One of the worst bits about being an expectant parent is the reams of unwanted advice that spew forth your way. Everyone has an opinion about parenting and everyone thinks they are the world’s authority on child rearing, but before you actually have a baby, they might as well have been speaking Latin. It means nothing and, quite frankly, you don’t want to hear it.
Whilst you are happy, daydreaming of your child playing exclusively with wooden toys and only ever eating vegetables, it’s true that you are blocking out a fair amount of nonsense that doesn’t need to concern you. However, you will also miss some pearls of wisdom that you could probably do with knowing.
Of course, you won’t realise their importance until they happen. It will be like in a film, where the spoon that the camera lingered over for slightly too long in the opening scene helps to jam the door and keep the robot dinosaurs away from the hero at the end. You will experience that same “ahhhh” moment.
Here are five bits of advice that expectant parents really do need to know, but which I am willing to bet they are not going to read. Still, if you’re already a parent, take a look at this list, nod sagely and add your own suggestions in the Comments.
1) You Can’t Control Some Things
Before you have a child, you expect that they will bend to your whims and preferences. You should probably try thinking back to your own childhood to get a good idea of how successful you might be with that. In truth, you do have an influence over your children, but some traits are out of your control.
When we had our daughter, we were determined that we wouldn’t foist anything pink or princessy on her. She’s now five and has loved pink princess stuff all of her life. We couldn’t have tried harder to steer her towards what you might term gender neutral colours and toys, but to no avail.
Similarly with our son, he is fascinated by cars, lorries, trains and all manner of stuff usually designated as being ‘boy things’, but in which I have no interest. In fact, the way he plays with his toys suggests he’s far more mechanically minded than his old man and he’s only just turned two.
2) Sleep is Life
You might have heard people joking about banking sleep before your first child is born. I’m no scientist, but I’m fairly sure that isn’t actually possible. In the run-up to the birth you will hear a lot of lame quips about sleep, but you won’t know exactly how the sleeplessness a baby can bring feels.
It’s like a kick in the guts, constantly, night after night. When the baby starts crying moments after you finally drop off it begins to feel absolutely desperate. Even if you take turns with your partner, there can still be little respite from the dysfunctional human alarm clock in the Moses basket.
You learn to catch forty winks any time you can, you realise how joyous even the tiniest nap can be. I’m not sure how it helps to know this in advance, but pre-warned is pre-armed. You need to know.
3) Don’t Waste Money on Lots of Expensive New Baby Clothes
You are probably in the process of spending a fortune on loads of brand new baby clothes. Don’t. Seriously. It’s worth splashing out on a few special pieces, but babies wear each outfit for a total of around ten minutes before spewing and pooing all over them. Then they are on to the next babygrow and the previous one goes straight into the wash.
You never get full value from new baby clothes. The average time a baby wears each item before they grow out of them is disappointingly miniscule. Buy second hand or borrow from friends and family, and save the cash for train sets and princess castles.
4) Become Accustomed to Gross
It’s surprising how quickly you become accustomed to having someone else’s faeces plastered on your hands. It sort of seems okay when it’s from the fruit of your loins. Obviously, the optimal situation would be to never have to handle poo, but if you absolutely have to, your own child’s stools are the most acceptable.
I don’t think all pre-baby advice should be negative and this is a real positive. If you are worried about how you will handle all the flowing bodily fluids that go hand-in-hand (pun intended) with having a baby, you’ll probably be okay. Within weeks, you’ll think nothing of taking a warm jet of urine to the eye. So, that’s something to look forward to.
5) We’re All Different
Finally, the most important thing to know for new parents is that it’s very unlikely you will “do it wrong”. Every parent is different and every child is different. Your mate might have had immense success with Gina Ford, but that doesn’t mean you will. Indeed, even what works for your partner might not help you settle your child.
We all have to find our own style and just because you are not getting the results that other parents do, it doesn’t matter – you can’t compare situations. Some parents get sleeping children, some do not. Some get children who are keen to walk, to talk and to start spinning plates, some do not. You can only track yourself against your own progress and not against how your peers are getting on.
There is no right way to do it. I wish I’d have known this before I became a parent. Mind you, someone probably told me and I just didn’t listen.