Before you wander into lifelong parenthoodery, here are some things to consider (that maybe you’ve been told, maybe you haven’t):
There’s no such thing as being “ready”
You can’t be ready for something you can’t know. There is no ready. There is only the decision to have a child or not to have a child. That’s all the preparation you can possibly possess.
Having a pet is as much preparation for a child as watching the moon landing prepares you to be an astronaut
So don’t say it, don’t believe it, and punch anyone that does (I’m kidding, of course, don’t punch anyone, why would you take that seriously?!? We also happen to currently have 3 dogs and 2 cats – not counting the 8 animals that have died during our 20-year marriage; so I do know what it’s like to own pets before and after kids, but again these are just my opinions. You are welcome to disagree and write your own list on why owning a pet is exactly like having a child).
For fathers, the pregnancy phase doesn’t have the same hormonal, physical, or psychological effects
You will see your significant other get larger, frequently sleep, get sick, and eventually become virtually immobile, but it’s mostly just waiting and watching. It’s normal not to feel excited about having a baby. Just don’t say that out loud.
For mothers, tell your significant other what you need them to do – because we have no idea what we’re doing
Foot massages, back massages, an ear to listen, or going on late night errands to get pickles or BBQ ribs – tell us what you need and want. It’s literally the only way we can be of use. You are having a unique experience we can’t understand. We won’t have the same bonding you will have, so make us feel useful by allowing us to help you in any way we can.
You will never be so excited and exhausted in your entire life as the day your child is born
After you meet your baby and everything gets cleaned up, (because Jesus Lord it’s a mess of sights, sounds, and smells you can’t fathom), you will settle into a nonstop barrage of tests, temperature taking, nursing, paperwork, burping, questions, diaper checking, visitors, crying, and awkward moments of adjusting to this new tiny being that is now yours to raise. You won’t sleep for more than two hours during your entire hospital stay.
Newborns are boring
Don’t get me wrong, they’re cute, but boring. I’m afraid you may think I mean that boring is bad. It’s not. Boring is perfect. Newborns just sleep, (sporadically and horribly), cry, and eat when they aren’t sleeping, and poop in between. Imagine if they could walk, talk, and eat cheeseburgers right when they were born? Boring is what you want.
Once your newborn is “sleep trained,” you won’t be
Your newborn will wake up every two hours for six months. Then move on to waking up every 6 hours for the next 6 months. By the time they are sleeping through the night, they’ll have trained you to not be able to sleep for more than four hours at a time.
Parenting doesn’t happen all at once
Luckily for you, newborns have very simple needs. They aren’t born talking, walking, and challenging your very existence at every moment. It’s hard to screw anything up first few months. Other than them almost rolling off the changing table. Not that that’s ever happened to us.
Once they crawl you will wish they would stop
You won’t be able to place them down and know they’ll stay put. And after crawling is walking, followed by running, mixed with lots of falling. So much falling.
You will get poop on you
No matter how careful you are, you will get poop on you. It’s not like the poop of a 63-year-old man. But it’s still poop. In fact, at some point, you will clean poop out of a bathtub. It’s far more difficult than you’d think.
It will take an extra 45 minutes to get out the door, no matter where you’re going or how long you plan to be gone
Diapers, bottles, clothes, blankets, wipes, butt cream, formula, pacifiers, toys, that one special stuffed animal, portable playpens (which are highly overrated), and the thing you always forget and will have to go back to get. If you have more than one child, you will have to get ready 24 hours in advance.
Get comfortable with repetition. Get comfortable with repetition. Get comfortable with repetition.
You will read the same books over and over (and you will memorize them, I still know “Goodnight Moon” by heart, 14 years later), watch the same shows over and over, listen to the same music over and over, play the same games over and over. So choose your books, shows, music, and games carefully.
Finding a babysitter is tantamount to buying a house
You’re competing with hundreds of other parents who are also trying to find that perfect babysitter, and you will have to pay for it. But it’s worth it. It’s your damn child. Don’t be cheap. And if you’re lucky enough to have family watch your child, please understand not all of us are so lucky, so please don’t act so shocked if we can’t go somewhere without at least four weeks notice.
