Before I had kids, I was a perfect parent. Today, as a real life parent, I realize just how hard it all is! I do my best, take stabs in the dark as to what is best, and do so many things that I vowed I would never do. Here are some of the ways that parent-me is laughing at the pre-kids-me. Amazing how much changes in just 2.5 years!

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Don’t let their sweetness fool you . . . these two are a handful!

“Breastfeeding is a natural thing. Why do they have classes for it?”

While I wasn’t strictly interested in exclusively breastfeeding our kids, I also had no idea that breastfeeding would be so difficult for me, especially the first time around. I had no idea that a mother might not produce enough milk to provide for her baby or that it might be difficult. With our first, we didn’t have any formula at home and didn’t realize that he was crying non-stop for the first day at home because he was basically starving. It was such a relief when we supplemented with formula and we did it immediately with our second. After becoming a parent, I learned to appreciate how difficult breastfeeding can be and how important it is to accept that, ultimately, fed is best.

“I will not be a short order cook. The kids will eat whatever I make.”

Although I still like to think that the kids eat what we eat and I’m not one to order off a children’s menu in a restaurant, there have been plenty nights at home where the kids, or more specifically, Lion, won’t eat what I’ve made for dinner. We insist that the kids at least try everything, but if Lion refuses to eat anything more than a single bite, we have resorted to leftovers from the previous night or emergency backups like avocado or almond butter sandwiches. I’ve learned that while I want them to be adventurous eaters, I also want them to eat something because our oldest gets crazy hangry! Lion gets so hangry that he refuses to eat and just melts down, so I’d rather have him fed at dinnertime.

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“My kids will not eat any processed food.”

For Lion’s first year, I drove myself crazy ensuring that he had home cooked meals every day and healthy snacks. While I did endeavor to bring cut up fruit with us for snacks, I often turned to freeze-dried fruit and vegetables. He didn’t get any fruit pouches, goldfish or other snacks until he was over a year old and didn’t have anything with sugar in it until he was closer to 15-18 months. With Panda, I just found it easier to throw fruit bars and fruit pouches into the diaper bag when we went out, rather than preparing tons of food in advance of every trip to the park or store.

“My kids are not going to have any sugar.”

Ha. I tried and failed at this. Neither one of them had sugar before the age of 1, but there was a certain amount of peer-pressure at school for birthdays and holidays. The teachers would tell me that it was one child’s birthday and the mother brought in cupcakes and could Lion have one? It was a slippery slope and not only has the sugar ban been lifted, but we bribe Lion to use the potty with M&Ms. When we went to Seattle for a wedding last summer, Lion devoured an entire giant family-sized tub of animal cookies that his grandparents had in their pantry over the course of about four days. He eats fruit bars many mornings for breakfast because they’re fast and easy and he’s actually willing to eat them.

“I won’t let my kids watch any TV before age 2.”

The AAP recommendation at the time Lion was born recommended no screen time before the age of 2 (since then, they have changed their guidelines). We actually did a really good job of avoiding any screen time before the age of 1, but weren’t as strict about it after that. After we had Panda and when Lion stopped napping about 50% of the days, I started to relax about screen time. While we still don’t do any screen time on the weekdays, the kids might get between 30-60 minutes of TV on a Sunday afternoon while Mr. Dolphin and I try to do some chores. It doesn’t hold Panda’s interest all that much, which is funny because he’s been a bit more exposed to it. I think because we were so strictly anti-screen time until Lion was close to two, he is obsessed with any screen we pass. I also do FaceTime with the kids while I’m traveling for work and we have the occasional Skype video conferences with our families. Of course, all bets are off when we’re on a plane and Lion and Panda are free to enjoy as much screen time as they want if it keeps them quiet, calm and in their seats. I am very thankful for Thomas and Friends or Blaze and the Monster Machines when Mr. Dolphin and I are trying to get things done or when the weather is just too cold to take them out and they’re getting cabin fever (and I don’t feel like bundling them up for shopping).

“Money isn’t important.”

One of the biggest changes in my mindset from before I had kids to after is about the importance of money. Mr. Dolphin and I were fairly idealistic, both choosing to do non-profit/public sector work over private firm work despite having massive law school debt (mostly my debt). We were lucky that our law school paid back some of our loans through a loan repayment assistance program for public interest work, but there were years when we made barely enough to pay for our living expenses. Then, we had kids and we realized how expensive things like daycare, formula, diapers and other expenses are! The cost of daycare for our two kids last year was about equivalent to a year’s gross salary in my previous job and there’s no way we could have had kids had I continued working there. I was lucky and got a new job early in my pregnancy with Lion, but since having kids, money has definitely been an issue. I’ve interviewed for new jobs, re-negotiated my salary, taken on extra consulting projects and my husband found a new job to make sure that we can afford to pay for our mortgage and daycare. Today, I still consider switching to private practice (though it would be extraordinarily difficult to do at this point in my career) just for a little extra financial security.

“I don’t like the look of kids on leashes.”

We not only have one backpack with a leash, but two. I actually purchased one for Lion because after becoming a parent, I understood its value. Lion didn’t really use it very much because he’s very shy and isn’t the type to run off. Then, a couple of weekends ago, I took the kids to the aquarium solo and realized I definitely needed two leash backpacks. Lion wanted to wear it just because it is his and he enjoys it, but Panda is the one who needed it because he is definitely a runner. He thought it was hilarious to sprint off the second I put him down, or would just toddle to a new exhibit without any concern for where Lion or I were. I quickly realized how easy it would be to lose a child in a public space.

“I can totally work from home with kids.”

When I was pregnant, I had this fantasy that I was going to write law review articles while on maternity leave. Dream dashed with Lion. He was colicky and wanted to be held all the time. Even as he got older and outgrew his colic, it was totally baffling to me how one of my friends managed to work from home for the first nine months of her child’s life. I asked her how she did it and she replied, “Do you have a toy bar?” I continued to be completely confounded because a toy bar only entertained Lion for about five minutes. Forget it about it now that he’s a toddler. While I might be able to work for an hour or two, putting in a full day while home with the kids (if there’s a snow day or sick day) is extremely unlikely.

To be honest, I do think I could have worked from home with Panda for his first year without any problems. In fact, I worked more than 20 hours a week from home throughout much of my maternity leave because he slept all the time. But it definitely doesn’t work for the overall family dynamic that we have.

“I will treat my children completely equally.”

I wanted to make sure that my kids were treated equally until I started to realize that they have different needs and equal treatment doesn’t always address their individual personalities. I plan to write another post on that in the future, but I think that addressing my kids needs means parenting them differently.

“It is totally understandable when babies cry, but not so much when toddlers/young children do.”

HAHAHAHA. This is probably the most ridiculous thing that I thought before having kids. I never understood the parents of a three-year-old desperately trying to quell a meltdown. I thought that only babies cried and that toddlers had just an occasional tantrum. Oh, how naive I was! I now realize how much easier babies are, especially because strangers are more likely to be forgiving of an infant. Toddlers are infinitely more willful and headstrong and Lion has shown me just how much worse (and seemingly non-fixable) a toddler meltdown can be.