I always wanted to be a mom. I got married when I was 18 and wanted to have kids right away. Yes, I was young, but I (naively) thought I knew what to expect in becoming a mother. I was 8 and 11 years older than my two siblings so I grew up sharing a room with a baby, changing diapers, warming bottles, and babysitting toddlers. I knew there would be sleepless nights, and knew babies cried a lot. I totally thought I knew what motherhood was like before having kids. But I absolutely did not. I don’t regret having kids at a young age, it was one of the best decisions I ever made. But there are a few things I wish I’d known first.
11 things I wish I’d known before having kids:
All my freedom would be gone.
The biggest surprise for me when I had my first baby, was that I no longer had any freedom at all. I knew I’d be busy taking care of a baby’s needs all day, but it never occurred to me that I would have to forgo my needs in the process. For years I struggled to find the time to make meals, clean, or even shower. I was horrified when I told my aunt this and she responded with, “yeah, some days I wasn’t even able to brush my teeth.” I was hoping she’d give me some advice to help me be able to go pee without the baby screaming his head off. Nope. It’s what motherhood is like for everyone. All freedom to do what you want, when you want is gone. It does get better, but for a good while, you are completely tied to that little one, 24/7.
I’d be tired, like ALL the time.
I was ready for staying awake all night, but in my mind I’d be sitting in a dark, quiet room, serenely rocking a sleeping baby with my hair and makeup looking perfect. I wouldn’t be the least bit angry or exhausted. Oh, and the baby wouldn’t be screaming his head off.
I was not prepared for the reality of being awoken unceremoniously from a deep sleep (if I was lucky enough to get there) by the unholy shrieking of a creature that relied on me and only me for its every need. Nor was I prepared for the overwhelming feeling of guilt that there was nothing I could do to make my baby feel better.
I wasn’t prepared for feeling like a complete zombie all night and all day, every day, for decades. Never had I imagined the guilt I would feel as my child cried all night, with nothing I could do to help. And I never knew how helpless and hopeless I would feel, nodding off in the middle of the day while as babies played on and around me, unable to muster the energy to do anything at all.
If I had known all this was normal, I may not have been so hard on myself for falling asleep during church, taking naps on the couch, and putting my baby to bed with a bottle to get him to go to sleep (don’t judge me, I do my best). All moms are exhausted. It’s not just you.
I would never actually master the parenting thing.
All my ideals would go out the window as soon as one kid challenged the status quo. I thought I knew that picky eaters were created by pushover parents. I would never make an additional meal for a kid who didn’t like what I made them. They could eat it or not eat, plain and simple.
Then Preemie was born at one pound, seven ounces. She had trouble gaining weight for years, sometimes losing weight. She was extremely picky. In fact, she went to occupational therapy because she was so freaked out by different tastes and textures that she only ate waffles for months. We were willing to feed her anything, just to get her to eat at all. For years we let her eat dessert without finishing her dinner, even though we would never have let the other kids get away with that nonsense. Once she went a whole week eating nothing but powdered donuts and calcium-fortified orange juice. Anything for survival.
And don’t get me started on our #5. When he was born, everything I thought I knew about sleep training, hyperactivity, and even taking kids to church was suddenly pointless. He didn’t follow any of the rules. He was different than our other four kids. Ten times more finicky and energetic and strong-willed than any of the others.
Every time I think I’ve got things figured out, the kids throw something at me that I’ve never encountered before. If you think you’ve seen it all, just wait, you haven’t.
Family “planning” is a misnomer.
Your plans for how many children to have and how often to have them will most likely be upset by reality. There were times I desperately wanted a baby but either had trouble getting pregnant, had a miscarriage, or was told by a doctor to put off trying for health reasons. Another time it was so easy to get pregnant that we were blessed with a “pleasant surprise” that was not only unplanned, but born 3 months early making her and her sibling only 10 1/2 months apart. Yes, I “know how that happens.” I just forgot to be careful. One time.
Despite all this, I still thought I had control over how many kids I was going to have. At one point I decided that I wanted an even number of kids, and since I had four already, I had to decide between stopping there, or having two more. I decided on two more. After BB was born, the doctor told me I couldn’t have any more kids because my uterus was basically toast (my words, not hers) so even that plan was garbage.
Go ahead and plan as best you can. Just know it will probably be derailed at some point and you’ll have to be OK with that.
