Full confession here: on some days I feel as though I have learnt abosolutely NOTHING about parenting in nearly 2 decades, and I think (well, I desperately hope) that is kind of normal. Because just when you think you've figured something out they throw you a curveball and once again you're back to wondering what the hell you're doing.
Here are 18 things though, that I have (kind of) figured out over the last 18 years of parenting 3 kids:
Just because something worked with one child doesn't mean it will work with another one - children are both delightfully and annoyingly different individuals, and one size really doesn't fit all (in anything!) - which is why you so often feel as though you've learnt nothing!
You can't make your kids like each other - sad but true. You can work on (and fight for) respect and kindness, but whether they actually end up as best friends too is kind of out of your hands (however frustrating that is, believe me I know).
Kids rarely care what you say, but they always care what you do - if you say respect others and then are rude to shop staff or yell obsenities at other drivers they will model that behaviour, if you request no phones at the table and then use yours, they will see and lose respect for your rules, if you say that eating breakfast is a must but then only drink a mug of coffee yourself they will notice and see that what you say and do are out of alignment. They are always watching (and I mean always!) so you need to raise your game and be the person you want them to be.
You can never tell your kids you love them too often... but never yell it as they walk through the school gates, that's just always a bad idea (according to my son anyway).
You will be scared all the time. When you first bring them home from the hospital and they're so incredibly tiny and vulnerable you'll be terrified, and when they're double digits and walking home by themselves you'll stare at the clock and will them to be okay, and then when they're teenagers heading out on their own to college, or leaving home you'll still be terrified. Basically, if you're a parent get used to fear, it will be your constant companion.
Teenage boys truly do not understand what 'tidy' means. It's a medical problem I think. They grow out of it... after 40... ish!
You have no idea what it is like to grow up in their world. They will tell you this often as they enter their teens. Annoyingly they are right. But you will still find yourself saying 'I was young once too you know' and even 'in my day...' - both of these just prove even more that you have no idea... probably about anything.
One day you will come down to find your teenager dressed very similarly to how you dressed as a teen. You will feel nostalgic, and warm and fuzzy. Until they tell you they are loving the Vintage look - and yes the 80's and 90's are now officially vintage. Excuse me whilst I go and listen to Morrissey and have a little cry.
You won't always like your children. Sometimes you will wonder if you have in fact raised completely insensitive, incompetent morons. You can't really tell them this though (at least that's what the parenting experts say - the jury is still out for me on this!). Oh, and they will absolutely feel the same way about you - they just won't mind telling you.
You will have the best conversations of your life with them over the years - from funny little-people conversations, to more indepth passionate debates with older kids. Keep your mind open as they really can teach you a few things, mostly about yourself.
Your kids are not you - they will have different experiences, different opinions, and make different mistakes. And that is how it should be, you have to love your kids for who they actually are, not who you want them to be. Be curious, they are constantly changing and growing into themselves over the years, so keep getting to know who they are as they grow up and fall in love with them at every different stage.
Time really does go quickly - even when it feels like it's dragging on (especially in a play park, in the middle of winter, when your fingers are frozen to the swing seat that you've just spent several minutes stuffing your Arctic-dressed toddler into), there will come a time when you are suddenly standing in front of an 18 year-old and you will wonder where on earth all the years went and how you got to this point (in one piece with your sanity just about in tact), and how it all went so fast.
Time together is more important than anything else. When your kids are older they will rarely remember how cool you were for buying them that expensive laptop or those shoes they moaned for months about having, what they will remember is all the nights you curled up with them to read a story, or that time you all made a giant blanket fort and slept in the sitting room, or ran outside as the first snowflakes fell and twirled around laughing together. Be spontaneous, get outside, be a kid and have fun with your children, put your damn phone down and play games with them, because it is making memories together that really makes a family.
Be a parent first. Despite what they say, children really do want you to set rules and have clear boundaries. Forget about being their best friend, being their parent is a million times better and more important. They need you to be their foundation in life, their rock, and you can't do that properly if you're trying to be their best friend.
Trying to have a really tidy house with kids is, frankly, pointless. It's like trying to clear your driveway while it's still snowing heavily. I'm not talking living in total chaos but give yourself a break, your home doesn't need to look like a showhouse at all times.
The most important skill you can learn as a parent is how to listen. If you want your kids to share things with you then you have to learn how to listen to them, without interrupting or chiming in with your words of wisdom. They don't want to hear your advice all the time, every conversation is not a chance for you to show how smart you are or try to teach them something. Learn how to just listen, and I mean listen, they'll know if you're mentally running through what you have to do at work tomorrow or the grocery list. It really is a great privilege to have children who want to tell you about their day, or an argument they've had or anything else, don't waste it by not paying attention, or picking up your phone halfway through, because one day you'll want to know what's going on in their life and they won't be interested in telling you anymore.
Learn to let go. If you want to keep your sanity you have to remember that your job is to help your children GROW up and in order to grow properly they need to be able to make mistakes and learn to be accountable for their own behaviour. Not everything your child does is a reflection on you and your parenting. They are individuals with free will, you can show them the right way to behave and give them every opportunity to do the right things, but at the end of the day they have to figure it all out themselves. It really is how they learn, and however hard it is to see that they're heading for a fall because they haven't been organised, or followed through properly, these are valuable lessons, and the consequences of their behaviour will teach them so much about taking responsibility for their actions.
Forget about perfection. You will never be the perfect parent. Your kids will never be perfect either. It may look like everyone else has it figured out or that everyone elses kids are geniuses or perfectly behaved, whilst your child is ramming marbles up their nose and stripping off in the fruit and veg section of the supermarket. But the truth is that no family is perfect. Everyone struggles at times, everyone makes mistakes, every family has arguments and difficulties, and tears before bedtime, and that child who insists on wearing pants on their head for no reason. Some days you will wonder if having kids is the biggest mistake you've ever made, and others you will be overcome by how much you love these little people. Parenting is the ultimate rollercoaster in life. It should come with safety bars, sick bags, and an emergency stop button as standard issue. But of course it doesn't, it is an every day adventure (if your idea of adventure involves standing on Lego at 2am whilst you try to free the dog from the Peter Pan outfit your child has decided to squeeze it into so they can fly to Never Land together, that is). The only way to survive is to laugh often, cry when you need to and forget about perfection. Focus instead on love and forgiveness: forgive yourself for not being perfect, forgive your kids and partner for their mistakes, and take every opportunity to love them all as fiercely as you can.