The expression “nothing can prepare you for parenthood” is as accurate as saying that contractions hurt. Parenting is not easy. There is no manual or induction. You hit the ground running, without training but with full responsibility. And it can be a rocky ride. It’s full of startles and surprises, tangles and tumbles and heydays and greydays. I’m almost seven years into my parenting tenure and I have learned some valuable lessons on the job.
More insight than wisdom, here are 15 things I’ve learnt as a parent:
- There is a pain worse than labour. Nursing a baby while nursing a hangover is agony and, like childbirth, seems never-ending. At least in labour, they offer pethidine! Most parents only have to learn this punishing lesson once. For others, common sense does not prevail!
- Sacrifices are part of the job. Along with sleep, sex, pelvic floor and upright boobs, you also forfeit privacy and dignity. All personal maintenance is exhibited in front of an audience. Going to the toilet with an audience is your new normal. But you’ll be amazed at the endless uses your child can come up with for toilet rolls!
- Expressions such as “You get what you get and your don’t get upset,” and “Say it again in a nice voice” form part of your vernacular. Curiously though, children only seem to respond to these magical words at kinder. Similarly, the clapping technique that teachers use to hypnotically get their attention does not work at home. I’ve tried. It failed.
- Being a parent is a lifelong exercise in self-restraint. Swearing, while once a satisfying, knee-jerk reaction to outrage has to be watered down and replaced with child-appropriate expressions. For some, this is a hard habit to break. Ever wondered why so many kids’ first words are profanities. In my catalogue of early parenting mistakes, dropping the F-bomb ranks rather highly.
- The enjoyment of parenthood is often eclipsed by pressure and expectation. Parents are judged hastily and unfairly. Block out the parenting noise and go with your own flow. Choose your own path. Accept drugs during labour, or refuse. Breastfeed, or don’t. Work, or stay at home. Neither of these choices makes you less or more a parent. Do what works for you. Do what works for your family.
- Children are like vessels of karma. We get sent a version of ourselves and it can be very “revealing.” You’ll get a glimpse into your earlier self. Your mum may not have the most sympathy for your situation!
- You become fluent in a different type of dialogue. Whereas you once talked about movies, restaurants, travel and even current affairs, you become conversant in a new mother tongue (pardon the pun). Sleep school, potty training, school readiness, and when to start solids are your new conversation topics.
- Pap smears, day surgery, even a visit to the dentist qualifies as opportunities to lie down. You take it when you can get it…
- You eat a lot of humble pie as a mum. You’ll bribe and bargain with your kids even though you swore you never would. You may have also said you’d always speak in a calm, quiet and controlled voice to make them see reason and logic? Yep, me too…
- Fact. It is not possible to enjoy every single moment of parenting. NOT even close. Groundhog Day Syndrome is a reality for new mums. The early days can be made of up mind-numbingly endless days of singing “the wheels on the bus” on only two hours of uninterrupted sleep. And how much fun is it pushing a swing over and over and over again at an empty park in the middle of winter?
- It’s not just sleep deprivation that causes fatigue. Floor fatigue, park fatigue and routine fatigue are all energy drainers. And it’s also all the thousands of tiny decisions you have to make on a daily basis. It’s exhausting being the family compass and conscience.
- It’s a well-known parental law that when kids are quiet they’re up to mischief. But hey, that wall mural they just drew with crayons while you enjoyed an entire cup of coffee in one sitting is worth it!
- Cakes are not a measure of parental love. Kids’ birthday cakes do not have to be Pinterest perfect. I’ve spent hours – actually days – assembling the perfect Princess Castle Cake but the one they declared “Best on ground” was the $5 chocolate mud cake from the supermarket.
- There’s nothing like parenting to expose your limitations. We tend to feel like we should be doing more; we could be giving more; we could be teaching them more. But each of us is a flawed human being, except to our most important critics – our kids. Focus less on your shortcomings and play to your strengths.
- Years really do disappear in a blink; time speeds up right at the time you want it to slow down. Except when they ask you do craft!!
Hit me with something you’ve learnt on the job. This is by no means an exhaustive list. Over to you…
*This article first appeared on Kidspot.