parenting, motherhood, fatherhood, kids, children

Here are some things new parents need to know.

Parenting is as old as time, but there's never been a time in history when we've talked about it more. If you go into any bookstore, you'll find shelf after shelf filled with books about how to raise your kids. If you have questions about any element of parenting, there are countless websites and online groups you can consult.

And yet, most of us still go into it unaware of the reality of it, because let's face it, there's no way to adequately prepare for parenthood. No matter what you picture it being like going in, parenting will yank that image right out of your head, smash it into the ground and grind its heel right into the heart of it.

Okay, that's a bit dramatic. But only a bit. Parenting is the hardest, most rewarding job on earth—a thrill ride that takes you on the highest highs and plunges you to the lowest lows. Up and down you go, over and over again, sometimes squealing with delight, sometimes thinking you might puke and sometimes screaming "Stop the ride, I wanna get off!"

While it's not possible to truly prepare, it's good to hear from experienced parents what you might expect. Every kid, every parent, every family is different, but there are some near-universal things that people really should know going in.

A user on Reddit asked, "What is something nobody warns people about enough when it comes to having kids," and the answers didn't disappoint. Here are some highlights:

You have less control over how your kids turn out than you think.

"There's a very good chance they won't turn out like you think," wrote one commenter. That's not to say that you have no influence whatsoever, but each kid is their own unique person with their own individuality, and they also change as they grow. If you're too attached to an idea of how they should be, you may not fully appreciate who they are.

"People seem to often forget that they're raising people," shared another commenter, "as in, independent-thinking individuals whose actions, values, personalities, interests, and capabilities will potentially be completely unlike yours. I've seen a lot of parents struggle hard with that, and frankly, that's a possibility you should have made your peace with before you became a parent, imo."

Another person added:

"This is why many parent/child relationships are so strained. Many parents have a child thinking they are programming a perfect human being. Many are disappointed when the child is not the exact person they hoped (or worse, the polar opposite). Perfectly normal children grow into resentful, tired adults because of their parents' unrealistic expectations that have nothing to do with them."

The books aren't all that helpful.

We all want to look to "the experts" when raising our kids, and some things we find in parenting books can be marginally helpful. But they certainly aren't the be-all-end-all of good parenting.

"The books are fine for ideas, your experience, friends thoughts, paediatricians, therapists," wrote one commenter. "But at the end of it all you have this complicated little person you're in charge of with their own preferences, feelings, insecurities, abilities, and you have to do what works for them and your family and, of course, also raise someone who isn't a blight on humanity or menace to society."

Another wrote:

"As my mum says: 'The kid hasn't read the book.'

"Her parents tried to do everything by the book with her and she hated it. She was supposed to have pigtails, wear dresses, learn piano and not go climb trees and play soccer/football. She saved pocket money to get her hair cut short and her dad almost hit her for it. Did she stop pushing to be herself? Nope. She is a strong woman, but boy, does she have some scars on her soul.

"With her own three kids she watched what interests they developed and then helped them explore it further and to not forget to keep an open mind about other possible hobbies, sports, arts etc. I have no idea how to thank her properly for this."

It doesn't go by fast—until suddenly it does.

"The days are loooong and the years are so very short," wrote one person. It's true. When you're in the thick of parenting and someone tells you how fast it goes, you might feel like strangling them. But then you look at your child who has changed so much and it does feel fast in hindsight.

"I've heard older people say this or the equivalent all my life," wrote another. "I always thought I understood. And then I had children. Now I understand. I keep looking at my kids and can't believe how much time has passed. I'll look at them doing something new and just be amazed. Seems like yesterday that my youngest couldn't lift her own head and now she's doing tuck rolls across the house."

"This is it!" shared a parent of young adults. "Mine are 18, 19 & 20. Empty-nest syndrome is a REAL thing. I always look back and think… How the hell did it go by so quick? I used to roll my eyes at people who would say stuff like this when they had 3 different practices, in 3 different places at the same time. It really goes by so quickly."

Your time—and sleep—are no longer yours.

When they're babies, they wake up in the night for all kinds of reasons—to eat, to practice crawling, to say hi, to wail inconsolably for no explicable reason, and so on. When they're older, they wake up because they need to go to the bathroom or a drink of water or they're scared. Then, when they're much older, they suddenly stay up late and want to have deep, heart-to-heart talks at 10 p.m. Most of us expect the baby sleep deprivation stage, but there are sleep disruptions throughout a child's entire childhood.

