10 Critical Things You Only Learn In The First Year Of Parenthood

That no amount of advice or warning can adequately prepare you for.

Mother hugging kids Shurkin Son / Shutterstock.com

Becoming a parent is a wild ride. There’s a range of emotions you go through when you first see those two pink lines. Obviously, you know that having a kid is going to change things in your world. You get excited and a little nervous. You chat with other parents, buy all the books, join the online groups and download all the apps.

You do your research. You are prepared. You take the warnings and advice from seasoned parents with a grain of salt.


Everyone’s journey is different. You tell yourself in your delusional state of blissful ignorance that you’ve experienced change before, and you’ve adjusted and adapted. That’s just part of life. How is a child any different? It’s just a little detour off-track in your meticulously planned and controlled existence.

You’ll be fine — and seriously, you will be.

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But not until a few harsh realities have smacked you squarely in the face during the chaotic first twelve months of new parenthood.


Here are the top 10 lessons I learned in the first year that no amount of research or advice prepared me for.

1. Most mainstream parenting advice is straight BS.

It took me a solid 5 months to accept that I was raising a little human and not a little robot. And little humans are as individual and unique as we big humans, shocker.

If I had my time over, I would delete every app, burn every book, and never open Google.

The pressure to force your baby to do what your baby ‘should’ be doing according to the ‘experts’ is both extreme and unnecessary. I wasted an excessive amount of time trying to stop my baby from acting like a baby.

Was she broken? Why didn’t she sleep when I put her down drowsy but awake? Why did she cry whenever I tried to make her sleep in her bassinet? Why did she look hungry when I just fed her? Can’t she see it hasn’t been the allocated three hours? Can she not tell time at 6 weeks old? I must be a terrible parent.


Imagine my surprise as parenting became exponentially easier when I decided to trust my instincts and intuition and follow my baby over the books and advice. As it turns out, *most* of the ‘advice’ goes completely against biological norms and is completely unrealistic for many families.

In reality, the only advice we should be dishing out is this: There are no rules. Do what feels right. If something feels wrong, stop doing it.

Obviously, I still would have read all the books and downloaded all the apps because, as with most of these lessons, they are best learned in hindsight.

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2. Breastfeeding is hard.

This may be the only exception to the rule of trusting your instincts and intuition and having things work out on their own.

There’s a reason that all the women of the village rallied around the new mother in the early weeks. There is a dance to be learned between mother and child, and you need someone who has been there before to show you the steps.

Sure, some babies pop out and latch straight on without a worry.

But maybe, like me, you’ll have a C-section or other complication in labor that deprives you of the “magic hour”, and things won’t fall so naturally into place.

If you want to breastfeed, you’ll need someone qualified in breastfeeding (And IBCLC, likely not your GP) to guide you.


And there’s no shame in asking for help. There are no prizes for struggling — that applies to everything, not just breastfeeding.

3. You'll feel simultaneous, conflicting, extreme emotions.

Imagine feeling:

Grateful and resentful.
Happy and sad.
Fulfilled and longing.
Focussed and distracted.
Busy and bored.

All at once…

That, my friends, is what is otherwise known as “A Day in the Life” for new parents (and seasoned ones, to be fair…). Before kids, I would have scoffed at the concept. You’re either happy or sad. You can’t be both.

It turns out you can be both. You can so be both. And it’s a total dumpster fire inside your head for a while — it doesn't go away. You just get used to it. As with most things on this list, eventually, you embrace it, and it all becomes a little less overwhelming.


4. Grieving the loss of your 'old life' is normal and doesn't make you a bad parent.

You don’t just miss your old life — the freedom, the independence, the ability to be completely selfish … and the sleep. Oh man, remember a full 8 hours? Me either.

You grieve it. Because it is dead and buried. Not in the sense that you’ll never experience those things, but in the sense that you’ll never experience them in the same way. You look at the world in a completely different way now.

Even when you have those moments of freedom, your children are still on your mind. You miss them, and you worry about them all the time. From this point on, there isn’t a single thing you will do that doesn’t have their best interests at the forefront.

Once you adjust, you realize the absolute privilege of caring about something other than yourself that much.


At the time? You’ll probably be thinking, what the hell have I done?

It’s normal. It’s a process. Give yourself a little grace to go through the motions. You’ll reach acceptance as you pass through the stages, as with any other loss. And at no point are you a bad parent for feeling the feels.

5 You'll feel like you have a newborn forever.

The newborn cave is real. It’s deep, and it’s dark. It feels like an eternity before you crawl out and back into the land of the living.

It’s actually more like 6 to 8 weeks.

I distinctly remember feeling absolutely certain I would have a newborn baby for the rest of my life. This was it. This was life now. This tiny, defenseless, crying, feeding, pooping, wrinkly thing was going to be physically attached to me forever.


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Everyone says the same crap—this too shall pass.

What would you know? You want to scream cry back at them, being sure no one has ever been through this experience and survived.

But it did, indeed, pass. And now it’s like a super foggy, distant memory that you have to stop and question whether it even happened at all.

