I haven’t been a parent for long – just over 7 years. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about parenting – before I became a dad and since having become one. It’s not like there is an exhaustive A to Z guide to being a parent – if there were such a list, I firmly believe we’d have less alcoholics roaming our streets and running our PTA meetings. This is the one that I came up with – and had some fun with while trying to support it with examples from my experience and smiling along the way. Looking forward to your comments with some great additions!
A – Alzheimer’s. I’m not kidding you. Some days, I’m convinced I have it. Here are the names in my family, starting with my wife: Aimie, Abigail, Amalie, Andon. Even on the rarest of days when I get the names right, I’m still stammering. I feel like I could play the lead in “The King’s Speech 2”. Be careful when you name your kids.
B – Bottles. There are all kinds. Small, tall, plastic, glass. Different types of shapes and materials and shapes for the nipples. Drop-in liners. Let me just tell you what’s really going to happen, regardless of what choices you make. You won’t be able to find a bottle when you need one most. When you finally find that elusive bottle, it will never EVER have the right stuff in it. Maybe it had the right stuff at one point, but it’s now soured or fermented and you will, in fact, throw up while cleaning that bottle. And finally, valiant hero of the bottle, I assure you of this. The little person will dislodge it from their mouth, and it will leak its contents all over your baby’s fresh clean clothing and soak him or her to the bone.
C – Creativity. You will need it. You’ll need it to cope with being a first time parent. You’ll need it when answering questions that you don’t know the answers to. You’ll need it when juggling more than one child, especially if you have more than two – because suddenly you, the parents, have become outnumbered. And you’ll want to show your kids how important creativity is. Watching your kids playing, pretending something is happening, is a hundred times more gratifying than watching them in front of the TV.
D – Diapers. They are a reality. They are so nicely folded into their bundles and smell nice, only to become the scourge of your day, filled (often WAY beyond the brim) with more pee, mustard-like poo and some day, real person poo. Then you have to change that diaper and dispose of it. I’ve yet to meet someone who truthfully says they enjoy changing diapers. I try to do it with joy in my heart, reminding myself that in a few short years, I’ll be wearing them again.
E – Energy. It comes in all forms. A child’s ability to not wear out is directly proportional to how tired you are. Just remember this – nature’s complete disregard toward your coffee and Red Bull consumption dictates that your kids have more energy than you do. Ever.
F – Fear. I experienced fear like no other when my wife was in labour for the first time. I suddenly realized what I had got myself into. That fear was unfounded, but very real. I also felt fear that paralyzed me the first time one of my children was lost, and I had no idea where they were. (She was sleeping soundly in our closet, under our blankets – we found her after running up and down the street in a panic.) And I’ve seen fear in my children. You will experience their fears with them – first encounters with big dogs, swimming pools, loud noises, first day of school or daycare, pain, failure, meeting new people – these are all things that can scare them. Be there for them and with them and they’ll remember that.
G – Guidance. Get it from other parents. Get it from books. Get it from wherever. Just be comfortable with it before you use it. And most importantly – be prepared to give that guidance. Guide your kids. Don’t stifle their spirit and don’t overshelter them. Guide their decisions, their growth and encourage them. Let them make mistakes and experience failure – it will benefit them in real life. And guide them through those failures too.
H – Humor. I have too many examples to start listing them, but you will find humor around every corner when you’re a parent. If you allow it, almost every experience with your children will give you cause to smile – whether it’s right when it’s happening or when you laugh about it hours, days or even years later. Let it happen – you’ll need those laughs to get you through the darker days. And let your kids smile and laugh as often as they want to. They’ll find enough reason later in life to stop smiling as often – let them be kids as long as they can.
I – Illness. Try as you may, you can’t always prevent it. You’re going to have to spend nights without sleep, assuring your kid that throwing up is not going to kill them. You’re going to have to spend afternoons and weekends at the Medi-Centre. You’re going to have to pick them up from school when they get sick. And you’re going to have to discern when they are truly sick or putting in an Oscar-worthy performance. It goes like this: “I’m sick this morning.” “Oh no, honey – what’s going on?!” “Oh, my stomach is hurting very badly.” “Oh gosh, do you need to throw up or go to the bathroom?” “No, I think if I lie really still in my bed, it will feel better.” “OK sweetie, well we will call the doctor and make an appointment.” “Oh no, you don’t have to do that, Dad.” “Wait a second, don’t you have a math test today?” “Oh, I don’t remember, Dad – I’m too sick to remember that stuff.” “Get dressed – you’re going to school.”
