There are very few things that will turn your life upside down in quite the same way as having your first baby. The heady combination of love and extreme responsibility can’t be compared to anything else you’ve ever experienced. Overwhelming doesn’t begin to describe those first few weeks.
Of course, every pregnancy and baby are different, so just because you have one or two children already (or in my case five), that definitely doesn’t mean you know everything, but you do have a head start.
You at least have an inkling of what to expect and you kind of know the ropes.
I was 22 when I had my first son and after a tumultuous pregnancy in which I was sick for the first 6 months and had a road traffic accident at almost 8 months, I couldn’t wait to get him earthside.
As I went off on my maternity leave, I was gifted three beautiful presents. A vase and a shoulder bag from Marks and Spencer and a book for expectant mothers entitled The Yummy Mummy Survival Guide (which I still have somewhere).
The book, which I read cover to cover in under a week, while mildly entertaining didn’t actually give me the foggiest idea of what it would be like to have my own child (how could it really?).
So, here is a list of a few things I think I only came to realise after I become a parent. I’d love to hear if you can think of any others:
You will find that suddenly everybody has an opinion about what you should be doing and how you are raising your child. You will be on the receiving end of an unnerving amount of unsolicited advice from your Mother, Mother-in-law, friends, and relatives. Also, random people outside coffee shops and wandering around Boots. You are perfectly within your rights to tell all of these people to bog off – politely of course.
You cannot spoil a child with cuddles and allowing them to (safely) sleep in your bed will make them neither clingy or condemn them to a life of insomnia. It’s an undeniable fact that sleep deprivation is one of the hardest parts of becoming a new parent. You need to survive this relatively short phase, so do what’s best for you, your baby, and your sanity. Just be aware that sleeping with a small child is akin to sleeping with an excitable octopus. At some point, you will be kicked in the face.
You will suddenly understand and relate to all those Mama Bear / Papa Bear metaphors and memes.
If you choose to breastfeed your baby, you will discover that a lot of babies will not tolerate being covered up whilst feeding. They will wiggle, fuss, and reveal far more than if you hadn’t tried in the first place. This is not your fault and your baby is not strange. You are not forcing anyone to look at the 1cm section of breast that can be seen while your baby eats his or her dinner.
If you choose to bottle feed your baby, you will get just as many unsolicited comments about that too! Regardless of how you choose to feed your child, it is absolutely nobody’s business but yours.
There is no ‘wrong way’ to wean (unless you’re feeding them chips or something). Baby-Led, home-cooked, or straight from an organic jar. I’ve done it all and I can’t tell the difference between any of my children. They all had a good start and they all eat like miniature horses.
Never, ever, ever leave the house with a small child without packing several sets of spare clothes and a stack of nappies. The one time you forget, they will be sick all over themselves, they will tip their dinner down themselves or their nappy will leak all the way up their back (and it won’t be just a wet nappy either). You only will do this once. For me, it was on a park-and-ride bus with no escape route. I bought new clothes and went straight home.
Your child will do things at their own pace and in their own time. You cannot compare them to any other child in the whole world. Amongst my not-so-tiny tribe, I had late speakers and early speakers. bum shufflers, late walkers, and one child that ‘swam’ around the floor on his back, kicking his legs like a tiny frog for 6 months.
By the time they hit 16, I can guarantee you will be worrying about GCSE’s and you won’t have thought about any of these ‘important’ milestones for years. If you really are concerned about anything, make an appointment with your GP, but bear in mind that 9 times out of 10, he will probably laugh you.
There will be occasions when for absolutely no reason at all, your small child will decide to kick off in a supermarket, creating such a commotion you will want to exit immediately without all your shopping – You may actually do this. Your child is not feral, and this has nothing to do with you ‘not being strict enough’ (despite what Enid in aisle 3 thinks). I had 3 children who were angels when shopping, I had 2 who’s tantrums could be heard for miles. You will discover that often, there is very little you can do to stop a tantrum. Being ‘experienced’ doesn’t change this at all.
Small children do not understand the concept of personal space at all. You can fully expect to be having entire conversations in the bathroom for years.
