When a child enters your life, everything changes -- from when you sleep to what you buy at the grocery store to the daily conversations you have. Parenthood is mostly wonderful, but it can also be very difficult, and it takes a big adjustment to get from your old life to your new one.
Before you decided to have a baby, adopt a child or take in a foster child, you probably had a plan for how things would go. You might find yourself throwing that plan out the window and feeling a little lost. It's OK -- most parents feel that way.
This small, new person in your life is about to really rock the boat. HowStuffWorks and TLC have five things you need to know about the jump to parenthood.
Did you know the best way to swaddle a baby? The woman behind you in the checkout line does. Did you know the best way to deal with a bully? Your father-in-law has some great ideas.
Becoming a new parent basically means that people are going to bother you all day long, whether it's with too many visits to the maternity ward or an endless stream of unsolicited advice. Your own family, strangers, even the media -- everyone has an opinion on how you should be parenting your child.
If you listen to all of it, you'll be so busy second-guessing yourself that you'll go nuts. Are you hovering too much? Are you a bad mom if you don't breastfeed? Is giving your daughter french fries going to ruin her life? Here's the key to maintaining your sanity: Tune out. Picture yourself in Tahiti while you smile, nod and thank the person for his or her thoughts before changing the subject -- and try to remember that people just want to help.
A woman who's just given birth is carrying around extra weight and sore breasts. A new father may have zombielike rings under his eyes. And undoubtedly, one day you will walk around all day long before noticing that you have baby spit-up all down the back of your shirt or a rainbow sticker on the seat of your pants.
When you become a parent, you don't have as much time for the stuff you used to do -- workouts at the gym, haircuts, shopping. There's a moment for every parent when you catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror and wonder where the old you went.
It's important not to forget about taking care of yourself. If you're so stressed out and run-down that you get sick, you're not doing anyone any good. Take advantage of a relative, friend or babysitter and make sure to do the things that make you feel spoiled -- an hour reading in the park, a pedicure, a good racquetball game. Even if it's just a 15-minute walk, you need to do something that reminds you that in addition to being a parent, you're a person with your own needs.
You may feel like you're a terrible parent. Maybe the connection just hasn't happened yet, or you keep doing things like putting on diapers backward or braiding your daughter's hair into a rat's nest.
You might even have negative feelings about your new child. That's OK, and it's normal. You're tired. You haven't had an adult conversation or a real date in what feels like ages. The fantasy of having a new baby probably isn't quite matching up to real life, especially when you realize you just got poop on your hand.
If you're an adoptive or a foster parent, you might have times when you worry that your child won't love you like he or she would love his or her biological parents.
Take heart -- every parent feels like that some days. No matter how perfectly put together that one mother seems or how relaxed that father looks, every parent has a day when parenthood is just too much. Give yourself a break. If you're trying to do your best, you're doing just fine.
If you're part of a couple, the dynamic of your relationship after a birth or an adoption may change drastically. Usually, one partner takes the brunt of child-rearing, and it's common for someone to feel that he or she is "doing all the work" -- midnight feedings, making lunches, constant laundry.
If you're a single parent, you may feel just as isolated. Friends who don't have children may not understand the time commitment kids take, or why you can't just "take a night off."
It's important not to let your relationships fall by the wayside. Of course your child is the most important part of your life right now, but you need friendship and love in your life, too. If you're part of a couple, make a date right now -- and you aren't allowed to talk childcare the whole time. If you're a single parent, take a friend up on his or her offer to help and just get some peer interaction for a change.
The relationships in your life will change after a child enters it, but change doesn't have to be a bad thing. You'll make new friends with kids, but old friends (the good ones, at least) will stick around. If you're in a relationship and you both work at it, your connection will deepen and not disappear.
People probably told you that parenthood would change your life and that it would be hard, but you probably didn't know just how hard. When everyone in the grocery store stares as your toddler throws a fit or you've been taking care of a feverish, vomiting kid all night, it might be hard to remember that parenthood is a gift. But then you'll see the sleeping, beautiful baby or your child draws a picture of a giant, smiling stick-figure mom with a red crayon heart and you'll remember.
With a new, vulnerable little person in your life, you're going to want to take on the whole world -- and anyone else who dares encroach on his or her happiness. But you can't do everything or control everything. You can only do your best, and the rest of the time you just have to take a deep breath and let go.