J – Jealousy. We heard the stories, we tried to heed the warnings, but nothing can prepare you for the potential onslaught of jealousy that a child can produce. Our oldest child was very jealous when the second one arrived, to the point of hitting the two-day old baby in the face until her nose bled. Also, our kids are able to well up with jealousy over the most ridiculous things. “That boy has an orange lollipop. Why can’t I have one??” “Because we just bought you an outfit, a toy and a red lollipop.” “Waaaaahhhhh!!!!”
K – Kisses. These are so important. Give your kids kisses as often as you can. And gladly accept them back. For the time will come when your kid won’t accept your kisses, nor dole them out nearly as willingly and you will regret every kiss you didn’t give or take. And while you’re at it, kiss your co-parent and thank them for everything they’ve done. It goes a long way.
L – Laundry. I don’t care how much laundry you did before you had kids, you’ll be doing three times as much afterwards. And for many, many years. The water shortage in the world isn’t caused from global warming. Not even close. It’s all the parents washing their kids’ clothes around the globe.
M – Marvel. Another one that comes in all shapes. Remember to put aside the immediate, daily concerns of being a parent and marvel. Marvel at the miracle of the baby growing in that belly. Marvel at the softness of the skin and the smell of the baby’s hair. Marvel as they first grasp things – physically and mentally. Marvel at the first steps. Marvel at the simplicity of their lives and learn from them. Marvel at how great a parent you are, whether you really think so or not. And marvel at the awesome responsibility that you have undertaken and don’t take it too lightly.
N – Names. As I’ve mentioned, we decided (though I can’t remember when or if I was even part of that decision) to name our kids starting with A. Patterns are OK. What’s not OK is saddling your kid with a name that you think is cool, but will forever embarrass your child and be a burden on him or her. If you’re thinking of calling your kid “Duramax” which someone did in Alberta last year, give your head a shake and start using birth-control. Every kind you can get your hands on. Your kid will hate you and his name.
O – Optimism. You will need to hang onto this one. Optimism is hopefulness and confidence in the future and a successful outcome. There will be days where you question your child’s sanity, integrity, intelligence, abilities and frankly, you’ll be questioning all those things about yourself just as often. Keep the spirit of optimism about you, and about your household. Know that, almost without exception, someone else has walked several miles in your shoes already and they have survived and lived to tell the tale. You’ll be alright.
P – Patience. Oh. My. Goodness. Do you ever need patience as a parent. It applies to every age I’ve parented – getting up several times a night, having a child bat the bottle out of their mouth 20 times in one feeding, teaching a little person over and over that the toilet isn’t a bad place to be, the endless questions once they’re talking. All these require a measure of patience that you never knew you had.
Q – Questions. Yes, they come in many forms. There’s you, stumbling to get your crying baby at 2:00 AM, asking yourself “Why did we do this?!”. There’s your child’s first questions: “Glab vin golo dur umph toon?”. At which time you quizzically exchange glances with your co-parent and finally just nod and smile at your child, saying “Yes, honey, that sounds great!” – not knowing that you just agreed to turn the entire upstairs into a bubble bath. And finally, when they can speak – the endless stream of questions…. “What am I?” “You’re a girl.” “Am I your son?” “No, you’re my daughter.” “Why did you call me daughter – I thought my name is Abigail?” “Yes, your name is Abigail – a daughter is what you are to me.” “Did you pick my name or did mom?” “Well, I picked it but we both agreed on it.” “Why did you call me Abigail?” “Because it means ‘a father’s love’.” “So you love me?” “Well I did, Abigail, before you started talking.”
R – Relationships. Regardless of which way it goes, you will notice that relationships change after you have children. It will be different for everyone, but here are some changes we experienced. First off, your relationship with the co-parent changes. For us, it changed for the better, yet we’ve met couples that really suffered through the arrival of a new little person. Be prepared to give more of yourself to protect the sanity of the other parent. Though you may not think it possible, you will form a relationship with your new baby within seconds. Make sure you treat it with respect, this relationship, for it will last a lifetime. We also experienced the ability to form relationships with other parents over common bonds as simple as having procreated. When people have kids, they have stuff to talk about. Things to vent about. Things to share about. We became the annoying people who always talk about their kids. And finally, we saw relationships with people who didn’t have kids suffer – whether it was jealousy, or that we weren’t fun anymore, I don’t know. But it saddened us to see some friends slowly fade away, regardless of what effort we put in.