It also takes them a while to get the hang of good manners, which means at some point they will probably use you to wipe their nose or their grubby little face.
They have the ability to get really excited over the tiniest, most ridiculous things – like balloons from random cafés and bags of shopping from the grocery store. Boxes really do make great toys. This will never stop being amusing.
Their curiosity knows no bounds – which is why cupboard locks, draw locks, and appliance locks were invented.
They have a curious affinity for animals. They will 'kind of' like them, even if they are really quite nervous. Don't believe me? Try taking them to a petting zoo and watch they while they go crazy over chickens and have staring competitions with goats.
They recognise and like other children from the youngest age which is beyond cute.
They are honest to a fault and this is not always a good thing. Small children have a terrible habit of saying exactly what they think and what they see, meaning they will say the absolute last thing you want them to say, at the worst possible moment, to the worst possible person. This moment will haunt you for years.
They have a habit of picking up on words and phrases that you REALLY don’t want them to repeat. You will find the only way to stop them saying it, is to turn it into something funny – before they say it at the worst possible moment, to the worst possible person. They also have a habit of mispronouncing words or making up entirely new words of their own when they can’t say the real thing. This could be sweet or awkward. Seriously 50/50 chance it could go either way.
A lot of children go through a biting, snatching, fibbing stage (etc, etc). I had one toddler with the most impressive poker-face you’ve ever seen. On one occasion when asked if she’d cut her hair with her toy scissors, she sincerely replied “No” – whilst clutching the offending pink scissors and a fist full of curls. Fortunately, whilst not ideal, these are all phases that other parents can relate to and phases they grow out of pretty fast. Never listen to anyone who insists their child never committed such heinous crimes. They have simply forgotten all the times 40-year-old Amanda drew all over the walls.
Potty training is not as scary as everyone makes out and doesn’t have to be hard. It’s pretty easy to turn it into a game by sticking Cheerios down the loo for them to aim at. Bribery also plays a big role here. Mini marshmallows work really well as ‘potty treats’. For the few weeks that potty training lasts, their teeth will be fine. None of the children I have ever known have had even a vague recollection of ‘potty treats’.
Children don’t actually get easier as they get older (This is a myth - sorry about that) and no stage is easier than any other – they’re just different. The moment you finally get the hang of one stage, your child will have conveniently moved onto the next. Every stage will end though, both the good and challenging. Think early morning snuggles, bedtime stories, and colic.
Some children enjoy being photographed. If you are the parent of one of these children – congratulations, your child is one in a million and you have many years of Instagram parenting moments ahead of you. Most children do not. Do you know all those perfect portraits from professional family photoshoots? These were all achieved using bribery and stealth tactics.
Your child will morph into a social butterfly with a much better social life than you ever had, whilst you will spend so much time driving them around between their social gatherings, that you will begin to forget what your house looks like. I’m not talking about teenagers either. Toddler groups, birthday parties, extracurriculars….. Fully expect the fun and games to start from 6 months upwards. This social life will set you back approximately the same as the average UK house.
Despite spending most of your time as a new parent trying to ignore what everybody else thinks and teaching your child not to care either, you will still want them to have friends and fit in with their classmates. Unless they’re extremely confident, they will care themselves and anything that matters to them will matter more to you.
Your child will get more homework than you ever thought possible. Much more than you ever had when you were at school. If you have more than one child, this homework might begin to take over your life (or at least your evenings and weekends).
Contrary to popular belief, teenagers are not nightmares. They might be independent and private, but they’re also funny and a lot of fun to talk to. You might find yourself talking for hours, putting the world to rights – usually at 10 at night when you’re trying to go to bed. They might have more than their fair share of unreasonable moments, but you probably do too. As a side note, I genuinely like my children as people and not just because they're mine. It’s lovely and a privilege to watch them grow into the people they’ll become.
From the way they walk to the quirky looks that come across their little faces, you will recognise yourself in the things your child says and does. You might also recognise your own parents. This is nice, but also a little strange.
