So you’re about to have a new baby – congratulations! And also, beware, because you’re about to enter into a dark world of unsolicited advice, judgment, and mommy shaming. Everywhere you look, you’ll find people telling you what to expect and what motherhood is like. The good news is, there are all kinds of books and articles and op-eds about what to expect before baby comes. Unfortunately, many of these barely scrape the surface, and they don’t even come close to the reality of what parenting is like. You may think you’re prepared, but fasten your seatbelts – there’s a lot still to learn. But good news! This mom expert is here to help guide you through it, with the gritty truth that no one actually tells you. I’ve had four children, with a fifth on the way, and at this point, I’ve seen and done it all. And I’m going to tell you all the things that the advice books won’t.
1. Sleeping is just the beginning… and it’s harder than you think.
So sure, you know by now that sleep is going to be pretty much nonexistent with a newborn. You’ll be waking up every several hours to feed and change the baby. And you can just nap when the baby naps. Not too bad, right?
Well, here’s the dirty little secret no one mentions: it’s so much worse than just getting woken up every few hours. There’s the struggle to actually get the baby to go to sleep. They don’t like the crib, or they hate their bassinet. They love being swaddled, until they hate being swaddled. You rock them to sleep, but then the second you set them down, they wake up and start crying again. You’re not just sleep-deprived; you’re fighting tooth and nail on getting the baby to sleep, period.
But hey, good news! Soon, the baby will start sleeping better. They’ll start sleeping for longer, and you’ll start seeing a light at the end of the tunnel… until you start dealing with sleep regressions and teething, and suddenly, you’re back to square one and wondering what in the heck you did wrong.
Why all the doom-and-gloom? Because the sleep situation is so much harder than anyone really tells you it will be. In so many ways, new parents leave the hospital absolutely clueless about what they’re in for. When I came home from the hospital with my first baby, I knew to expect that I wouldn’t sleep much. I had no idea that just getting him to go to sleep would be so hard. I spent the first few days holding him in our glider, sobbing, because I couldn’t get my son to go to sleep, and literally no one had told me to expect this. And here’s why knowing that sleep is such a hard thing will help: because when you’re postpartum and emotional and exhausted, knowing that you’re not doing something wrong, that this is normal and that you’re not a bad mom, is a lifeline that you didn’t even know you needed.
2. Food will be a struggle, no matter what you do.
New moms will be absolutely inundated with advice on how best to feed their babies… and then their toddlers, their preschoolers, and their big kids. Ready for a secret? Nothing you do ultimately matters! Breastfeeding is hard. For some moms, no matter how hard you try and how many lactation cookies you gobble down, it’s just not going to work. Other babies will fight whenever you try to give them a bottle, no matter what brand you get. Then you get to solid food, and it becomes an issue of laying down the foundation for good eating habits in the future. But take it from an expert mom: that won’t matter, either. Your toddler can happily eat avocados, seafood, and every vegetable you put in front of them, and they’ll still magically turn picky approximately three days after they turn four. Suddenly, they’ll only be willing to eat PB&Js, goldfish, and chicken nuggets. And meanwhile, you’ll be wondering where your adventurous little eater went.
The point of all this? Don’t stress! There is no right or wrong way to feed your child. Breast or bottle, organic or Monsanto, homemade or premade baby food… it’s all going to be OK. Ultimately, your child will determine their own eating habits, and for your own sanity, don’t spend too much time worrying about it. They won’t go off to college only eating fruit snacks and quesadillas.
3. Loneliness will suddenly become your best friend.
One thing no one really warns you about when it comes to being a mom is how lonely it is. It doesn’t matter if you’re a working mom or if you stay at home – there is something incredibly isolating about motherhood. Oh sure, you’ll have mom friends and playdates. But for the most part, your kids will be the people you spend most of your time with. You can easily go entire days without speaking to an adult, minus perhaps on Facebook or via text message.
Some of your pre-mom friends will not have kids yet, and they won’t be as keen to come hang out at your house while you and your toddler watch Mickey Mouse Clubhouse for the fourteenth time that day. Other friends will have kids, but trying to juggle schedules between all of you is difficult – naptimes, mealtimes, and bedtimes never quite line up perfectly, so it can easily work out to where your kid is sleeping right when theirs is waking up, and so on. It’s really no wonder that Facebook has become such a lifeline for so many moms. It’s often the only adult interaction they get!
