Before my first was born, I had a vague notion that parents more and less had it all together and did everything deliberately according to their parenting philosophy of choice; now I know that we're basically making it up as we go along.
Here's what I've figured out in the last crazy 10 years.
1. For the first two years of a child's life, parenting is pretty much just managing bodily fluids.
2. When you're sick, sleep-deprived, or both, it isn't a good time to be doing big-picture evaluations of your life. In actuality, you probably aren't the world's most horrible parent and/or human being. Get some sleep and think about it when you feel better.
3. Kids don't mind having the same thing for lunch every single day. They actually like it.
4. It only takes about 2 minutes to go from utterly adoring your children to wanting to sell them on eBay.
5. It takes a very special person to enjoy baking with children. Some people seem to enjoy cleaning flour off of every conceivable surface in the kitchen while the kids fight over who gets to lick the beaters. If this isn't you, accept it and move on.
6. Kids need a compass. Whatever religion or belief system you use to guide your life, teach it to your children.
7. Establish a family identity. Make your kids feel that they belong to something special by being a part of your family. (Our family identity is "mental institution," and it seems to work for us.)
8. You will Google "how to clean X out of Y" about 100 times per year. You'll also be astounded that somewhere, someone else's toddler has done the exact same thing yours just did. Yours colored on the microfiber couch with an orange Sharpie? Mine, too! It really makes you feel that we parents are all connected.
9. Sometimes you'll pretend you don't know your child is in the other room unwrapping every Band-Aid in the box and sticking them to the floor so that you can have a few more minutes of peace and quiet.
10. The "mommy wars" only exist to the extent that we participate in them. For the most part, all moms know it's a hard job and we're all doing the best we can.
11. It's perfectly okay for good moms to think their children are really weird.
12. No matter how cute they are, babies fart like grown men and occasionally shoot poop up their back and into their hair.
13. As a parent you'll find yourself saying things you never thought you'd say out loud, such as "Please stop rubbing your cantaloupe on your forehead" and "Why do you think it's not a good idea to lick the doors at the grocery store?"
14. It's great to feed your kids wholesome, organic foods free of sugars, dyes, and preservatives. It's also okay to have cereal night for dinner every once in a while.
15. All kids eat their own boogers at least once. Even yours.
16. When you find a system that works for you in organizing chores, streamlining bedtime, or whatever, enjoy it while it lasts. Soon it won't work anymore and you'll have to find a new system.
17. The things that you're stressed out about right now probably don't matter as much as you think they do.
18. When you're really angry at your children, try whispering instead of yelling. It will get their attention faster. And it's scarier.
19. The mom who arrived at church on Sunday with her six children in matching, ironed clothes and cute hairstyles had to get up at 4:30 in the morning in order to do it.
20. You'll be tempted to stay up late finishing things after everyone's in bed. It's usually not worth it to trade a few hours' productivity today for a crappy, tired 24 hours tomorrow. (I like to test this theory two or three times a week to see if it's still true. It is.)
21. You're not the maid, so expect your kids to clean up after themselves and pitch in to help the family.
22. Never, ever interrupt a toddler who is playing quietly on her own.
23. There should be two big parties thrown in every child's life: their birthday, and the day when they can buckle their own seat belt in the car.
24. When your kids start school, they'll bring home the equivalent in paper of one small tree per week.
25. You'll resort to sneaking kids' crafts, art projects, and school papers out to the garbage bin in the dead of night so they don't realize they're missing.
26. Protect your family time as your children grow older. They'll want to fill up all their time with classes, lessons, sports, and playdates. Keep family time sacred.
27. Twice a year (Christmas and the end of the school year,) you'll be asked to contribute toward gifts for everyone who's ever taught, coached, tutored, or interacted with your school-age children in any way. Your budget may need some tweaking.
28. People will always have opinions on your family size, parenting style, etc. Don't let a rude comment from Random Grocery Store Stranger make you forget what's best for your own family.
29. Love your kids and forgive yourself when you don't do everything right. There's no way to be a perfect mom, but lots of ways to be a good one.
Jenny Evans is a writer, a perfectionist, a night owl and a Mormon mom of five who makes jokes at her own expense and blogs about her messy life with a houseful of kids at Unremarkable Files.
You can also visit her on Facebook.