Strangers will give you unsolicited advice
This advice will be completely comprised of horror stories that will scare you into staying indoors forever. It will always be dispensed while you wait in line for something – at the grocery store, DMV, or Chipotle. Yes, I’m well aware of the irony in that statement.
Other parents will make you feel as if you’re doing everything wrong
Other people aren’t you and their kids aren’t your kids. No one gets it all right, and no one gets it all wrong. Parents who share (on Facebook) that their kids are amazing, awesome, perfect, and every moment is a blessing, are lying (by omission) to make themselves feel better. Don’t take it personally.
The best game you can ever play is “Sleeping Giant”
Let me explain. When your child is young you will do lots of playing that involves dolls, dressing up, and pretending. You will eventually get very tired of it. So I suggest you play what I call “Sleeping Giant”, where you lie down, pretend to sleep, and your child will attempt to sneak up on you without you waking up. All you have to do it snore, pretend to wake up, lunge forward to grab them (wherein they scream and run away), and go back to sleeping. You’re welcome.
Every six months your child will switch from easy, fun, and awesome to a complete asshole
This cycle continues for years and years and years. At present my oldest child is 16, and it’s still true.
Your child will hate you
It’s fine. They will curse you under their breath. They will call you names. They will wish you were dead. You’ll be tempted to take it personally. Don’t. If they hate you, you’re doing something right. Your goal isn’t to do things so your child likes you. Your goal should be to create a person who has the ability to make wise decisions, the confidence to stand for their convictions, and the humility to admit their mistakes (and many other things, but I’m not writing a book here).
If you thought you were done with school, think again
You will have to help your child with homework and you will have forgotten everything you ever learned. Also, you will be tempted to “help” your kids with their projects – and by “help” I mean “do” – please don’t, despite the fact that most parents do and lie about it. (You’ll see a perfectly constructed solar system that you’re supposed to believe was done by a kindergartener. The parent won’t shut up about how amazed they are at their kid’s talent: “No I didn’t help him, he’s just so gifted.” But you’ll know, especially because that same kid just ate a booger).
Don’t succumb to the pressure of extra-curricular activities
As your child gets older, the world of after school activities will overcome your life. While it’s important to have your child do and learn things outside of school, don’t become so obsessed with having them participate in these that you’re forcing them into a world of responsibilities. They’re a child. Think of all the things you have to do as an adult, why does a child have to the same pressures and stresses as you? Let them be a kid.
Your kids will push you to the limit of your self-control and patience
Often you will fail, and you will feel like the worst human being alive. It happens to all of us throughout our kids’ lives, from two to 18 years old. Be quick to apologize (not just to your child, but yourself as well).
Discipline isn’t as scary as it sounds
Let’s be clear: my wife and I are not experts on disciplining our children, but I think we’ve learned a few things. Be consistent, follow through, say “no” (and mean it), be an adult (don’t let your emotions guide your actions), let the punishment fit the crime, offer occasional mercy, say you’re sorry (because you will fail at all the above).
There will be a last time you pick your child up
I heard this said once, and it affected me powerfully. Don’t merely be present with your kids, don’t just “cherish” it (whatever that really means), actively observe and participate because at some point it’ll be the last time they crawl, the last time you give them a bath, the last time they hold your hand.
There is no salary, no promotions, no vacation days, no evaluations. Being a parent is not about you at all
If you have the slightest hesitation about the long sacrifice that is parenthood, please don’t have a child. Having a child is not a requirement. It might seem like there isn’t anything positive about parenthood, but that’s because you need to adjust your expectations about parenthood.
If you want to feel good about yourself, volunteer your time helping others. Parenthood isn’t about making yourself feel good. Parenthood is not about your child becoming your identity. Parenthood is about creating a nurturing environment for your child so that they will transform into a functional adult who, (you hope) will make the world a better place. If you do this, there will come a day when your child becomes your friend.
This piece was originally published on Medium.