If you haven’t heard of Quora, it’s an interesting site where people pose questions on all manner of subjects. And the community can chime in with their two cents worth (preferably backed by some facts and/or some personal experience).
I follow a wide variety of topics there and a few friends and family. And then someone asked: What is it that nobody tells you about having children? And I read the answers and upvoted a few posts and wandered off. Then, while sick I started writing an answer. (Because when I’m sick, I write or do art stuff…ya know, like you do.) And being my thorough self, it got rather in-depth.
Parents may read this and laugh. Non-parents may also laugh, followed by shrieks and shuddering. Parenting is not for the faint of heart.
So I thought I’d share my post here too.
Most people shared a lot of good points, so I’ll cover a few I don’t see here. This is generally speaking, so there are always some exceptions.
Your definition of hygiene will change. Bathing will become a luxury. I know far too many parents with little time to bathe. You’ll get used to going days without bathing, and stop caring if you go out in public without a bath or your hair done. This is especially true for stay-at-home parents.
You’ll develop a new sense of what you consider “gross”, because you’ll eventually notice baby barf on your pants and think, “eh, not bad enough to change to go to the store”. You’ll go out in public and realize you have a little poop on your sleeve, shrug your shoulders, and continue your shopping. You’ll show up in 3 day old clothing to drop kids off at daycare and not even flinch.
Oh sure, everyone tells you “don’t expect to keep a clean house once the kids arrive”. And you may think you’re cool with that because you don’t mind the house getting a little messy now and then. But you have no concept of how truly gross and chaotic a house can get until you have children. You’ll find ancient fish sticks in the couch cushions. You’ll have a living room carpeted with a minefield of toys. You’re going to find poop in strange places. Due to lack of time, cleaning will become low on the priority list (because at the end of the day, you’re just happy if you can get your kids fed, bathed, hugged, and asleep). This especially goes when both parents work or you’re a single parent.
If you don’t like shopping, you will now because it will be your “free time”. Parents love their kids, but the need to be alone or even have kid-free time still runs strongly in us. This means that sometimes a parent will look at the other parent and say, “My turn to go to the grocery store!”.
Males, you will get used to having your genitals being a punching bag. Babies and toddlers just naturally aim for that area. Also, when they start walking, they’ll reach there for a hand-hold for climbing.
Women, you will be able to smell a dirty diaper from across the room. Having a super-power of “strong sense of smell” is not fun, but handy. If you nurse, you’ll learn that milk can have the potential to exist in your body for years after weaning; it doesn’t always dry up in months or a year. If you have a C-section, you may learn it doesn’t heal and stop hurting in months, and may take a year or longer before you are pain-free. (I’ve met way too many women that dealt with that to buy into the concept that we fully heal after a few months.)
Your concept of sleep deprivation will change. If you ever thought you were sleepless before due to work, school, or partying…you are still not prepared. If you ever believed that sleep deprivation is not part of the definition of torture you will sing a new tune after having children.
Criteria for toys will include things like “is it quiet?”, “does it have volume control?”, and “does it have an off switch?”. You will end up with toys without any of those and you’ll learn that you can just tune it out.
Speaking of tuning things out: you will develop an immunity to children’s songs and television. You’ll be astounded at how many times in a row, for weeks, you can hear the same songs and dialogue and just stop noticing it. (Granted, most parents have at least 1 or 2 shows that become the “no way” or “only on very rare occasions” show.)
Your children will do and say things that will make you have to leave the room to laugh. Because we don’t want to teach them that their behavior is OK, or that embarrassing word or phrase they mispronounced is funny (because they’ll just keep doing it, and they’ll do it in the worst situations). If your loving spouse is closest to the exit you will be abandoned so they can go laugh, leaving you struggling to explain something to a child while trying not to crack a smile. You’ll do the same if you are the one standing closest to an exit.
Peepee Teepees are designed under the assumption that your boy will never wiggle and squirm during the diaper changing process, thereby rendering them useless. In fact, you’re going to learn the hard way that some cool things for babies are awesome and some are a waste of money. Also: just because it worked for someone else’s kid doesn’t mean it will work on yours.
Your instincts to protect your children will be so strong that even if your spouse who you love and would never ever dream of wanting to hit, looks like they’re about to drop your kid, you will be hit with the desire, for the first time in your life, to hit them. In fact, you’ll be struck with the urge to punch bad drivers that endanger your kids while you are driving your car. The momma/poppa bear jokes people make are based on some truth.
You’ll discover you have the astounding ability to hold a baby, fall and injure yourself, without the child hitting the floor or being harmed in any way.
