Parenthood is the ultimate instance of trial under fire. You may have read every parenting book cover to cover, grown up in a large family, or even nannied throughout your college years, but nothing can prepare you for the moment you realize that you and your kid's other parent are solely responsible for raising this tiny human. It’s exhilarating and terrifying all at once. But at least you knew that was the deal going in; you knew you'd have this new person to get to know, and care for. What you might not have realized is that having a baby with someone involves going through what amounts to a total re-introduction to them. Before kids, you’d probably swear you knew everything there was to know about your partner. But the reality is, until you take that giant leap into the parenting abyss together, there are some things you just can’t know about a person.
My husband and I lived together for nearly a decade, and were married for a solid three years before we brought any rugrats into the picture. We ate, we drank, and were generally merry. We traveled the world together. (Like really traveled. Not just drinking around the world at Epcot, although there was plenty of that too!) We’d stay up all night talking about our past and discussing our hopes and dreams for the future. We were best friends. Totally inseparable. In fact, we knew each other so well that we’d often joke that one of us needed to get kidnapped so we could return with new and interesting stories that the other didn't already know, or hadn't been a part of. So throwing a baby into the mix ended up throwing both of us for a loop. Because it turns out there was plenty I still needed to learn about my husband. Until you have a kid together, you just can’t know the following about your partner:
What Kind Of Person They Are At 3:00 A.M. (But Not The Fun Kind Of 3:00 A.M.)
I know you’re probably going to try and argue this point. “I’ve seen my spouse at 3:00 a.m. so many times!” But a night out partying is a whole different ballgame from the middle of the night awakenings that go hand in hand with child-rearing. When the two of you haven’t slept in days, and are awakened to a parenting crisis like a newborn baby who has managed to douse himself in his own poo, or a toddler with her first fever, you will figure out just how functional you are — and your partner is — at this other kind of 3:00 a.m.
What Kind Of Work Ethic They Have
Unless you guys are partners professionally as well as personally, you might not actually know how each other functions on the job. Your experiences with one another might have been primarily leisure-related. Which isn't to say that you haven't worked hard together, but it was likely in isolated instances, on small, finite projects. It's rare that, outside of the context of parenting, two romantic partners engage in day-in-day-out work together.
This will change once you have a baby together.
I’m sure you’ve heard the clichés about parenting being a 24/7 job. All I can say is that these sayings exist for a reason. There truly is no rest for the weary. There will always be something that needs to be done. A baby to be rocked, a sink full of bottles to be washed, a load of tiny clothes to be folded, and innumerable diapers to be changed. Until you have a child together, you won’t really know if your spouse is the type to dive in and get their hands dirty (so to speak) or the type to supervise you while you undertake it yourself. (Hope for the former, and go on strike if you're stuck with the latter.)
Their Patience Level
Most people consider themselves to be relatively level-headed, easy going, and patient. When life hands them lemons, they make lemonade, and so on. But you won’t truly know how patient you and your partner are until you have children. Being subjected to hours of colicky crying from a newborn, going days without showering or sleeping, and surviving on nothing but coffee and the occasional frozen dinner... it would be enough to make the Dalai Lama crack. This will be a hard-earned, but incredibly rewarding lesson. It's almost kinda nice to see each other pushed past your limit, because then you'll always know where it is, and what each other looks like when you're approaching it (aka, the moment when you should swoop in and offer a little relief if you can).
Their Real-Life Parenting Philosophy
A favorite pastime of childless couples is to comment on how much better they would handle their imaginary children than the lame-ass parents they see out in public handle their actual children. I was certainly guilty of it. I thought I had it all figured out. I would roll my eyes at the mom who couldn’t get quiet her screaming children in the Target check-out line, and snicker at the parents who had to resort to electronic devices to quiet their kids in restaurants. This ends pretty much how you'd assume: I had a kid and promptly realized what an a**hole I'd been. A smug, naive a**hole who was now being shown the karmic ropes by my own kid.
Just as you won't know how hard it is to deal with kids until you have one, you won't truly know where you nor your partner stands on any aspect of child-rearing until you're in the game. It turns out that my husband and I, the previous proponents of strict rules and iron fists, are actually total softies. Those babies have us wrapped around their tiny fingers. Who knew. (No one, that's who. Not until it was happening.)
How Squeamish They Are
Let’s be perfectly honest: While childbirth is a beautiful and miraculous experience, it is also mildly disgusting and borderline horrendous at times. Whether your lady-parts expand to record proportions and nearly turns itself inside out, or they literally cut your baby out of you, childbirth is not for the feint-hearted. And even if your spouse manages to make it through that daunting episode relatively unscathed, the next 18 years of child0rearing will present a host of other gross trials and tribulations. From exploding diapers to projectile vomit and snot fountains, kids are ripe with opportunities to see what your partner is really made of!
The Depth Of Your Love & Commitment
TIME TO GET SENTIMENTAL, Y'ALL, BUCKLE UP. Prior to having kids, you probably couldn't possibly imagine being any more in love with your partner than you already were. They wereyour moon and your sun, your soulmate, your reason for being, your extra guacamole, etc. And best of all, you've always known that the feeling is mutual. But the love your partner had for you before kids will pale in comparison to the eternal bond forged when you take on parenting roles together. The magic of building a family will make even the most committed of relationships seem like everything pre-baby was “puppy love." (I mean, to be fair, it was well-rested, extra-money-having puppy love, so I'm not knocking it.)
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