Updated: Jun 10, 2021
You can be fully prepared for the practical side of parenting, with a huge list as long as your arm of all the paraphernalia you will need and books telling you what to expect at each stage but, nothing can fully prepare you for the emotional side of parenting. You won't ever be prepared for how you can love someone so much that you feel your heart might explode. You won't ever be prepared for just how proud and honoured you feel to be a parent and, you won't ever be prepared for how frustrated you can feel with a small human, yet be so forgiving.
I work with and speak to a lot of first time parents. Often, when they are struggling it is because they have set their expectations of what parenting is going to be like far too high. Sometimes this is because they feel pressure to be the best, sometimes it is because social media makes it look easy, but often, it is because nobody really talks about how it actually is. There is an unwritten rule that when you are speaking to new mums-to- be, you do not mention anything at all remotely negative. While I do agree that telling a woman who is about to give birth how horrific your own birth was is not ideal, I do think that our own parenting realities should be talked about more and perhaps, even be a part of antenatal classes. Tiredness is talked about a lot but, until you experience the absolute exhaustion for yourself, both mentally and physically, you can't fully understand what it is like. The whole "sleep while the baby sleeps" advice is completely unrealistic. In principle it works but, seldom do we get the chance to put it into practice. We are either so paranoid about something happening to the baby (something else that is unexpected) that we have to spend the time they are sleeping watching them or someone is ringing the doorbell. The washing will need doing, you need to spend time doing your life admin or just simply try and wash your hair. And, you can guarantee, the one time you do decide to nap, the baby will wake just as you've drifted off!
The biggest reality check I think for many though, is just how much your life changes. You know that it is going to change but until it happens you don't properly appreciate just how much it will alter. The huge sense of responsibility that takes hold makes you realise that everything you now do has to fit around this tiny little being, who has completely captured your heart and placed themselves firmly at the centre of your world. This responsibility can feel overwhelming and can be very consuming. You start to feel like a circus clown, juggling lots of balls, trying to do everything and be everything to everyone but rarely being able to fulfil it all. While the responsibility can be overwhelming, parenting often leaves you feeling underwhelmed. It can be monotonous, extremely boring and lonely some days and you feel like your identity has gone AWOL, leaving you craving your old life. Being overwhelmed and underwhelmed can happen simultaneously and leave you feeling like you are failing. You place unnecessary pressure on yourself and enter a vicious cycle of piling on the pressure to succeed and then failing because you have piled on too much pressure. To combat all this, it is important to admit defeat, ask for help when you need it and remember that no parent finds it easy all the time. Also, it is important to know that the way you are feeling is completely fine. It doesn't mean that you are a bad parent and it doesn't mean that you don't love or appreciate your child. You will have days where you are totally 'winging it' but, you will also have days where you are totally 'bossing it' and it is vital that when others offer their opinion, you remember that it just that, an opinion. Accepting and embracing your new reality and adjusting your expectations accordingly, will without a doubt make your life a whole heap easier.
Parenting is certainly much tougher than most parents are prepared for, however, would new parents listen if they were told the stark realities? Perhaps not, but isn't it worth a try anyhow?