"When they grow older, you don't have a private life anymore," wrote one commenter. "They stay awake longer than you."

"Never thought of this. The later part of the evening is my time usually," someone responded.

"Used to be my time as well," shared another commenter. "Since becoming a parent, my time is 4-6am. One reason why you start waking up early once you're older, probably."

I have a young adult, a teen and an almost-teen, and I can attest to waking up extra early simply to have uninterrupted time to myself.

You will miss being able to think clearly.

"For me, I stopped having a chance to think anything through without interruption," wrote a commenter. "I had a very hard time with that. I couldn't remember anything, couldn't make decisions, etc because every thought seemed to get interrupted.

"I'd just sit in my car alone sometimes so I could think."

Ah, the beautiful, quiet solitude of the car. Every mother I know enjoys a good "car bath" once in a while.

"I am so glad somebody said this," someone responded. "I was starting to worry I was getting early onset dementia, because my mind just feels like mush all the time. I can't remember things, I start sentences and can't finish them, I forget common words....my mind rarely gets to switch off because someone is always interacting with me or calling my name."

Part of the brain mush is because kids need things all the time. And part of it is that you now have an entire other person's life (multiplied by however many kids you have) to think about. Their health and well-being, their education, their emotional state, their character—it's a lot. So much more than you can really imagine until you're in it.

Take advantage of the middle years.

"How important the years between 7 and 12 are for building a bond (one that lasts into the teenage years)," wrote a commenter. "They are so hard to listen to at that age with all the starts and stops in conversation and they talk about the most boring thing's BUT it is so important to listen and converse at those ages. They will grow into teenagers that will talk to you, and be fun to talk to, but only if you can get through long boring conversations about Minecraft or whatever thing they are currently into."

Having teens and young adults, I have seen the truth of this advice play out. If you want your teens to talk to you, you have to listen well before they get to that age.

Another user shared what it meant to them when their mother did just that:

"I can remember being about 12 and wanting to share my biggest interest at the time with my mom, that being Bionicle, by reading to her all the books I had been collecting with my allowance. Sometimes she would involuntarily fall asleep, but my God she tried so hard to show an interest. I really didn't appreciate it at the time, focused on all the times she yawned or fell asleep, but now (16 years later) we both remember it fondly as the bonding time it really was."

And another shared just the opposite:

"My god, what an amazing mom you have. I vividly remember coming home from school around 12-13 yo, super excited to tell my mom all about my day, and she's sitting there reading her book, as always. No problem, I'm just telling her my stories while she's reading. Then that one time, I wondered is she actually listening? So I stopped mid-sentence and she didn't notice. I remember my heart just sank, and after that I never told her anything ever again. I don't think she noticed."

Diapering a doll isn't going to prepare you for wrangling a baby.

"Practicing diapers on a doll doesn't count," wrote one commenter. "You're ready when you can do it on a cat."

HA. So true. Others shared their diaper wrangling woes as well:

"My first daughter was patient and would just let us change her. My second daughter wants nothing more than to roll over and crawl away. There's nowhere for her to go but she wants to go anyway."

"It's like, I am physically orders of magnitude stronger than her, how the hell does she still win?"

"My daughter has just perfected the alligator death roll technique when she doesn't want to be changed or put pants on lmao. And because she's 2 and a bit she laughs the whole time cause it's hilarious."

Don't even get me started on trying to get an unwilling jellyfish toddler buckled into a carseat.

All parents are winging it.

"I stupidly thought once I had a child I would automatically 'know' how to parent," wrote one commenter. "You're the same dummy before and after having a child, and you realize how much your parents were winging it."

"Leaving the hospital with that tiny fragile little being was terrifying," wrote another. "C-section delivery so they kept us a couple days longer. Lots of help from the amazing maternity ward, to the moment you realize you and your spouse are alone and now solely responsible for keeping this little baby alive."

"Yeah, it's like: "We can just leave? WITH the baby? Who approved this?" added another.

"The panicked looks my husband and I exchanged the first time we were left alone with our newborn will live forever in my mind," wrote yet another.

It really is surreal that you're just, like, handed a newborn baby and that's it. A whole life in your hands, and you're supposed to just figure out what to do with it. Good luck!

