New parents get a lot of advice, mostly unsolicited. I’ve written before about my relief upon discovering that my life would not completely end after the birth of my son—that I could still do things that were important to me, whether it be working out or keeping my life (mostly) in order.
With all of the dire warnings expectant parents receive about the horrors that await them after the arrival of a child, I think it’s important to let new parents—and especially new moms—know that there is hope. You can still try to incorporate things that are important and meaningful to you in your new mom life. All is not lost—at least not forever, anyway.
That said, there are some aspects of parenthood that seem to be universally true, and time and again, the thought “they weren’t kidding when they said…” has crossed my mind.
Here are four of those truths. Of course, individual experiences may vary, and I certainly can’t speak for everyone, but they weren’t kidding when they said:
1. You will never sleep again.
I heard this one frequently, as nearly every expectant parent does. The warnings come from all sides. Your family. Your neighbor. The mail carrier. Your labor and delivery nurse (seriously though, she means it when she tells you take a nap during your overnight labor).
I remember when my son was two months old, an acquaintance remarked that my husband and I wouldn’t get any sleep for the next five years. Everyone had some sleep warning to share. And let me tell you—they weren’t kidding.
They tell you that you won’t sleep, but what they don’t tell you is why. Newborns don’t sleep for the obvious reasons. Then, as babies grow, there is teething, sickness, mental leaps, growth spurts, new transitions, and then toddlerhood where children have the ability to sleep longer stretches, but also have the ability to climb out of bed at 4 AM shouting MAMA and demanding a cup of milk.
Further, even when your kid starts sleeping, your internal clock has been permanently wrecked. I could be in a hotel bed 3000 miles away in a sea of down pillows, and even then I will wake up every 2-3 hours and struggle to fall asleep each time. It’s like your child is literally in your head, manipulating your internal clock from within.
Sleep does improve, but you really will never sleep the same way again.
2. It gets easier.
When you first become a mom, almost every new task is daunting and everything about caring for a newborn is exhausting. You go from being an individual person who exists in the world primarily taking care of your own needs to this “mom” person literally overnight, and suddenly, nothing about your life is familiar and your needs no longer come first.
A newborn doesn’t care if you literally haven’t slept in days or if all you had for breakfast and lunch were Cadbury Eggs. Their needs are desperate and immediate and having to be responsible for the weight of such a fragile new being while also trying to assemble the puzzle of your bewildering new world can feel overwhelming.
The exhaustion, the novelty, the not knowing what lies ahead, and having almost no perspective or experience from which to glean is what makes the new parent stage so difficult.
This is why new parents are frequently told “it gets easier.” It does—your new baby will grow, her little personality will shine, and she eventually will become a more efficient eater and a better sleeper (for the most part—see above). It does get easier, but that also brings me to the next truth.
3. It gets harder.
It gets so much harder. But it’s OK because you will be stronger.
Somewhere around six months, when your baby becomes much more mobile and starts getting into everything, you realize how calm the first six months of your child’s life were in comparison.
During that time, you could actually sit with your baby and read a magazine or just down gaze lovingly, and he would cling to you without trying to shimmy off your lap or somersault onto the coffee table. You could look at your phone during downtime without feeling too guilty because your baby would actually be asleep, or they just really loved staring at the ceiling fan—not staring at you, wondering what that curious contraption in your hand is.
With every exciting milestone reached come new challenges. Walking. Running. Talking. Throwing tantrums. Sharing. Responding to directions. You realize more than ever that the choices you make really really matter, and that’s a daunting realization.
Plus, the physical challenges of parenthood also increase as your child grows. Carrying a 7-pound infant around in a bucket seat is awkward and takes some getting used to. Also difficult—toting a thirty-pound toddler around who’s teething and will literally climb onto and cling to your legs like a spider monkey if you put him down.
I’m told teenagers are a dream.
It definitely gets harder, but the upside is you get stronger. The initial shock of parenthood wears off, you adjust your expectations, and with each passing month and year, you become a more experienced parent and are better able to handle the challenges that come your way.
4. You will never love anything as much.
Despite all of the challenges, when they tell you that you will never love anything the way you love your child, they are not kidding.
Even if it takes time for you to feel the “sunbeams bursting from your heart” type of love that everyone tells you about, it will hit and it will hit hard.
With each new smile or new word or act of affection, your heart and soul with shine with a love and pride you never knew possible. You will love fiercely and unabashedly.
You will understand the exquisite pleasure and pain felt by every mother who ever lived and will be so honored that you’re able to share in the vast mystery that is the creation and growth of human life.
It will knock your socks off—and also make up for the fact that you haven’t slept in five years.