Whether you've just seen that extra line appear on the pregnancy test, you're battling the sleep-deprived first few months of parenthood or you're the proud mama of a preschooler, it's all the same. Parenting has the potential to surprise you at every turn. You might have even tried to prep yourself for parenting by reading books and articles on the subject, but honestly, there are some things that no one explains to you about parenting.
1. All your plans go out the window. Ah, the childless—they have it all figured out before they even have kids. Only a true parent knows that all those carefully laid plans for being the perfect parent go out the window when you're in the ballgame. You might have promised yourself that your child would never have a dirty shirt, but there he is, face-deep in a melted chocolate bar. You might have smirked that your kid would have perfect manners, yet he's the one howling in the grocery store.
2. Kids are the real teachers. Child psychiatrist Joseph Shrand notes a lesson he learned while parenting his own four kids. "Our kids will indeed train us if we can remain open to learning about who they are, not who we wish they were," he says. "Parents may think they need to teach kids to conform, adapt and play nice. But when a kid is valued for who they are, all of those things fall into place. The lesson I have learned is let your kids be the teachers to make us the best parents we can be."
3. You'll never sleep the same again. Remember those blissful nights of the single life, when you were able to go to sleep whenever, wake up whenever and not wake up in between? Yeah, us too. Being a parent means surrendering your sleep schedule forever. From the sleepless nights of babyhood to the interrupted sleep when your school-age child has a nightmare, it's best to set the record straight at the start: You'll be sleep-deprived for the next 18 years of your life.
4. You'll make mistakes. No parent is perfect, no matter how many times one has bragged about it at playgroup. Making mistakes is par for the course when it comes to raising tiny human beings. But clinical psychologist Julia Simens thinks mistakes make all the difference. "The interactions between parents and their young children are full of disruptions, miscommunication and misunderstandings. This is the reality of all of our lives," she says. "These moments are special even if they are 'worse' moments because it means you and your child are connecting and making memories of each other." Condensed version? Don't beat yourself up about that time you lost your cool after hearing "Why?" asked for the 93rd time.
5. Gross stuff will make up your daily life. Parenting is not for the weak of heart or stomach. Bodily fluids and functions all become normal conversation fodder between moms. Wet diapers? No biggie. Poop blowouts? Child's play. Boogers? Bring it. Even if you were squeamish before having kids, that hesitance goes out the window, along with your privacy in the bathroom, non-kid-centric conversations and the ability to stay awake while reading a book.
6. It's hard to get plugged in. Rick Smith, a parenting writer who runs the blog Noah's Dad, says he didn't realize how hard it would be to unplug until he had kids. "As a new parent I was surprised by how hard it was, and is, for me to unplug from my gadgets and plug in to my family," he says. "More times than I'd like to admit, I find myself cuddling with my 20-month-old in one hand, and sneaking a peek at my iPhone inbox in the other. Our children shouldn't have to feel like they are competing against our gadgets for our attention."
7. Kids change. When you're chasing a crazed 3-year-old around storytime at the library, you're probably also thinking that you'll one day have to send him to military school. But believe it or not, one of the greatest misconceptions about parenting is that you'll parent the same kid through adulthood. Crazy 3-year-olds can become sweet teens. Snotty teens can later become thoughtful adults. When it comes to parenting, most of the worst stuff is just a phase.
In short? Parenting is the best job ... ever. No, you don't get paid and if you're looking for gratitude, you're probably barking up the wrong tree. Did we mention that the boss can be a real tyrant sometimes? But being a parent is the most rewarding, amazing, frustrating, happy, exciting, upsetting and confusing job you'll ever undertake. Moral of the story? You'll love every drool-filled, tickle-fighting, cookie-squishing moment of it. Why doesn't anyone ever tell you that?