parent opinion

"Guilt is your new default setting." 10 things I didn't truly understand until I was a parent.

So many of life's experiences can't be explained, they simply must be lived. And parenting is definitely one of them.

It's not that I wasn't 'warned'. Oh boy, was I warned. In fact, by 39 weeks pregnant, I was desperate for someone to tell me something good about parenting. Otherwise, I might have just bowed out there, thank you very much.

But first, watch the Mamamia Team confess their moments of parenting horror. Post continues after video.


Video via Mamamia.

It's not that it wasn't clear either. There were no cryptic messages or thinly veiled cautions on what was to come. I was often told outright what to expect by my friends with kids, the seasoned troopers in the daily micro-wars against sleepless newborns and moody toddlers.

I just didn't... get it.

You know the old adage, 'Until you’ve walked a mile in someone's shoes blah blah blah'.

But now that I've walked what I can only assume is thousands of miles (or kilometres, because it's Australia and we have the metric system like a sensible country) around the block trying to get an overtired baby to sleep, I think I finally get it.

Here are 10 things I was warned about that I didn't truly understand until I was a parent.

You will never not be tidying.

Just tidying, constantly. With a tiny hurricane(s) taking twice as many things out of a drawer as you can put back in. The mess is real, and it's impossible to keep on top of, so the best thing to do is just embrace the chaos (and buy as much furniture with hidden storage as humanly possible).

You no longer get to fully recover from being sick.

If you're bedbound, sure, you might get a day off, if someone else can step in and make it work. But as soon as you're upright again, you're back on duty. See ya later Netflix marathons and chicken soup on sick days. You're either bleeding out, and therefore temporarily unavailable for a Wiggles dance party, or you're powering through!

Starting your child in daycare doesn't mean they'll actually BE in daycare.

The daycare plague is no joke. I have a friend who got both gastro and COVID-19 from their one hour daycare orientation. One hour! 

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You find the right daycare centre after months of rigorous searching, you're ready to go back to work (or maybe you're not quite ready), and you sit in your car after the first drop off, crying uncontrollably about having 'abandoned' your child. It's a lot. 

But then the rolling illnesses commence. It's a miracle that you get any work done in that first six months, and yet somehow you just manage. You get adorable updates of your baby painting and laughing; you grow deeply attached to their favourite educator and forget how hard the first part was once you're in the swing.

Listen to This Glorious Mess, a twice-weekly look at parenting as it really is - confusing, exhausting, inspiring, funny, and full of surprises. Post continues after podcast.

Guilt is your new default setting.

Parental guilt is the real deal, and I have no idea where it came from, but it seems it's here to stay. I'm guilty when I'm with my son but not fully present. I'm guilty when I'm away from him working because I 'should' be with him. I'm guilty if I come home from work and don't feel an immediate overwhelming joy to be stepping straight back into the role of 'mother' again.

I think it's a strange kind of learned guilt that comes, in part, from performing perfect parenting we see on social media. It's definitely not logical. We as parents are absolutely everything our kids need, and the job is a bloody tough one, so we need to collectively cut it out!

No matter how supportive and beautiful your friendships are, there still may be times when you feel desperately lonely.

Squeezing plans to fit in between your child's naps, missing out on girls' nights because your kid is sick, or you're just too exhausted, and having a lower capacity for long counselling sessions. It's all a natural part of the early stages of having kids, and it's a tough one. But it doesn't last forever, and if you give yourself the grace you deserve, you'll find others will do the same.

A sick baby is one of the scariest things you'll ever experience.

Nothing can prepare you for the terror of seeing your baby struggling to breathe, eat or sleep. They're clearly in pain and there's absolutely nothing you can do to fix it. Two things you'll quickly learn though, are that they can bounce back like magic, and the nurses and doctors at the Children's Hospital are living angels walking among us.

Everything they do is seriously captivating.

I'd never really been a 'baby person' and I often worried about having my own, that I would just find the whole thing a big ol' snooze fest. I'd watch my friends and family members with their kids, totally googly eyed over their toddler pointing at a dog and saying "woof, woof". I'd think, "Okay, sure that's mildly cute, but can you get back to telling me that work story, please?" 

Well, I needn't have worried. I can confirm that everything my son does is utterly enthralling. Sometimes I feel myself floating up outside my body to observe the absurdity of my obsession with him and have a giggle to myself.

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Image: Instagram @han.vee.

Your relationship with your partner will change, of course it will!

But that doesn't mean it will change for the worse. You will see each other tested beyond belief, growing into your new roles as parents, and your bond might just deepen beyond what you could have imagined as a result.

There is no such thing as consistency.

Kids are chaos monsters. They lull you into thinking you've nailed 'the routine' and then BAM! They change it up entirely. It's not you, it's them. Trust me, you're doing great.

Absolutely nothing matters more than your child's happiness.

They say parenthood is letting a piece of your heart walk around outside your body. And nothing could be truer. Your own needs are still there, they’re just a little muted, and they sit right up the back, watching as your toddler uses the swing by themselves for the first time.

It's the most beautiful drug in the world, watching the face of your child light up, and you'll do anything to keep getting a fix.

Hannah Vanderheide is a writer, actor, and voice artist with a beautiful new baby boy. She's also a body-neutral trainer, eating disorder survivor, and wellness industry sceptic who loves to write about the sensible side of health.

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Feature Image: Instagram @han.vee.

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