You could fill the average maternity ward with the number of self-help books available to expectant parents. Most of us end up being prepared for the biggies - like keeping our kids alive by feeding and watering them on a regular basis - but there’s a whole bunch of other stuff that doesn’t get discussed in books. These are the things that seem peculiar to your oddball offspring, until someone else says, “Yes! My three-year-old poos in the garden too!”
After an exhaustive research process (i.e. a quick chat with a few friends), the following has been compiled as a kind of What You Don’t Really Expect When You’re Expecting. It won’t help you be a better parent, but it might reduce the element of surprise and/or give you satisfaction that everyone else’s family is a bit of a basket case too.
1. When a child wakes in the middle of the night, one parent will feign a sleep so deep it falls somewhere between coma and death
Sorry honey, I was asleep ... no, really, I was. I definitely didn’t hear the baby cry for the umpteenth time. I’m so sorry you had to get up again but I was dead to the world. No, I don’t think I would like that to be literally.
2. In retrospect, newborns are a breeze
That will sound crazy when it’s 2am and you’re picking vomit out of your hair and you can’t remember what it’s like to sleep for longer than 45 seconds. Honestly, in a year’s time when baby has developed the ability to scream louder than the A380 at take off and you have more chance of getting a nappy on the cat, you’ll long for the days when all you had to worry about was a bit of broken sleep.
3. You’ll tolerate the intolerable (aka the lesser of two evils)
Remember when you tried to enjoy that cup of organic soy single origin coffee at the local cafe and the toddler next to you poured 500g of salt on the floor? Didn’t you just want take her parents outside and show them the meaning of the word ‘discipline’? You would never let your child behave like that, would you?
These things seem peculiar to your oddball offspring until someone else says, 'Yes! My three-year-old poos in the garden too!'
Actually, as a parent you’ll ignore your child’s creative endeavors with the condiments because the alternative is far worse. Curtail their artistry and suddenly a salty Mt Kilimanjaro is the least of your problems.
4. Harnesses can be the blessed control givers
After 30 minutes of kicking, screaming, squirming, worming and crying, after a battle of wills that can sap the very last drop of spirit from your knackered body, no narcotic in the world can deliver a hit sweeter than the moment you finally manage to restrain your two-year-old in their car seat.
5. Never underestimate the power of whine
Forget waterboarding; if the US Government wants an effective form of coercion it should stick insurgents in a room with a whining four year old. Give it 20 minutes and even the most hardened terrorist will crumble in the face of a child who really, really, really, really wants a lolly and is prepared to bleat on about it till the end of days (or a big person gives in).
6. Children smell parental weakness like sharks smell blood
Need to get the groceries done before the doctor’s appointment? Have to take an important work call? Desperate to get to nursery on time? Your child will hear you plead for calm, quiet and cooperation then play merry hell until you feed him something massively unhealthy.
7. Kids’ clothes fit perfectly for approximately seven days
During that magic week, your child will look like they’re decked out in made-to-measure haute couture. At any other time they’ll either resemble a walking tulle cloud or appear as if their pants have taken a restraining order out on their shoes.
8. Nappy changes can get weird
Change an older sibling’s nappy after a newborn has arrived and tell me it doesn’t feel like you’ve got a 35-year-old’s bottom on the change table.
9. Clothes are NOT presents
Only in exceptional circumstances, when the gaudy gods of cartoon prints are smiling, will a t-shirt pass muster as an acceptable present. More likely it will produce a child who hopes the force of his disappointed tears will turn that offensive cotton number into something fun he can actually play with.
10. There’s no such thing as ‘packing lightly’
Whether you’re going away for a night at Nana’s or three weeks in Fiji, the sheer magnitude of your luggage will always make the neighbours wonder if you’re moving house.
11. Kids’ appetites are location-dependent
Nursery feedback: “Today your child devoured a bevy of gastronomic delights including beef stew, pizza, mashed potato, tuna pasta and chicken stir-fry. She had three servings of each and begged for more!”
Recreate EXACTLY the same dishes at home and the same nosh-guzzling child will lob it all on the floor and look at you like you tried to feed her battery acid.
12. Parents age like dogs
Every time you celebrate the passing of another 12 months in your child’s life, you’ll quietly mourn the fact your face got a bit confused and aged at least three years in the same time period.
Got any of your own to add? Have your say in the Essential Baby forum.