The relentlessness is real.

"Nothing prepared me for the sheer 'unrelentingness' of parenting," shared one parent. "Every day for many years has to be finished with a dinner/bath/bed routine that takes two hours, regardless of how tired, upset or unwell you are. Difficult enough if you've been at work all day, yes. But also if you're on holidays and got a little bit sunburnt, or been to a family wedding and overeaten, or spent the day assembling Ikea furniture and are just exhausted.

"As a childless adult you could occasionally say 'I'm just having takeaway tonight', and flop in front of the TV until bedtime. As a parent, that's not an option."

This is a truth that's hard to fathom but oh so real. Parenting never ends. You don't ever really get a break, even when you're lucky enough to kind of get a break. Your kids' well-being is always on your mind, even when you're not with them.

And it doesn't end at 18, either. Many commenters talked about how parenting is forever. You worry about your adult kids, too, just in a different way than when they were young and you were fully responsible for raising them.

This list might lead people to believe that parenting sucks, but it doesn't. I mean, sometimes it can, but that's true of anything in life. If you're fortunate and put in your best effort, the joy and fulfilment of parenting hopefully outweighs the hard parts. Getting a realistic picture of what it entails—both the delights and the challenges—can help people temper their expectations and take the roller coaster of parenting as it comes.

Images courtesy of Letters of Love
True

When Grace Berbig was 7 years old, her mom was diagnosed with leukemia, a cancer of the body’s blood-forming tissues. Being so young, Grace didn’t know what cancer was or why her mother was suddenly living in the hospital. But she did know this: that while her mom was in the hospital, she would always be assured that her family was thinking of her, supporting her and loving her every step of her journey.

Nearly every day, Grace and her two younger sisters would hand-make cards and fill them with drawings and messages of love, which their mother would hang all over the walls of her hospital room. These cherished letters brought immeasurable peace and joy to their mom during her sickness. Sadly, when Grace was just 10 years old, her mother lost her battle with cancer.“

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Losing my mom put the world in a completely different perspective for me,” Grace says. “I realized that you never know when someone could leave you, so you have to love the people you love with your whole heart, every day.”

Grace’s father was instrumental in helping in the healing process of his daughters. “I distinctly remember my dad constantly reminding my two little sisters, Bella and Sophie, and I that happiness is a choice, and it was now our job to turn this heartbreaking event in our life into something positive.”

When she got to high school, Grace became involved in the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and a handful of other organizations. But she never felt like she was doing enough.

“I wanted to create an opportunity for people to help beyond donating money, and one that anyone could be a part of, no matter their financial status.”

In October 2018, Grace started Letters of Love, a club at her high school in Long Lake, Minnesota, to emotionally support children battling cancer and other serious illnesses through letter-writing and craft-making.


Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Much to her surprise, more than 100 students showed up for the first club meeting. From then on, Letters of Love grew so fast that during her senior year in high school, Grace had to start a GoFundMe to help cover the cost of card-making materials.

Speaking about her nonprofit today, Grace says, “I can’t find enough words to explain how blessed I feel to have this organization. Beyond the amount of kids and families we are able to support, it allows me to feel so much closer and more connected to my mom.”

Since its inception, Letters of Love has grown to more than 25 clubs with more than 1,000 members providing emotional support to more than 60,000 patients in children’s hospitals around the world. And in the process it has become a full-time job for Grace.

“I do everything from training volunteers and club ambassadors, paying bills, designing merchandise, preparing financial predictions and overviews, applying for grants, to going through each and every card ensuring they are appropriate to send out to hospitals.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

In addition to running Letters of Love, Grace and her small team must also contend with the emotions inherent in their line of work.

“There have been many, many tears cried,” she says. “Working to support children who are battling cancer and other serious and sometimes chronic illnesses can absolutely be extremely difficult mentally. I feel so blessed to be an organization that focuses solely on bringing joy to these children, though. We do everything we can to simply put a smile on their face, and ensure they know that they are so loved, so strong, and so supported by people all around the world.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Letters of Love has been particularly instrumental in offering emotional support to children who have been unable to see friends and family due to COVID-19. A video campaign in the summer of 2021 even saw members of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings and the NHL’s Minnesota Wild offer short videos of hope and encouragement to affected children.

Grace is currently taking a gap year before she starts college so she can focus on growing Letters of Love as well as to work on various related projects, including the publication of a children’s book.

