No book can truly prepare you for the rollercoaster of parenthood

From mum guilt to sleep deprivation, having a child is full of challenges

Before asking a question, be sure you’re ready to hear the answer. It’s a motto that could be applied to any given number of situations, but not least a situation where, as the author of a parenting book, you ask parents what they wish the parenting books had told them.

I’ll be honest: the answer, “not to read the parenting books” came up far too often for my non-biased liking.

But so did many of the things the books can’t teach you, even if they were to forewarn you. Lived experience cannot be matched and no words on a page can truly prepare you for the reality of the biggest rollercoaster of your life. Few are prepared to give you the heads up that if you’re raising boys, that mat you kept around your toilet in your pre-parenthood days will spend more time in the washing machine than on the floor. Crossing streams with your brothers, Ghostbusters style, is a real thing – who’d have thought it?

Nor do they warn you that the wonderful independent, determined streak in your daughter, may leave you conflicted. We raise them to be independent of thought and mind – that they become so, can prove altogether infuriating. The struggle for self-sufficiency comes well before many of us are ready to let go. In fairness, you expect your toddlers to need you for longer.

People who tell you their babies sleep through the night are pathological liars. Cut them out of your life immediately, no one needs that kind of negativity

Loneliness, though you never get a minute alone, was repeatedly mentioned. And it’s true, parenthood is a paradox. You’ve an audience in the bathroom, an audience as you get dressed, an audience in any room you enter to work/tidy/eat your secret chocolate stash.

There is no hiding.

There is no escape.

Instead, there is an absence of other adults. People who don’t talk about Peppa Pig on repeat, and whose noses you don’t have to wipe in between mouthfuls of your cold tea. Because time is scarce and finding your tribe is not always easy as an adult. And let’s face it, you need to have more in common with people than just being a parent.

Sleep came up a lot too. I’m fairly sure that’s addressed in most parenting books, though perhaps not in the manner we need. If I could give one piece of advice to any exhausted parent at the end of their tether wondering why their baby or toddler won’t sleep, it’s this: people who tell you their babies sleep through the night are pathological liars. Cut them out of your life immediately, no one needs that kind of negativity. Sleep-through-the-night-babies are an urban myth and the parents who claim otherwise are clearly delirious from sleep deprivation. It’s a lie cultivated to keep the human race going. But, so as not to take all hope away, this mother of all non-sleepers offers her assurance that they will sleep eventually. Eventually.

The idea that we're not really told what we're getting into when we sign up for this growing-the-next-generation lark rang through the replies

The depths of inadequacy that parenting can make you feel, was flagged too. From unrecognisable post-birth boobs and bellies, to postpartum hair loss and clothes destined never to fit again, all set to a chaotic background – it’s no surprise that insta-perfect mums have often made grown women wonder where they’re going wrong. But it’s not just the well-filtered world of social media though, that makes parents feel like this. The super-organised parents who seem never to drop a ball. The elaborate and well-planned birthday parties and occasions. The cliques you never feel part of. The school run with parents you suspect most probably haven’t roared like a fishwife trying to get out the door that morning, and most definitely, never in the history of their children attending school, accidentally sent one of them in, commando. Comparison is the thief of joy. We all do it – we should stop.

The idea that we’re not really told what we’re getting into when we sign up for this growing-the-next-generation lark rang through the replies, with the promise to new parents that things will get easier (when really they just get different) viewed as a masterclass in false advertising. There were those who lamented the very thing that got us into this situation – sex, and wondered why, considering its significance in their existence, no one thought to address how it might fit into a world of never sleeping babies and teenagers. While others queried the underplaying of the sometimes all-consuming nature of mum guilt, no matter what decision you make.

As these and far too many other things to fit into this column were suggested, with varying degrees of disgruntlement, it became clear there’s a bestseller just waiting to be written. One which would tell the truth about parenthood. But the pages could stay blank, because the title would say it all: “Wing it and hope for the best. It’s your only chance.”