Even if you and other people think you are the most patient person on the planet, one day, you will be hit with the urge to smack your child. You won’t act on it but you’ll still have the most surprising, overwhelming urge, which will be followed by some feelings of guilt. Kids, even starting as young as toddlers, learn real fast how to press your buttons. At the very least, they can be exasperating without trying to get to you; and all parents eventually find themselves overwhelmed at some point. Although when kids aren’t trying to test you, having a kid (starting at toddler age on) is like having a horrifically rude roommate with no social skills…and what we’ve been taught about how people should behave and is socially acceptable is really going to be at odds with your patience. You may be the type of person who doesn’t care about the rules of society; you’ll be shocked to learn what’s been ingrained in you….and just how deeply.
The first few years of the kids’ life, you’re just trying to keep them alive. Whether you’re trying to get them to eat enough to gain weight, or dealing with a mobile toddler, the focus is on getting them through the day in one piece. Kids are klutzy when they first learn to walk and fall a lot. And then they’ll learn climbing. They’ll grab things off the floor and put them in their mouth…it may be a small toy, a nut, a coin, or a bug. Your world will be a wonderland of choking hazards and things kids can fall off of or be impaled by. And this is why women start becoming neurotic insomniacs.
You are going to get pooped, peed and barfed on. You’ve been told this, but you have no concept of the volume and frequency with which this will occur. It’s probably going to land right in your hand, on your face, in your hair, or maybe even in your mouth. It’s going to happen to you a lot. If you’re squeamish you won’t be for much longer. Especially after you walk into your child’s room to a crib that is completely covered in poop, and crib toys that have it in every nook and cranny. Or you have a high chair so filthy it has to be hosed off in the back yard.
All the awesome ideas you have on parenting are wrong. You think you know how to do it, but you’ll discover your ideas aren’t practical. You may discover that it just doesn’t work for you and/or your spouse and/or your kids. Or, you’ll discover that just because something works for your friends or family, or worked when you were a kid, doesn’t mean it will work for your situation. Every kid is different too: what works on one kid may not work on another of your children.
You’ll plop your kids in front of the TV just to keep your sanity and out of sheer exhaustion on your part. You will find yourself letting them watch TV at dinner just so they’ll stay in their chairs and not run with food in their mouths. You tell yourself you won’t do it…but you will. You may think co-sleeping is a terrible idea, until you discover it’s the only way the baby (and thus you) will sleep. Later, when people tell you about how they plan to raise their kids, you’ll laugh at them the way everyone laughed at you. You’ll also realize that when you told people your grand plans for raising kids, someone was snickering and saying, “yeah, just wait”. (Assuming your family and friends aren’t the kind that will just laugh in your face.)
Having kids forces you to roll with the punches of life. Remember how your parents mellowed as you got older? Yeah, that will happen to you too. All those ideas you have about how “things should be” or how “life should be” or how “people should be” will change.
Those parents with the kids screaming in the store? You’ll empathize with them one day rather than judge them. You’ll know that it may not be that the kid is a brat and those are bad parents. Odds are good that the kid is just being a typical toddler, or maybe their kid is having an autistic meltdown. You’ll know just how mortified those parents feel. Those parents with the screaming kid on the plane? You’ll feel for them too because you’ll know that sometimes there’s no choice but to take a kid on a plane.
When you hear another child cry and you can’t see them, you’ll seek them out. Your urge will be to make sure that other kid is OK. In fact, if your neighbor’s kid yells, “Mommy, I’m scared!” from their backyard, you will skin your palms sending your 5 foot, plus-sized frame, over a 6 foot fence. (The kid was fine; the mom was inside and the kid couldn’t get the back door open and panicked.) Both men and women pop their heads up like lemurs when they hear a kid crying.
You’ll realize the magnitude of what your parents gave up to raise you. When you look back on your childhood, you’ll know how hard raising you was for your parents too, no matter how easy you were to handle as a kid. At some point, you’ll find yourself on the phone calling to apologize to, and thank, your parents.
Having children will teach you what you, and your relationship, are made of. You will spend years sleep deprived, filthy, exhausted, embarrassed, horrified and otherwise emotionally damaged, with little to no time to yourself. If you think you’ve been in tough situations before, this is going to be one of the hardest, if not the hardest, things you’ve ever done. And it’s going to work like Stockholm Syndrome: you will be held hostage and abused by a tiny person and you will love them anyway.
Everything that you think of as normal, you will look at with fresh eyes. Things we take for granted are amazing to the kids. They’ll teach you a new sense of wonder, if you let them. You’ll even watch cartoons with your kids and realize they have no context for what’s happening, and why people are saying and behaving the way they are. Then you may learn that TV can become quite the useful learning tool when you sit with your kids and give a running explanation of what’s happening on the screen.
The old cliche about “having kids is the hardest and most rewarding thing I’ve ever done” is true. And you will realize that the phrase you always found cliche and annoying exists because there just isn’t a better way to say it.
Having kids is like sex: you think you know what you’re getting into before you do it, but you really have no clue what kind of ride you’re in for.
What have you learned? What do you wish you knew?