10 Things I Wish I Had Known Before Becoming A Parent

Raising a child is full of surprises. No matter how many books, parenting forums and articles you read, nothing can completely prepare you for becoming a parent. If I could go back to before my daughter was born and tell myself what I didn't know I would experience, this is what I would say.

1. Making a Baby Isn't as Easy as It Sounds

Some people are able to reproduce as easily as bunnies. For others, that's not always the case. Before I got pregnant, I naively thought that whenever I wanted to have a child, my husband and I would just have sex every day for a month and -- bam -- that would be it. The human body doesn't really work that way.

So if you're thinking of having a child someday and want to plan the pregnancy for a certain time period, consider giving yourself some extra time and try not to stress out about the whole thing. A great book on this subject is Taking Charge of Your Fertility. (It's also awesome even if you just want to know more about the female body.)

2. The First Few Months Are Pure Torture

I sometimes think babies' cries are so grating, their sleep so erratic and breastfeeding so painful just to harden up parents. If you can survive the first few months of Baby Boot Camp without losing your mind, you can survive anything -- you're like a superhero. Because, really, the first few months are hell if you enjoy sleeping, showering and functioning well. Picture: Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock

Others told me it was hard. But it's impossible to truly convey just what it's like to wake up at night every two hours for several months. Or try to calm a baby who's screaming inconsolably. Or deal with your body now being three sizes bigger than it used to be (graciously, this happens to dads as well as mums). Or struggle with not feeling like yourself for not just months but maybe even years.

However, you will get through it. (Just don't be afraid to ask for help, especially if you suffer from post-partum depression.) There are blissful, amazing moments during that period too. After enough time passes, you might even think back wistfully on this period and even be crazy enough to go through that torture again.

3. You Will Lose and Sorely Miss Sleep

Even past the infant and toddler stages, you might have sleep issues. Middle-of-the-night nightmares, kids sleeping between you and your significant other, difficulty getting them up in time for school and so on.

I think it gets better (my daughter is seven and still climbs into our bed at night). I've asked fellow Lifehacker editor and parent Walter Glenn for reassurance, but he's keeping awfully mum on the subject.

A word to the wise: Don't start a sleep or nighttime habit (like letting your kid into your bed in the middle of the night) you don't want to continue until your child graduates from high school.

4. You Don't Need a Lot of Baby Stuff or Clothes

Strollers, car seats, playpens, swings, bouncy chairs, play mats, sleep hammocks, teething rings, bibs, burp cloths... babies seemingly need a lot of accoutrements. Let me save you a lot of money: you don't need even half of those things. Picture: Stephen Cummings/Flickr

Many new parents fear their babies will get bored or will need constant stimulation to develop stellar baby brains, but the truth is infants just sleep, wake up and cry to be fed, then fall asleep after being fed. You don't need multiple, endless ways to occupy them even when they've started toddling, because everything is entertaining to a young child. (It's also why baby-proofing is important.) Also, kids tend to discard new toys quicker than it took you to look for and buy them. I have a garage full of baby distractions and stuffed animals (the bane of my existence) just waiting for a garage sale. To this day, I'm thinking, why didn't I just buy blocks or make toys out of toilet paper rolls.

Similarly, I wish I hadn't bought so many baby clothes -- at least new ones. For one thing, family and friends love to gift adorable outfits (who can resist buying tiny shoes, even if the baby can't stand up?). For another, kids grow like weeds, so some outfits are barely even worn before they no longer fit. If I could do it over again, I probably would have bought only on-sale or used clothes, enough to last two weeks of laundry. Of course, if your kid gets dirty a lot, you might have to buy more clothes, but wait until you know before hitting up the kids clothing department.

5. Children Rack Up a Lot of Surprise Costs

There is one thing you will need a lot of in the first few years: nappies. A whole lot of nappies. You know that already, but you're probably still underestimating how many nappies you'll end up buying (or washing, if you go the cloth route). Nappy services and any opportunity to save money with vouchers or special offers should be considered seriously.

Other expenses will seem to come out of the blue over the course of your child's life. Music lessons, for example, cost a couple of hundred dollars a month. School excursions, babysitting, and even medicine and medical fees can take you by surprise. Perhaps the biggest shocker is the extraordinary cost of daycare. (It's like you need to take a second job to pay for the daycare that lets you work your first job.) So spend less on baby gear and keep in mind these unexpected (or unexpectedly high) costs that really add up.

