No one ever told me becoming a parent means being low-key sick all the time

Illnesses infiltrate our home on such a regular basis that we've amassed enough medicine to stock a pharmacy

Ivy, 2, regularly uses a nebuliser since coughs are commonplace in the writer Katy Gillett's household. Katy Gillett / The National
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There are countless magazines, websites, books and documentaries dedicated to shedding light on parenthood, and yet, here I am, two years into becoming a parent, and I can’t shake the feeling that there’s so much no one tells you about raising children.

Admittedly, I’ve barely skimmed the surface of all that information, but whether through word of mouth from other families, or those few books on my nightstand and that one podcast I listen to, I’ve felt thoroughly unprepared for the challenges — and, sure, pleasures — of being a mother.

The idea for this column was sparked recently when we all came down with what felt like the 1,986th bug since my daughter was born.

Immunity. This is something that blindsided me. In theory, I should have known a child’s immune system would need time to develop, and so therefore all those nasty germs hanging around would infiltrate our bodies at some point, particularly during a pandemic, but I certainly didn’t grasp quite how often this would happen.

Cough after Covid after stomach bug after flu after respiratory syncytial virus after fever — you get the picture.

And somehow, we always manage to get caught out on a weekend. “This is my life now,” I say, as I curl up on the couch watching yet another episode of Peppa Pig (that show's OK) or Cocomelon (can’t stand it) or Bluey (my favourite), tissues strewn across the floor and my little one crying for another piece of fruit, because it's the only thing she’ll eat when she’s sick.

It's about to get a lot worse, too, as she's starting nursery for the first time next week.

The writer's daughter loves sitting in a bucket and watching TV when she's unwell. Katy Gillett / The National

I can’t remember when it was I realised quite how much of a mystery parenthood is, despite humankind having had the ability to reproduce for hundreds of thousands of years.

There’s the “no one told me that” aspect of it, but there’s also all that rubbish people feed you before the child is born.

“Sleep when the baby is sleeping” is one that springs to mind first. Great, thanks for the advice, but when shall I cook, eat, shower or generally have a life, then? It’s just not possible — and no one told me that.

Speaking of shut-eye, while we’re clearly warned about the sleep deprivation in the newborn phase, I don’t recall anyone ever mentioning that I’d still be in the throes of teaching my kid how to nod off two years later. Or sleep until a reasonable time in the morning, for that matter (5am wake-ups are commonplace in my household).

People talk about disciplining children over the big stuff, but what about the little things? Like not to drink the water out of the bathtub — something that leads to a nightly battle at bath time whereby my sprog fills her mouth with water, I shout “spit it out!”, then she gulps and smirks.

'The National''s Katy Gillett with Ivy. Katy Gillett / The National

Or what about how to handle the myriad presents that flood in from well-meaning grandparents, extended family members and friends, not just on birthdays, but in a steady stream throughout the year, left near-untouched and cluttering up every corner of your home? Am I ungrateful for even commenting on it? But what about the planet, people’s bank accounts and how long before my daughter stops getting excited by the prospect of a new toy?

There are all the good bits, too, though — such as how I never knew I’d get so much joy out of watching my kid have fun at a soft play centre (pre-parent era, I ranked these among the worst places on Earth). Or how sharing crisps with my two-year-old while sitting on the sofa watching TV would become one of life’s true pleasures (yes, I’m aware many people believe neither screens nor crisps should be part of a two-year-old’s routine).

I often think of this quote by Elizabeth Gilbert in her novel Eat Pray Love: “Having a baby is like getting a tattoo on your face. You really need to be certain it’s what you want before you commit.”

While that’s good advice, I can’t imagine how anyone would ever know it’s what they really want, when, for the most part, we haven’t got a clue what’s to come.

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Updated: September 02, 2022, 6:02 PM
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