Your home may at times feel like it will never be truly tidy ever again. You will find yourself spending a phenomenal amount of time cleaning up after your small hurricanes and you will spend an equal amount of time doing laundry. Think, trying to shovel snow when it’s still snowing - for 18 years.
Small children really like to help – it’s just that their ‘help’ isn’t really very helpful. Do not be even slightly surprised if you go into their room after they’ve ‘helped’ to tidy, to find their wardrobe bulging at the seams and their mattress several inches off their bed where they’ve simply stuffed all the clutter underneath. Teenagers aren’t necessarily better at tidying than toddlers. You’d think they would be, but no.
Never underestimate your child because they’re small. They are far more capable (and often more stubborn) than you give them credit for. Your two-year-old is perfectly capable of understanding ‘tidy up time’. They might however pretend that they don’t.
You will notice if you have a second child (or more), that new siblings seem to pick things up faster. While some of this is down to having siblings to copy, it’s also down to you being more confident in letting them try to do things for themselves.
You will quite frequently find yourself with eleventy-billion things on your to-do list and you won’t have the faintest idea where to start. If you’re lucky, you’ll tick a few things off that list each day. Some days you won’t. This is ok.
There will also be times when you find yourself overwhelmed for no particular reason at all. Which makes you normal.
Children have absolutely no understanding if you are sick or have a work deadline. Some days you will achieve nothing bar keeping everybody fed, clean, and cared for. – This is also ok.
Despite what social media would have you believe, no one is perfect all of the time and nor are their children. Those pretty little squares and status updates are responsible for a lot! It really isn’t possible to do ‘all the things, all the time, all by yourself’. Anyone who says it is, is probably doing less, with a lot more help or with some other advantage that you haven’t seen.
You will notice that there are a curious number of folk over 60 (relatives or otherwise) who all had perfect babies and even more perfect children who were all out of nappies by 12 months old, ate everything they were ever given, and never raised their voices at all. Children were not more perfect 60 years ago. This is known as Rosy Coloured Spectacles.
Your children don’t care what you do with them or where you go, as long as you’re spending time with them – honest. I’m not saying it won’t suck slightly when their best friend gets a laptop for their 6th birthday and a mobile phone for their 9th, but in the grand scheme of things, time-well-spent will always be remembered long after ‘things’ are forgotten.
Finding your tribe is important. Be that actual real-life people you’ve met at a toddler group, a club or the school gate, or like-minded people you’ve ‘met’ while chatting on Instagram. If you’re on your own for a large part of the day, unless you’re a complete introvert, you’ll find you appreciate being able to talk to someone over one metre tall. If your partner is out of the house for 60+ hours a week and you have no relatives to stop by, it’s even more important. If you’re are parenting alone, you deserve some kind of award and possibly day named after you.
Taking care of yourself should not be considered a luxury and shouldn’t be an afterthought. Unless burning out is what you’re shooting for, it’s important and necessary. Never getting one minute to yourself is not something to aspire to. There’s a lot that can be said for ‘Happy Mum, Happy Baby’.
There will be many, many things over the years that will be out of your control, but you will learn to deal with them all, adapt, and grow. Feeling guilty and giving yourself a hard time helps no one. Knowing this will not stop you from worrying about your child ever. You will still be worrying about them when they’re 50.
You will often find yourself wishing that you had more time. Cliché time – The years really do go so fast. Maybe not while you’re in the trenches, but when you look back.
As they grow into adults, you might find yourself missing them before they’ve gone anywhere at all.
Keep talking, ask questions, and listen. A lot. Even if it’s about utter nonsense, or what they ate for lunch.
There is no such thing as an 'experienced' parent. Anyone who claims to know everything about all children, ever, is talking absolute nonsense. Most people who have a number of children know better than to say such things. Not exactly empathetic is it?
You can never take too many photographs or keep too many important keepsakes. You'll want a way to remember all those holidays, medals, and Mother's Days in 20 years' time. Make sure you're in some of the photographs, instead of always being the one behind the camera.
You will find yourself kissing your child goodnight long after they’ve gone to sleep and have no idea what you’re doing. You might still be doing this up until they leave home.
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