A birth “plan” is also pretty much irrelevant.
By the time I was pregnant with BB I knew enough about things not going as planned to not worry about how the birth would go. I felt like I’d experienced it all. I’d had a 25 hour labor, been induced, had an epidural, had an accidental “natural” birth when the nurse forgot to hook up the bag for my epidural, I’d been on bedrest, I’d had a c-section, I’d had full-term births, I’d had a preemie, I’d had two kids in the NICU and two who came home right away. I knew that you just never know what to expect. I didn’t care much about what went on in the delivery room except that I was adamant about trying for a VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean), and that I wanted my husband there. Turns out, I got neither.
I had a placental abruption a month early and had to be knocked out and given an emergency c-section and two blood transfusions. My husband couldn’t even be in the room. I didn’t get to hold, let alone see my baby until later and once I briefly saw him through the plastic of his isolette, they transferred him him to a different hospital 2 hours away. You simply never know what is going to happen. Expect the unexpected.
There is no one type of mom.
When I turned 20 (and 30 as well, and also possibly at 35) I went through a sort of identity crisis where I wondered who I was. I had become a mom at 19 and felt like I’d lost myself in the process. I didn’t know what I liked or what I wanted or what I was like. I was “just” a mom. I had to learn that I could have hobbies, take breaks, spend time without my kids, and pursue interests without my kids and still be a good mom.
There are so many different types of moms. There’s no one good way to do the mothering thing. It’s OK if I blog during naptime instead of cleaning. It’s OK if I tell the older kids it’s time for me to play a game with daddy and not them. It’s fine if I want to go on vacation without them or have them not sleep in my bed. And it doesn’t matter if I dress differently than other moms or discipline differently or listen to music I think moms shouldn’t listen to. It’s OK to discover myself and be me, while still being a mom.
Even an “easy” pregnancy totally sucks
I consider myself lucky not to have suffered from debilitating pregnancy sickness. But I was still always uncomfortable, always exhausted, miserable and complaining. Pregnancy just sucks. You will not feel miraculous. You will not “glow.” You might want to die. That’s normal.
Pregnancy weight is directly correlated with how many cookies you eat.
I thought I gained so much weight having a baby inside my body, but it didn’t suddenly melt away once the baby was born. It also didn’t budge after months of nursing. Apparently diet and exercise are necessary and stuffing your face with vending machine cookies is not the way to stay fit before, during or after pregnancy. Go figure.
Having teenagers would be THE BEST.
I was terrified to have teenagers. I was afraid that I would no longer have any control (as if I ever really had any) over their surly, eye-rolling attitudes once they got taller than me and developed hormones and angst. But as it turns out, they can be quite pleasant. Even funny, witty, smart, obedient, kind, responsible and enjoyable to hang out with. You can reason with them (usually). They can take care of themselves (mostly). They no longer paw at you constantly and scream for you in the middle of the night (thank goodness). It’s fantastic.
Kids are resilient. And forgiving.
If I do something as a parent that I regret, it’s OK to apologize to my kids. They will forgive me and move on. Your kids will love you for the love you show them and the effort you put into taking care of them. They’ll rarely show it and they may stomp, cry, whine, and throw tantrums. But they’ll also get over it eventually.
Guilt is counterproductive.
You will make mistakes. You will do things you regret, and you will feel helpless and guilty when your baby cries uncontrollably for hours on end. But unless you are truly neglectful or abusive, the guilt plaguing you all of your mom life will never make you feel like improving. If anything, it will spiral you into a depression. Don’t let yourself get sucked into feeling like you are the worst mom ever. You’re just doing your best. And yes, your best is good enough.
I wish I’d realized this earlier and not hated myself for having to take care of myself, gotten frustrated with not being able to soothe a crying baby, or berated myself for making a less than stellar parenting move. When I look at my kids and see how they’re turning out just fine despite my many weaknesses, I realize that I need to be more grateful for the opportunity to be their mother, and less guilty that I’m not perfect. Because no one is, so who cares?
I’ve been doing this parenting thing for 17 years and consider myself a mom by profession (I mean, it’s what I do all day, every day). I’m by no means an expert, and I’m convinced no one can be. But hopefully this list will give you a heads up as to what motherhood will entail. There will be a lot more surprises that come at you, but you can do this. The only way to get the experience is to go through it.