When my wife and I decided to start a family, we did very little planning and we had a fair idea of what the commitments were. Few things are certain, they cry, poo and sleep on repeat. Handling that is the easy part. Everything else is a minefield. It doesn’t matter how much research you do, books you read or classes you take, raising a child and the effects it will have on you will only become known once you’re in the thick of it. You can never really be fully prepared. What I can tell you, is that although there are challenges, raising a child is truly incredible and it has impacted our lives in the most amazing way. There are a few things, however, I wish I knew before becoming a dad.
You Never Stop Spending!
You will always need to buy new things and let me tell you, nothing is cheap. My sons are very active which is great, but their boisterous play can quickly be felt on the pocket - jumping, hanging, swinging, and destroying their clothes. If you’re fortunate enough to get some hand me downs, great, but whenever we needed to make purchases, we go with quality. I’ll always suggest spending a bit more because the premium products tend to give you better wear and durability. For things like, highchairs, cribs, cots, prams, etc. you may be able to resell them and use that money to start shopping for replacements or other new things you may need.
You're On Your Own
Once the baby’s born, the well-wishes start to pour in from family and friends while you’re in the hospital. Your social media and text messages blow up with heart emojis for the latest arrival and before you know it, you are knee-deep in poo nappies, wondering if your little precious ever stops to take a break! When you become a parent for the first time, you quickly realise that you’ll have to figure everything out for yourself. For me and my wife, it was a particularly hard lesson, being a new parent in a foreign country. The initial few days for us was a bit of a struggle trying to get my son to breastfeed as he wasn’t latching on straight away. The most important thing is that you support your partner and be at her beck and call, prepare yourself mentally for that and commit, otherwise the late nights, the constant feeding and nappy changes round the clock will soon drive you up the wall.
Babies love to sleep in your bed
For the first year, my son stayed in our bedroom. It wasn't always ideal, but it was convenient to roll over and pick him up from his crib in the middle of the night and bring him into our bed. Eventually when he moved into his own room, and in his own bed, he could easily get out and climb into ours, whenever he felt the need. This is something you eventually just get used to. Sometimes you might even forget that they're there until you’re reminded when you’re kicked mercilessly in the back during the night.
It is difficult to break habits
Once you start creating a routine for your child it becomes a pattern. Some people may object to having their child in their bed, and prefer the tough love approach and that’s entirely your choice to make. We welcomed our son, sure enough, doing so may limit personal time with my wife, but all my son ever wanted when climbing into our bed was to cuddle and to feel comfortable. Sharing our bed with my son really allowed my wife and me to strengthen our bond with him, and to this day he still likes to fall asleep in our bed most nights, before I pick him up and transfer him to his own bed. This carried on for a long time, much longer than we anticipated. If this is going to be the approach you decide to take as well, I suggest investing in a good king-sized bed.
They will eat when they are hungry
Parents always think they know more about their children than the children themselves. Sure enough, you’d want to get them into an eating routine just as you do. Kids, however, may take a while to get into a firm eating schedule. My eldest son only settled when he was about 3 years old and we always thought he was a bad eater, not realising that maybe it would've been easier to eat on his own terms. They’ll usually tell you when they're hungry by communicating. Whether they cry, use sign language, or simply use their words. They know what and when they want to eat — you just have to listen and pay careful attention.
Sharing is difficult
This is something that can make you cringe at times. You’re at a social event or family gathering and another child wants to share your child’s toy. If they have a calm temperament and don’t mind sharing their toys then it's not an issue, but most kids don’t like to share their toys or they tussle over someone else's. We’ve always encouraged our kids to share what they have and even negotiate time with other children to share the joy and keep the peace. When they want to bring anything of value with them to a gathering or the playground, we remind them other kids may ask them to take a turn and if they don't want to deal with the requests, then it may be best to leave the toys at home.
Your patience gets tested
My family are mostly short-tempered people. I have a son who's very strong-willed and intense. My wife, on the other hand, has the patience of a saint, but she is a strong believer in being firm but fair. She is certainly the more compassionate one between the two of us and it’s something I’ve had to learn. But sometimes we just can't stay calm and find it difficult to accept certain behaviours such as drawing on walls and children being physically aggressive, even if it's perfectly normal. I always want the behaviour to stop, but I always remind myself that their behaviour means they are usually trying to communicate when this happens, so try to be patient!
Kids have their favourites
My sons genuinely prefer their mother over me. When my wife gave birth to our boys, she took a year off work. This meant she had lots of time to bond and spend with them during the day. I'd come home from work in the evenings and we’d swap roles to give her a break. They'd cry the moment they felt her presence was missing and they usually weren't hungry, tired or wet. They just wanted their mum! I tried everything to reassure them, but nothing ever seemed to work, especially when they were only a few months old. Our second had colic and that made it even worse. Over the years, they’d still prefer their mother to me but I realised it's okay. You can’t take it personally, though my ego has taken a hit, especially in the early days. I use whatever time we have together to bond with our boys, whether that’s kicking a ball around in the park or doing arts and crafts at home. Things always get better.
Potty training is overrated
One parent in a playgroup we used to frequent had a son about the same age as ours. Every time we'd see her, she'd inquire about our son's ability to use a toilet. She would be stunned when we told her our son was still using nappies. In my opinion, a child knows when they're ready. My son simply told us at around 3 and half years old that he’ll wear underwear and pee in a potty and it didn’t take much time to transition at all. We even rewarded him every time he told us he needed to use the toilet - sure there were accidents but alot less than you might expect, but we never forced him to potty train before he was ready. Everything happens in their own time.
Personal space doesn’t exist
From the time our kids are born until they became toddlers, I don’t think I ever got a comfortable night’s sleep. The rest of your home also becomes free for kids to roam and no area is out of bounds. You just can't escape them. Even sitting in the toilet, they come looking for you. As your kids grow, so do their piles of stuff. I'm afraid to walk barefoot in my house fearing I'll step on a Lego piece or hot wheels car. Our dining room table has been turned into a Lego construction site and the window sills are mini art galleries. Our sons are old enough now thankfully to put their toys away when they’re done using them, but when they were younger, we needed to proceed with caution.