“The goal of the book is to teach children the immense impact that small acts of kindness can have, how to treat their peers who may be diagnosed with disabilities or illness, and how they are never too young to change the world,” she says.

Since she was 10, Grace has kept memories of her mother close to her, as a source of love and inspiration in her life and in the work she does with Letters of Love.

Image courtesy of Grace Berbig

“When I lost my mom, I felt like a section of my heart went with her, so ever since, I have been filling that piece with love and compassion towards others. Her smile and joy were infectious, and I try to mirror that in myself and touch people’s hearts as she did.”

For more information visit Letters of Love.

Please donate to Grace’s GoFundMe and help Letters of Love to expand, publish a children’s book and continue to reach more children in hospitals around the world.

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Images courtesy of AFutureSuperhero and Friends and Balance Dance Project
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The day was scorching hot, but the weather wasn’t going to stop a Star Wars Stormtrooper from handing out school supplies to a long line of eager children. “You guys don’t have anything illegal back there - any droids or anything?” the Stormtrooper asks, making sure he was safe from enemies before handing over a colorful backpack to a smiling boy.

The man inside the costume is Yuri Williams, founder of AFutureSuperhero And Friends, a Los Angeles nonprofit that uplifts and inspires marginalized people with small acts of kindness.

Yuri’s organization is one of four inaugural grant winners from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, a joint initiative between Upworthy and GoFundMe that celebrates kindness and everyday actions inspired by the best of humanity. This year, the Upworthy Kindness Fund is giving $100,000 to grassroots changemakers across the world.

To apply, campaign organizers simply tell Upworthy how their kindness project is making a difference. Between now and the end of 2021, each accepted individual or organization will receive $500 towards an existing GoFundMe and a shout-out on Upworthy.

Meet the first four winners:

1: Balance Dance Project: This studio aims to bring accessible dance to all in the Sacramento, CA area. Lead fundraiser Miranda Macias says many dancers spend hours a day at Balance practicing contemporary, lyrical, hip-hop, and ballet. Balance started a GoFundMe to raise money to cover tuition for dancers from low-income communities, buy dance team uniforms, and update its facility. The $500 contribution from the Kindness Fund nudged Balance closer to its $5,000 goal.

2: Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team: In Los Angeles, middle school teacher James Pike is introducing his students to the field of robotics via a Lego-building team dedicated to solving real-world problems.

James started a GoFundMe to crowdfund supplies for his students’ team ahead of the First Lego League, a school-against-school matchup that includes robotics competitions. The team, James explained, needed help to cover half the cost of the pricey $4,000 robotics kit. Thanks to help from the Upworthy Kindness Fund and the generosity of the Citizens of the World Middle School community, the team exceeded its initial fundraising goal.

Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team video update youtu.be

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To make room for newcomers, the club recently moved into a larger studio with a third station for apprentices or guest artists. Unlike a traditional fundraiser that supports the organization exclusively, Black Fluidity Tattoo Club will distribute proceeds from GoFundMe directly to emerging Black tattoo artists who are starting their own businesses. The small grants, supported in part with a $500 contribution from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, will go towards artists’ equipment, supplies, furnishings, and other start-up costs.

4: AFutureSuperhero And Friends’ “Hope For The Holidays”: Founder Yuri Williams is fundraising for a holiday trip to spread cheer to people in need across all fifty states.

Along with collaborator Rodney Smith Jr., Yuri will be handing out gifts to children, adults, and animals dressed as a Star Wars’ Stormtrooper, Spiderman, Deadpool, and other movie or comic book characters. Starting this month, the crew will be visiting children with disabilities or serious illnesses, bringing leashes and toys to animal shelters for people taking home a new pet, and spreading blessings to unhoused people—all while in superhero costume. This will be the third time Yuri and his nonprofit have taken this journey.

AFutureSuperhero started a GoFundMe in July to cover the cost of gifts as well as travel expenses like hotels and rental cars. To help the nonprofit reach its $15,000 goal, the Upworthy Kindness Fund contributed $500 towards this good cause.

Think you qualify for the fund? Tell us how you’re bringing kindness to your community. Grants will be awarded on a rolling basis from now through the end of 2021. For questions and more information, please check out our FAQ's and the Kindness Toolkit for resources on how to start your own kindness fundraiser.

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