“I want to have a baby.”

I remember, so clearly, saying those words to my husband. We were sitting in our car – I was already installed in the passenger seat, he was just settling himself into the driver’s seat – about to head home from visiting friends. My husband had always wanted a baby, but I hadn’t been so sure. I wasn’t convinced that I was up to the challenge, and so he’d put his desire for a family on hold while I figured it out – when we got married and I told him that I might not be the person he should marry if he wanted to be a father, he told me, “I’d rather marry you than have a baby.” And, really, how can you not marry a man who says things like that to you?!

But now I’d made up my mind, and I was ready. I wanted to get started immediately (well, once we got home, anyway). What made me so sure all of a sudden? Well, we’d just been visiting friends… in order to meet their new baby. Funnily enough, this baby had come about when the friends in question had gone to visit a friend of theirs to meet their new baby, and in the car on the way home decided they wanted one of their own. In some bizarre fertility game of tag, we were next.

And this is how they get you. You spend time with a couple and their new baby – this quiet, adorable, squishy little thing that spends most of its time sleeping, while the lovestruck parents gaze at it full of wonder and hormones, still firmly entrenched in the honeymoon phase. And you want some of that.

I want to have a baby.

Those are always the words. The words in movies, in TV shows, in novels. Couples tell each other, “I want a baby”, “We should have a baby”, “Let’s make a baby”.

But here’s the thing – you’re not having a baby.

You’re having a child

We focus so much attention, thought and screen time on babies, but that baby stage speeds past you faster than that git on the motorbike with the short exhaust who blares down your road just as your baby was about to drift off for nap time. It’s a cliche to say it goes by so fast, but it really is blink and you’ll miss it.

They are babies – of the teeny, squishy, highly portable, sleeps all the time variety – for around four months. Which, when you’re sleep deprived, feels like both forty years and four minutes. Then you’ve got another two, maybe up to four, months where they still look like babies and act like babies – they’re not moving around much, if at all, they still live off (mostly) milk, they can’t really do a whole lot, and they’re pretty happy to sit where you put them and chew whatever toy you give them.

Then, all of a sudden, they’re walking, they’re talking, they’ve got opinions about things, they want you to come up with ever more imaginative games to play with them, you’ve got to take them to a bunch of classes, they’ve got friends they want to see instead of just hanging out with yours, they want to watch Frozen AGAIN and they absolutely will not under any circumstances put their shoes on when you want to leave the house. And they’re still not sleeping great, so you’re doing this on what is now several years of sleep deprivation whilst knowing way more about the world of Paw Patrol than you ever wanted to and hearing someone shout “Mummy!” approximately 18 million times per hour.

They are still pretty cute

Toddlers can be adorable, though – maybe even more adorable than the teeny squishy babies, because this lot are doing things intentionally in the world. There’s no better feeling than my three-year-old coming over and saying, “Mummy, I love you so much, I just want to squeeze you!” and then giving me a bear hug. And I’ve never been as emotional as watching her and her one-year-old brother cuddling and kissing each other, or seeing her reading him a story or teaching him something new. I love seeing their personalities develop, watching them discovering interests and skills, and listening to their ideas and takes on the world.

It’s just that I wasn’t really prepared for this. I spent so much time thinking about what it would be like to look after a baby. I read so many books and did the courses and talked to other people and watched the TV shows and all the information I gained was about parenting babies. Whereas I spent about 87 minutes parenting babies and 12 million years parenting toddlers (so far).

Then they’ll be bigger children. Then they’ll be teenagers (dear lord). One day they’ll be grown up. And I’m not ready for any of it. Every stage comes with new challenges, and, as you level up through this parenting saga, it gets progressively more complicated. Yet all the training and education is focused around Stage One.

We spend so much time and energy preparing for this tiny person who’ll be with us for a few months, but don’t think to prepare for the child we’ll have for many years.

Prepare yourself

If you’re a new parent, or you’ve recently uttered the immortal words, “I want to have a baby,” it’s a good idea to prepare yourself. Start reading ahead. Get the cheat codes for the upcoming levels, they’ll come at you faster than you think.

Right now, all you care about is how are you going to get this person out of you and keep all of you in one piece, and how will you feed them, and how will you get them to sleep and can you wear a top two days in a row if it already has baby sick down it? (Yes, you totally can, by the way.) But although night feeds and baby groups and will-you-ever-sleep-again issues feel like your whole world right now, and each issue seems like it’s been going on for years and will never end, it’ll all have changed before you’ve had chance to notice.

You’re not really having a baby. You were never having a baby. You were always having a child, who was just going to briefly give the illusion of being small and helpless, while they prepared to kick your arse.

That’s the one you need to read the books about – that’s the kid you need to be ready for.

If you’re having difficulty adjusting to life with a toddler, or older child, get in touch to find out how coaching could help you.