All parents-to-be have this magical vision in their heads of how life will go once the baby comes along. They’ll have this amazing baby that sleeps through the night, walks on their first birthday, potty trains by the second, becomes the genius of kindergarten, and solves world hunger by age 10. Realism rarely plays a role in dreams of parenthood. Then baby shows up, shattering all those illusions pretty darn quick. See, there are things that you never understand until you’re a parent. Once you do understand them, you can never go back to the dream. Take a look at 10 things only parents will understand.

Parents will spend the first months in a perpetual state of exhaustion.

Your baby will not sleep through the night for a long time, if ever. Those first few months, though? They’re killer. Expect to get up at least every three hours. Sometimes more. Don’t plan to get more than a few hours of rest each night. Even those few hours will not be quality rest. Between interruptions to your natural sleep cycle, feeding your baby, worrying if your baby is okay, and having difficulty falling back asleep once you’re up, you’ll never come close to well-rested.

You’ll never sleep the same again.

Think it’s all a cake-walk once your baby starts sleeping through the night? Think again! Parents spend the rest of their lives in a strange paradoxical sleep, much like that of a cat. You sleep, but you are also constantly alert, ready to jump out of bed and rush to your child’s side at the slightest whimper. Even when they’re grown up, part of your sleep time is devoted to worrying about them. You will miss that sleep, but you’ll adjust eventually.

You won’t need half the gear and clothes you think you need.

Parents-to-be get this insane rush from registering for baby gear and clothes. With so many baby-centric magazines filled with ads and stories about “the best” this or that, you start to feel like you’re depriving your baby if you don’t have it all. Sure, you need diapers, wipes, food, enough clothes to last until laundry day each week, a car seat, a stroller, and other basic gear. You don’t really need a toy box filled with toys, 10 mobiles for the crib, 200 onesies, 75 receiving blankets, and probably at least half of the other things on your list.

Children are surprisingly expensive!

New parents know that babies are going to be expensive. Between all the new accessories, diapers, and clothes, they expect to spend a lot that first year. What most newbies don’t fully understand is how expensive their kids continue to be after that first year. Kids outgrow clothes before they’ve even had a chance to wear them. They absolutely LOVE a food until you buy it in bulk; then they suddenly hate it. They need a plethora of back-to-school gear, which inevitably gets lost or destroyed within a month. Factor in after-school activities, replacements for things they accidentally break, and the sheer amount of cleaning supplies you’ll go through and you’ll quickly find that raising a child has many surprise costs.

Leaving the house presents a whole new challenge.

Before becoming a parent, you can head out the door in under 30 seconds. Grab your coat, keys, wallet or purse, and go. When you become a parent, you’re lucky to get out the door in 30 minutes! Parents can’t just grab and go. Babies need a lot of supplies for outings. At minimum, they need a stroller and fully packed diaper bag. When they get older, they still make it challenging by taking an hour to put on shoes, needing to grab entertainment for that whopping five-minute trip down the street and so on.

There is no manual for raising kids.

With the thousands of books on raising kids out there, you’d think that one of them would tell you exactly how to be a good parent. The truth is, no two kids are the same and no amount of books are going to tell you how to do it right.

Everyone will give parenting advice.

Parents know that everyone from their own parents to the stranger behind them in the grocery line has advice on how to be a better parent. Even people who never had children will weigh in on how you should raise your child. Parents also know that no one understands their kids better than them, so they learn to nod politely and tune out the well-meaning advice.

Kids turn you into a hypocrite within a year.

Before having kids, every parent-to-be has a list of things they will never, ever do. They tisk at other parents who let their kids watch television, use a pacifier, or play video games. Once they become parents, though, all that goes out the window the first time they need to use the bathroom in peace or take an important phone call. At some point, you’re going to do something you said you’d never do. Thankfully, no parent will judge you for it because they’ve been there too.

Kids are gross, but you won’t mind.

Most non-parents would cringe at the thought of cleaning up vomit at 2:00 am, dealing with a blow-out diaper in the middle of the mall, or suctioning mucus out of a baby’s nose. Face it, kids are gross. Parents develop a strange, magical kind of immunity to their child’s grossness though. They may still gag when cleaning up the dog’s mess, but they can clean the nastiest messes from their children without flinching.

You will never, ever be the same again.

Kids change you so completely that you barely recognize the person you were before. Your entire life becomes about your children, even after they leave the house and start their own family. When you’re a parent, your kids come first. The beauty of it, though, is that you don’t mind. Being a parent is an amazing experience. It’s totally worth the lost sleep, money, and time.

Featured photo credit: Sergiu Bacioiu via flickr.com

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