S – Sleep. First of all, say good-bye to it. Babies rarely sleep through the night quickly and you will likely be up several times a night to attend to them. Sleep is like a rare jewel, glinting in the sun, just out of reach causing you to sit in your parkade at work, wondering some days how you got there, because you’re so tired you can’t remember the drive. You know all the zombie apocalypse stuff out there? That was inspired by watching new parents trying to make their way through the day. And secondly, at whatever age your child finally starts sleeping through the night – prepare to enjoy sleep like you’ve never enjoyed it before.
T – Tears. There will be a lot of them. Brand-new babies crying, letting you know they’re hungry. Toddlers crying because they fell down. A child crying because she didn’t get the toy or the ice cream she wanted. A six-year old crying because he got bullied during recess. A teen crying because her heart got broken by a boy. Oh, and did I mention your tears? A dad, seeing his baby for the first time – buck up, buddy, because it’s just fine to cry those big, manly tears. Parents’ tears of joy when a child succeeds at something they’ve been working on forever. Tears of sadness and inevitability as you watch your child grow up too quickly, wishing you could just keep them right at this age for a few more years. Tears of pain as you watch your child make bad decisions and even worse mistakes. And shared tears between you and your child, as the proverbial lost son or daughter comes back into your arms, realizing that they still need mommy or daddy at the age of 22.
U – Unconditional. Everything we do for our children should fit into this category. Sure, everyone has heard of this unconditional love, but have you tried it yet? Believe me, it’s very easy to talk about unconditional love and even mean what you say. Practicing it, in turn, happens to be a far more difficult task. Remember the patience I talked about? Make sure it’s unconditional. The same goes for being considerate, affectionate, and anything else you do for and with them. If you can try to make everything you do for your children unconditional, they will learn to do the same for others.
V – Values. You’ve got them. Hang on to them, for they make you who you are. Just as importantly, stick to them and show your children the importance of standing up for what you believe in. Instill your values in your kids. And trust me when I say it’s never too early to start practicing what you preach. Also, at some point, V may stand for something slightly more sinister.
W – Wallet. As in I hope you have one and that yours is full of money. Because it won’t be for long. We had prepared for having a child. We had money saved, and we had tried to take care of as much as possible in advance. But everything changes. If you choose to have a parent remain at home with the baby, your income will likely be reduced. And from hereon in, your bills will get heavier. Diapers, formula, clothing, furniture, baby food, more clothing, toys, school supplies, bicycles, extra seats on the airplane, more meals at the restaurant, and that’s just the beginning. Don’t forget designer label clothes, sports equipment, cars, tuition, weddings. Yes, my friends, you pay the price for children in every way you can imagine – and hundreds of ways you never imagined.
X – X-ray Vision. As co-parents in a healthy relationship, you continue to have needs that require each other to satisfy. I can assure you of this – any time things start steaming up in your bedroom, your children will use their x-ray vision to procure this information and will burst through the door at the most inopportune times, causing you both to jump under the covers, or dive into the bathtub, covering up and casually pretending that you weren’t doing anything to each other. Good luck with that. Because they know. Also, rest assured that when your children have been asked to leave and not disturb again, and you finally get back in the mood, thinking you’re safe – they’ll be back. Because they know.
Y – You. It is so important to remember you. It’s easy to slip into the “I have to be the perfect parent” role. And therein lies the rub – if you don’t take care of you, you can never be the perfect parent. My wife says it best when she says it’s too easy to let “you” fade away into “them”. Yes, much of parenting is about them. But don’t ever forget to treat yourself right, pamper yourself, take time for yourself and your children will have a better parent for it.
Z – Zen-like moments. Trust me, there will be a few. The first smile your baby throws your way? Yep, your heart will melt like cheap chocolate in the sun. Enjoy these moments. They don’t always last long but they make everything you’re going through worthwhile.
I know this isn’t a definitive list. It’s just one that I came up with, in my limited experience as a husband and a father. I hope you’ll comment, adding your own favorite letter for me and others to read – I’m looking forward to them!
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