6. People love to give unsolicited advice and cross boundaries.

I think I may have uttered these exact words when I was pregnant: “It’s my baby, and I’ll be setting clear boundaries around what is right for them, and everyone will just have to respect that, whether they agree or not. I mean, you’re not going to argue with a child’s mother about what’s best for them, are you?”


They will. They absolutely will. Because you’re new at this, what do you know? The seasoned parents have been there done that, and the non-parents are the best hypothetical parents in the world. They all know better than you and will not hesitate to let you know.

Don’t want people kissing the baby? You’ll need to physically pry someone off them at least once before they get the message.

And it is not easy. You’d think it would be the easiest thing in the world to stand up for your child. But in the early days, when you’re full of self-doubt and struggling to adjust, it’s just another burden to stack on top of the ever-growing list of things that now make life feel a lot more difficult.

You’ll get there, it will become second nature, and you’ll stop giving a flying focaccia what anyone thinks about your parenting choices, and you won’t be afraid to say so. Eventually.


7. Parenting is the biggest test your relationship will face.

My husband and I had been together for 8 years before we had our daughter. We were absolutely certain we had been together long enough to weather any storm.

So we thought, why not really test out that theory and have a baby.

The resentment is real. This single biggest source of conflict we now have is around the balance of ‘me’ time… and don’t even get me started on ‘we’ time because we are still figuring that out.

If it feels like the scale is tipping too far in one direction when it comes to who is getting to do the things they want to do, it’s world war freaking three.


As a stay-at-home parent, the most difficult part for me is curbing the resentment around not getting to play with the adults as often as my husband does. Because in fairness, neither parent ever gets to ‘clock off’ (at least not with us). It’s a 24/7 gig workwise, but one of us gets to spend 8–10 of those hours offsite.

He doesn’t get it because he is at work and work is hard. I get that, but work also equals conversation with other adults, hot coffee, and at least one meal you don’t have to share or eat standing up.

I won’t even delve into the intimacy side of things. Props to those who get straight back on the horse. If that’s not you, there’s nothing wrong; everything is a season, even this.

8. Postpartum bodies do super-weird things.

I don’t hate my postpartum body. It’s not the body I had before, but it grew an entire human, so … I’m ok with that.


There are some perks, like my hips are physically a little wider, which makes my belly flatter.

I have what most would consider an ‘athletic build’—years of gym, hockey, and dancing will do that. And the good news is, muscle memory is totally real. My back and shoulders are more toned than when I was doing weights three times a week. Babies are heavy, and you carry them … a lot.

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Then the not-so-perky bits. Like my poor breasts, if ya get my drift.

And one word— hair. Why is it falling out of my head and growing like a weed everywhere else? Why is it dark now when it used to be blonde? Why do I have to shave my legs twice a week when I used to stretch it to three weeks?


I also have to wear my glasses full-time now because pregnancy can totally mess with your eyesight, and that doesn't always rectify itself pp. Weird.

9. You'll want to speed up and slow down time at the same time.

The days are long, but the years are short….

When a friend said that to me in the midst of the newborn fog that I was convinced would never end, I was like, what are you smoking, and can I please have some?


As with all things in retrospect, you realize it’s true. For every agonizingly long groundhog day that you endure, you find yourself checking the date and thinking — how the hell has it been that long? Where did those 6 months go?

I remember thinking things like it will get easier once she can roll over, crawl, stand, walk, talk, etc.

I wished a lot of it away because, as wonderful as it was, it was also hard.

Now I find myself wishing I could turn back the clock and savoring the little moments, wanting to hold on to them as long as possible because I know, in the not too distant future, this will be something I’ll miss.

10. They’re only babies for a year.

Blink, and you’ll miss it. Your baby isn’t a baby anymore, at least not physically. You are a toddler parent now, and you can’t believe how quickly that happened. Hitting a year is almost like a graduation ceremony.


Congratulations, you are now proficient in the art of parenting!

Sort of.

The truth is you’re more in the realm of confidently winging it. They seem less fragile now, and your skin is less green. You’ve found your rhythm, and you understand each other. It’s been a long time since you hit google in a panic or opened an app, or obsessed over what the other babies are doing in your online parenting groups.

You’re finding the balance in your identity between parent and self.

Everything that felt so foreign has comfortably become the new normal.

So there you have it. Prepare to be completely unprepared, and you might just save yourself a little heartache in your first year.


It’s all trial and error. We all have to find our way. As much as I personally would love to burn all the parenting advice books (particularly the ones about sleep), you might find them to be your salvation.

You’ll make mistakes, you’ll have regrets, and you’ll think of all the things you could’ve or should’ve done differently. You might even write a 10-point listicle about what you learned. Whatever path you choose, you will have done the very best with the information you had at the time.

Hindsight is 20/20, but one thing I believe above all when it comes to parenting (and life) is that we shouldn't sugarcoat it.

It’s not always sunshine and daisies, and you might even feel like you have more bad days than good days in that first year (and beyond). But the more we talk about and normalize the uglier side of things, maybe, one day, these lessons won’t seem so harsh or unexpected.


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Jessie Waddell is a storyteller who writes about life, love, work, and parenthood. Follow her on Twitter.