Despite this, though, it’s so vital to maintain your friendships outside of your children. Get a babysitter – heck, even two or three – and have them on standby so you can have a night out a couple of times a month. Make a point to meet a friend for breakfast at, say, Chick Fil A where your kids can play while you eat and catch up. Make your friendships a priority, because without them, that loneliness can very easily consume you.
4. You’ll go days without showering.
The transition from not having kids to having kids is insane, and there will be many times when you will look in the mirror and literally not recognize yourself. It’s likely that many of these times will be after you’ve gone days without showering and can’t even remember the last time you washed your hair. Yet no one warns you about how difficult it is to get 10 minutes to yourself just to do something as small as practice basic hygiene.
When you have a newborn, it’s hard to make the time for you at all – and plus, you’re so sleep-deprived and exhausted that you don’t care what you look like. When baby sleeps, you sleep, right? Then the newborn grows into an older baby, and they start screaming whenever you leave the room. So instead of enjoying a nice, leisurely shower, you’re lucky if you’re able to dash in and rinse off for a few seconds, because the sounds of a baby screeching at you are so irritating that you’ll do just about anything to avoid it. Toddlerhood comes, and you have more independence, but good luck taking a shower by yourself. The screaming may be gone, but instead, you’ve got a little person banging on the shower door trying to ask mommy if they can come in.
Bottom line, it’s OK if your formerly-glamorous self suddenly has greasy hair, split ends, and messy clothes. Invest in some dry shampoo and give yourself a break. You’re a mom now – you deserve it.
5. You probably won’t love every second of motherhood – and that’s OK.
There is a lot of talk – in blogs, parenting books, and mom advice op-eds – about how amazing and wonderful motherhood is. Having a baby will transform your life!, they say. You’ll never know happiness like you do when your baby smiles at you! Trust your mama instinct! Motherhood is the most fulfilling, wonderful thing you’ll ever do!
Sorry, but that’s a load of bull. Here’s the reality: a lot of the time, motherhood sucks. It’s hard. It’s stressful. Your patience will be stretched to its breaking point, and then stretched a little more just for fun. After having kids, you won’t be able to remember what it’s like to wake up and actually feel rested. You’ll have a tiny person that, quite frankly, does not care that you’re about to lose it, and will keep screaming and demanding more, more, more from you. And it doesn’t make you a bad mom if you’re not always happy about the realities of motherhood.
Motherhood is insanely hard. And no one really quite warns you about just how hard it’s going to be. Instead, you have these ridiculously saccharine platitudes spewed at you about the wonders of raising a child. And it is wonderful… sometimes. Other times, you may hate it. You might stop and doubt yourself. You might think that you’re a terrible mom who never should have had children. And you’ll feel guilty for feeling that way. Don’t! These thoughts are normal. Every mom has them at least occasionally. And it’s OK to not love every second of raising your kids.
6. Your baby will do things in their own time.
One of the first things you’ll notice in baby books and parenting websites are the milestones. For whatever age your baby is, there are things they should be doing. And to be sure, these milestones are good for your pediatrician to know about – they will best know if there’s a bigger issue or not. But for the most part, stressing over milestones is meaningless.
There will always be someone whose baby is doing something faster, better, earlier. Comparing your baby to other babies is a great way to suck the fun out of motherhood. And that’s why it’s important to remember, when you’re reading those websites telling you about all the things your baby should be doing, is that each child will do things in their own time. For the most part, there’s no need to rush them or to worry. They’re not going to go to high school without being potty trained, after all. Take it easy and try to enjoy things as they come.
7. You never knew true love like this.
This may be the most seemingly obvious item on the list, but it’s true, and you can never truly be forewarned about it: you will love your baby so much that sometimes, it will literally hurt. You think you knew what love was before you had a baby? Trust me, you didn’t. You can and do love other people in your life: parents, siblings, friends, spouses. But none of it compares to the love you have for your child. And that love will affect every part of your life.
Sure, motherhood will be hard. Your kids will drive you insane. But there will be that moment when your baby laughs, or your toddler wraps their chubby little arms around you. Your little boy will tell you he loves you, or your daughter will give you the sweetest kiss ever. They’ll bring home artwork from school for you, and you’ll be the only person who can make it better when they’re hurt. And those little things make all of the hard stuff so, so worth it. Because you will love this little person more than you ever imagined you could love another person.
There’s a saying that becoming a mother is learning to live with your heart walking around outside of your body, and that’s exactly what being a mom is like. And nothing can prepare you for it until you’re staring into the eyes of a little miracle of your own.