6. You Can Work from Home with a Child (But Only Up to a Point)

There are two periods of your children's lives when working from home with them is a breeze: Before they're walking (when they can entertain themselves by discovering their toes) and after they're old enough to understand that when you're working from home, you're really not available. If your kid is good at entertaining himself or herself, working from home is easy, but it might still give you pangs of guilt when your attention is divided. It's hard for parents to say "No, I'm busy now" several times a day. Picture: Bethany King/Flickr

So even if you're lucky enough to get to work from home, you should plan on getting childcare help once your child is old enough to demand your complete and undivided attention.

7. Don't Worry If Your Child Isn't Reaching Development Milestones

My daughter didn't start walking until she was 13 months old -- about the time all the baby books said I would need to consult a doctor if she wasn't walking by then. So of course I stressed about it. She was also in pull-up nappies longer than other kids in her daycare (a stranger even once remarked to me in a public bathroom that she was too old for nappies. Yeah, rude parenting advice from random strangers is also a thing you'll have to get used to). So of course I stressed about it. Picture: Manish Bansal/Flickr

Looking back, I accept each kid develops in his or her own time. All that time my daughter wasn't learning how to walk, she was using her energy to learn how to speak.

So try not to rush getting your child to talk, walk, run or read. They grow up all too fast anyway. (By the way, I tried that "teach your kid to be potty trained in one day" mythical method, and it totally backfired. I should have just done what Walter did with his two kids and waited until she was obviously ready.)

8. You Can Never Take Too Many Pictures or Videos

In the first few years, you're probably going to constantly take pictures and videos. Sadly, that falls off as you and your kid get older. You will never regret having too many pictures of your rapidly growing child though, so it's something to watch out for.

It also helps if you develop a habit of organising your photos and videos soon after you take them. Otherwise, you'll have a mess of images and videos that are as daunting as the thousands of emails you have in your inbox.

Most importantly, backup, backup and backup your photos and videos, both locally and offsite. (We like Crashplan for an automated, bulletproof backup system.) Those files are probably the most precious ones to save.

9. Going Out -- Anywhere -- Will Never Be the Same

Once you become a parent, time shifts. What used to be a five-minute run to the store will now take 45 minutes to account for bundling, dawdling, snack-packing, car-seat-fiddling and other extra steps.

Eating out is also a whole new experience. There are Cheerios on the floor to feel guilty about, crayons to keep from rolling off the table and angry-looking fellow diners (at least in your mind) to deal with. And if you manage to get out for a date night alone with your significant other, you'll probably spend all of the time talking or worrying about your child. Picture: Lordcolus

10. You Will Never Be the Same

Parenting changes you. I expected this, but I didn't expect just how radical that change would be. It's not like you turn into your mum or dad overnight, but your values, perspective and habits get realigned to one single creature: your child (or your children, if you have more than one).

It also means

  • your habits might change for the better. You'll think more about the nutritional value of your food, driving safely, spending money more wisely, living longer and exemplifying good ethics.
  • poop will no longer be taboo (if it ever was). Oh, the poop stories you will be able to tell when you're a parent.
  • your relationship with your partner will change. You can't really know until it happens whether it's for better or worse, but parenting changes the other person too, and how you look at him/her.
  • you may have to part with previous entertainment choices. (Play video games and watch TV? Sure, but now it's Talking Tom and My Little Pony/Voltron.)
  • you will never take free time for granted again.
  • you might actually have more fun and become more creative. (Inventing dog costumes, drawing on the footpath and trying new ways to make peas appealing weren't on my to-do list before.)
  • you will likely experience a love and a bond that you never could have imagined.

Finally, just one last thing to know: None of the negative stuff on this list -- as terrible and messy as they sound -- will really bother you in the long run. You'll discover many new things about yourself as a parent -- things that make you stronger, amd things that will make you more vulnerable in a sense too. Author Elizabeth Stone made this terribly true observation: "Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart walking around outside your body." I think most parents would agree that it is so, so worth it.


Comments

    Totally agree, My daughter is 5 this year, and her presence has completely changed my life. I like the remark about driving safely, I certainly don't drive with a lead foot anymore!

