There is nothing that can prepare you for becoming a parent. It is life altering and unpredictable – and it's not just the early days of parenting that are challenging.
I am five years into this parenting gig and I've learnt that sleepless nights and changing dirty nappies are child's play. Here are 16 things you really need to know, and it's the stuff you learn on the job.
1. You will become intimately acquainted with Murphy's Law. Seasoned parents can virtually predict when Murphy will strike with maddening precision: your baby who always has a day sleep will refuse to go to bed on the one day of the year you have a hangover, your child who never gets sick will come down with gastro the night you have a date night with hubby (a date that has been in the calendar for six months).
2. It's a well-known parental law that when kids are quiet they're up to mischief. But the more experienced parent may trade the unauthorised wall mural for an extra 15 minutes of sleep.
3. Never, EVER utter these words out loud: "My child has never ... (vomited in the car/had conjunctivitis/broken a bone/etc)." In fact, it's best not to even think it, as your child is GUARANTEED to make a liar out of you. Similarly, children never appear sick when they're in the doctor's surgery. On the contrary, they will appear the healthiest and happiest child in the world and make you look like an over-anxious parent.
4. In between swimming lessons and kids' birthday parties you will most likely be found at Bunnings, IKEA, or the local pharmacist (who knows you and your kids on first name basis).
5. Double standard - parenting is just littered with hypocrisy. Ever found yourself shouting "STOP SHOUTING AT ME AND COME AND TELL ME IN A QUIET VOICE"? Yep, me too. And did you mother ever say: "Do as I say, not as I do"? Yep, mine too.
6. You will cram your entire adult life between the time your kid goes down and you go to sleep. On the upside, it's amazing what you can accomplish in those 90 minutes!
7. Parenting is revealing - VERY revealing. You will find your faults reflected back at you. But they do say imitation is the best form of flattery.
8. Attempting to maintain a showroom of a house is inviting stress to steamroll over you. Learn to live with the mess and chaos, the clutter and the craft, and the bright colours that inhabit your home. You can buy beautiful handcrafted wooden objects d'art from Etsy and timber toys that don't make noise, but your kids will unfailingly favour the plastic over the timber, multi-colours over neutral.
9. Parenting is all about tactics, white lies, and thinking on your feet. For example: You child enquires after her latest craft project that she was hoping would take centre stage on the dining room table. Quick as a flash you say: "Your dad took that one to work, he was so proud of it." A word of warning here: manipulating the truth may result in cross-examination if you have a particularly suspicious child, or if they like to poke around in the recycling bin.
10. What you resist persists. Parenting is a lot about surrendering, and the more voluntarily you surrender, the easier your parenting pathway will be. Surrender swiftly to sleep, privacy, fatigue, chaos, bedlam, noise and eating anything with spice or flavour again.
11. A "break with the kids" is an oxymoron. It's more an exercise in how well you can move your domestic bedlam and still entertain your children without the "props" of home.
12. Being a parent is a lifelong exercise in self-restraint. Think about it. When was the last time you dropped an F-bomb that you didn't immediately have to cover up with, "I said 'duck'. Yes, duck. DUCK, I SAID!"
13. What goes up must come down. Your happy toddler at the party, who is smiling and playing with delight, will come crashing down at the worst possible time (usually during witching hour). It's a simple equation: parties + sugar + excitement = an overtired, overemotional, overstimulated and overbearing child approximately 45 seconds after leaving the party.
14. Being a parent involves mastering stealth and patience, often both at once. Every parent on the planet has crept silently out of their baby's room, after patting said baby to sleep, cleverly avoiding the creaky floorboards, and turning the bedroom doorhandle with surgical precision, pleading or perhaps praying to a higher power to keep the baby asleep.
15. Parenting is hard on a good day. It really is. I reckon every parenting manual should be prefaced with those words so we can happily accept our perfect parenting imperfections.
16. Young children have an inexhaustible supply of energy, determination and ego. Luckily they also have an inexhaustible supply of cuteness - and joy, and love.