the temper tantrums as toddlers, the endless after school activities, the homework, etc. But there is a strange emotional dissonance that comes with investing so much of your blood, sweat, and tears preparing them to become independent adults, only to see them walk out the door.

Even though I've still got three at home, the change in the family dynamic hit me pretty hard: she's not sitting at the dinner table at night, singing in the shower, rushing down the stairs to jump on and hug her little brother, and her room stays empty. It's been a rather sobering and not-very-pleasant reminder that it wouldn't be long until they're all gone, no longer mine, with lives of their own.

Don't get me wrong, I've gotten used to it, and she's home for the holidays, but the transition was something I was completely unprepared for.

Your children aren't about you.

Don't have children so you can feel happy or fulfilled.

Have children because you want to be the best parent possible.

What I see so often is parents who have kids because they want to be happy. Not because they want to do their best to help their kids be happy.

Your children aren't about you. They don't owe you happiness.

Children do not do what you say. They do what you do.

You can tell them how you think they should approach a problem, a person, a situation. And they will appear to listen, until at least 13, I am told. (I have a 10 year old and a 7 year old).

But what you do is far, far more relevant to them. They will model on your actual behavior, right down to the flaws and tics and things you'd probably prefer to change.

They will, in time, seek to differentiate themselves, to distance their reality from yours. That's good. It's self-actualization in progress.

But, in the end, if you are tolerant and open-minded, they will be, too. If you are physically demonstrative of your emotions toward others, they will be, too. If you are short-tempered, analytical, snappish, funny, etc.

There's simply no escaping it. A little bit of you lives on in those bodies and minds, and it will live on five generations down the line, one way or another.

No amount of patience is enough.

I used to think I was more patient than any of my relatives, and I thought that would be an advantage when raising a kid. It is useful, but it's still not enough patience, it gets worn thin by over-exposure.

All the bad parents you've ever known or seen, that will be you on an off day, or inside your head.

Things that I have done that I never could have conceived of doing, before I had a kid:

  • Bit my own hand to cause pain to distract myself from being frustrated and angry at my kid.
  • Screamed at them, for no good reason.
  • Punched a hole in a wall in frustration.
  • Punched a hole in a door to get to my daughter when she accidentally locked herself in the cellar, instead of walking around to the unlocked outside cellar door.
  • Been a little insane after the 4th hour of crying baby on a sleepless night.

You cannot understand the difficulty of having a child until you do it.

Caring for other people's kids is better than no childrearing experience, but isn't anything as hard. I used to watch my brother's three children, who were hellraisers when together. I did diapers, meals, bedtimes, all the things that make up parenthood on the surface... ...but I didn't have to do it all the time. And that makes such a drastic mental difference, that it was much more difficult when I had to do it with my own kid.

Kids don't just lower your disposable income, they lower your standard of living.

From time to time I look around my messy surroundings, and I think "yep, I'm white trash now". Part of that is because I bought a trailer since I have a family and can't move around any more, but part of that is because I have a kid and a dog and a cat all at once. Gradually, gradually, as everything around me breaks down, I've just come to accept it, take it for granted as walls became scribbled on, furniture broken, food spilled, etc. People who I looked down on before for being trashy and unkempt with three kids, I understand now, because I've devolved to that point with just one kid.

Raising a kid is more difficult than any job or life event that I have ever had.

I've worked at a variety of jobs (more than 10, perhaps), and raising a kid is by far the hardest job that I have ever taken on. And since I've been doing it for 5 years now, it's the longest I've worked at any one job (by about a year). And there are 13 years to go. So the most difficult job, for the longest time period.

Raising a kid is more rewarding than any job that I have ever had, and probably the most impactful way that I will effect this world.

I used to think I was going to be an author, or a game designer, or a software designer. But now I realize what I really am going to be best known for is being a father. So I better focus on getting that as right as I can.
Even after all the harsh truths listed above, I still would do it all over again.


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