    1. Yeah. It took us 2 years to get the first one done.
    2. I didn't get a full nights sleep with my 2nd until she was 18months.
    3. Oh yeah! These days I'm always in bed by 11, because chances are I'll be up at 6 because a little person wants to talk to me.
    4. Absolutely. Baby proofing is a better way to spend cash than clothes. Got that nice hifi setup close to the floor? Move it. Now. Before it's broken. I used to have a guitar next to my chair. It now lives in a cupboard.
    5. Music lessons? What kind of baby have you had? My son is 4 and we haven't even thought of music lessons yet! The biggest surprise costs we've had is from midnight trips to the hospital etc. Every parent will get a couple of these.
    6. I wish this was true. The only time I can work from home is at nap time. If the kids are ambulatory and I'm not observing, they'll be getting into trouble. So no working.
    7. We paid general attention to milestones. They're there for a reason. But there's enough things to freak out about that you can put these to the back of your mind. Where did you read that 13months is bad? It's fine. Some kids don't walk until 18 months.
    8. Yes you can. I'm ruthless with the delete key. Unless it's a beautiful shot, it wont' get kept. There's no point having thousands of pics that you'll never look at. Backing up uber-important.
    9. I'm so glad my kids will actually sit down and shut up at restaurants now. I missed eating out.
    10. Amen. I don't drink now. I go to bed early now. I'm responsible now. And I wouldn't change any of it for the world. I'm a better person now.

    But I hope noone things it was a painless process. It's not difficult raising kids. But it's a constant grind and bad stuff always goes down when you're least ready for it. So you learn to be good under pressure.

    For the record, I'm 32 and have no problem watching Voltron.

    For the record, i'm 38 and have no problem watching Voltron. I make my son wait until it's over before i put on Disney Cars for the one billionth time.

      I'm 42 and can't wait to join my son watching Bolton when he is old enough (he's 14 months).

      As for the walking, are we talking free standing or still holding onto stuff?

      Voltron not Bolton. Stoopid auto correct.

        Dammit. I just went to search for this Bolton. Sounds like a Crazy Robot Construction worker from the future. My little boy will be disappointed.

      I don't have kids myself (have nine nephews/nieces) but this is completely true.

      What's with the compulsion to watch the same movie over and over again? I don't recall having an obsession over a particular movie.

        I don't know how old you are, but when I was a kid we didn't have the option, unless the same thing was on TV over and over. The VCR became widely available when I was about 11 years old, and even then there wouldn't have been much in the way of kid-friendly stuff available to rent.

    Only comment as a young single guy is the irony of the first image of what is supposed to be a couple of tired out parents.. Who happen to be incredibly good looking, with perfect make up and ironed and laundered clothes trying to look like tired parents.

    Sometimes, stock images are simply insulting to the truths trying to be conveyed - and i've found you guys pretty much ALWAYS use such perfect stock imagery as a rule of thumb on this site..

    Something to consider lol

      And the perfectly white couch is a dead giveaway, no parent in thier right mind would try to pull off a white couch with kids.

      my youngest is now 8 and we only just got nice leather couches after waiting for 13 years to have nice things... well still cant have nice things, the 13 year old daughter recently did her nails on the coffee table... so that now needs stripping and re varnishing.

    I was 25 when my ex gf and I had my son. My ex got pregnant 2 months after we were together, we were careless, but he's the best thing that ever happened to me. He lives with me full time and we're the best of friends, he's 9 now and I could'nt imagine a day going by in my life without him.

    My brother once asked if I thought of him as a mistake, I said no, I punched my brother out. A stupid thing to do, but we're brothers, so you forgive and forget. He's never said the M word again though :) I may not have planned my son, but sometimes things happen and come along in your life just at the moment you need them to, like my little boy did.

    I know how much I value my son and love him dearly, for all you parents out there who have had to struggle to conceive, who have had issues and finally had it pay off, I can't imagine that feeling but I do know how it feels to have a wonderful child in your life, there is no better feeling. To those who are currently trying, keep at it, it will happen and it's all worth it. For anyone who finds out they can't but still wants children, it's got to be horrible to find that out, but make another childs life better by trying to adopt and showing them the love that you've got to give.

    Being a parent is possibly the best thing in the world :)

    Great article - I think another thing worth pointing out is that it is important to maintain your fitness because running after kids and playing with them etc is quite physically draining.

    Not a parent yet, but soon hope to be. Great article for those in prep mode. How about iPads saving the day for parents keeping kids occupied. Boon or Bane? We live in Orlando. So we come across more kids than adults and easily 80% of those 2-8 yr olds are pouring over their ipads swooshing, slashing fruits. Feel sad for both parent and child.

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