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21 Things Parents Really Wish They Knew Before Having Kids

With all the books and blogs and parenting columns, it's easy to think you know everything there is to know about raising kids. But these seasoned parents will open your eyes to important (and funny and weird) child-rearing truths you probably never considered—but should!

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Snuggles aren’t sleep killers

“Someone warned me that I shouldn’t hold my baby too much or she’d have a hard time learning to sleep on her own. I worried a lot about what was ‘too much’ but eventually I just did what felt right—and that was to hold her as much as I wanted! My daughter sleeps fine and honestly, who tells you not to hold your baby?” —Jessica F., 34, Whittier, California 

(These are 52 of the worst parenting tips that parents ever heard.)

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Teenagers are actually really great

“When my kids were little and being naughty, everyone used to say ‘Oh just wait until they’re teenagers, it’ll be so much worse!’ It’s true that bigger kids have bigger problems, but to be honest, I like my kids more now, at ages 13 and 16, than I ever did when they were toddlers. The older they get, the more they can do and the more fun they are to be around. I wouldn’t go back to the baby years for anything.” —Jessica F.

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Vaccines are not evil

“I had a friend telling me all this terribly frightening information about vaccines and initially I didn’t believe her, but she was so passionate. Eventually I started to think she might be right, and since I always want to protect my daughter, at her next appointment I burst into tears, refused the vaccinations, and walked out. But then I decided to do my own research. I began to see that every single credible source said vaccinations were safe. There was literally no evidence anywhere that they were bad. And I looked—I wanted to find a reason not to give my daughter shots. After a long conversation with a doctor of microbiology whose life’s work is the study of disease and trying to help people, I realized how stupid I was to worry. My daughter was vaccinated the next day. I wish I’d had this information sooner because my ignorance could have cost my child her life, and vaccines are a simple, safe, inexpensive miracle of modern medicine. Now I am the biggest advocate of immunizations in the world because I can’t believe I was nearly fooled into something so crazy, and worse, something that could have really hurt my child.” —Mandi J., 36, San Diego, California

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You can’t spoil a baby with love

“When I first had my kids I worried a lot about ‘spoiling’ them, but looking back I wish I had let them sleep with me more, carried them in my arms all day every day, and spent as much time with them as I could. As a mom you learn fast that they are only going to need you like that for so long, so just enjoy it.” —Dominique S., 25, Mazeppa, Minnesota

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The best years of your life? Really?

“I hated it when people told me, ‘Enjoy every moment, they’re only young once!’ I believed this and lived with constant guilt because I was actually not enjoying every minute of it. And you know what? That is fine. I wish people had been honest that parenting is not always sunshine and roses, and feeling that way doesn’t make you a bad parent.” —Carrie S., 38, Denver, Colorado

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Set high expectations and your kids will live up to them

“People often underestimate children and do things for them that they can—and want to—do for themselves. I wish I’d known to treat my little ones more like the adults they are training to be. Kids are very capable of helping do basic things like dressing and cleaning up after themselves. You might be a little late sometimes but they’ll get used to taking care of their things better.” —Megan H., 40, Ridgecrest, California

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There is no “right” time to wean

“I was told that I should wean my daughter by age 1 or else she would become clingy and dependent. But I have learned that all kids are clingy at that age! Nursing is such an individual decision and you shouldn’t rely on anyone’s made-up deadline. My daughter is 3 and I am still happily breastfeeding her. And now she is Miss Independent! On her second day of nursery school, she said to me ‘You go home now? Bye bye.'” —Angela S., 37, Glendale, California

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It’s okay to say “no”

“We had people tell us to never tell our kids ‘no,’ that it would damage their self-esteem, and that we should come up with more creative ways to say it or just let our kids do what they want and learn the consequences. That is ridiculous. We learned quickly that kids sometimes need to hear a clear ‘no.’ Plus, kids are more resilient than you think—ours are happy, know appropriate boundaries, and still have plenty of self-confidence.” —Jason A., 41, Seattle, Washington

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Trust your parenting instincts

“I wish I had known to ignore 90 percent of all the advice we were given. Truly no one else knows your children like you, as parents, do. It was so hard because once I was pregnant with twins I got advice non-stop and quickly became overwhelmed. Then the twins arrived. I forgot all the advice and found I had to learn on my own. I asked family and friends as needed but most of the advice we got wasn’t useful to us anyhow.” —Sarah W., 31, Indianapolis, Indiana

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You have to teach kids how to sleep

“I wish I had known that good sleep habits aren’t something that just comes naturally to children. I wish we’d been a little more firm with my boys with sleeping in their own beds and learning to self-soothe. They still can’t fall asleep in quiet rooms and I don’t think they sleep very well. My daughter has slept in her room since day one; she puts herself to bed fine and seems to be more rested the next day.” —Angela W., 40, Baltimore, Maryland

(Check out these 10 rookie parenting mistakes that taught these moms how to be better parents!)

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Swings are for playgrounds, not bedrooms

“We’d been told that we should use a swing to get our baby to sleep and that it was fine for him to sleep in a swing, but it turns out it’s a SIDS risk, contributed to his developing a flat head, and has made it harder in the long run for him to learn to sleep on his own. I wish we’d known to have him start sleeping in his crib from the beginning.” —Áine Q., 32, Boston, Massachussets

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You can’t force-feed healthy food

“Before we had kids, whenever we saw parents of picky eaters we’d always wonder why they didn’t just ‘make’ their kid eat the food that’s good for them. My husband and I were determined to tell our kids to eat what was on their plate or go hungry. But then we had a son who hated every food we gave him. He really would rather starve than eat broccoli. Eventually his weight started to drop so much that the pediatrician told us just to get calories into him however we could. So for the past four years, while we continue to offer him a wide variety of healthy options, he still only eats about five foods, none of which are particularly good for him. We’re hoping he grows out of it eventually but in the meantime we’re just glad he’s back to a normal weight—and we never judge other parents any more for what their kids do or don’t eat!” —Rob and Jen K., 40 and 37, of Saratoga, New York

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Make your own schedule

“I had a well meaning friend give me a book with a very detailed schedule that I should get the baby used to right away. Everything from nap time to feeding time was scheduled at very precise times. I just remember wondering how anyone could live a normal life with errands and other commitments if everything revolved around a precise schedule for the baby. The most ridiculous part was that the bedtime was really early, like 6:30 pm, and I had to wonder when working parents were supposed to see their children awake. My husband and I had a good laugh, ignored the book, and came up with a schedule that worked for our family.” —Melissa A., 44, Roswell, Georgia

(Don’t miss these 18 hilariously true stories about parenting that will have you in fits of laughter.)

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Look to your child for readiness cues

“When my son was two years old I started potty training him because that’s what everyone said to do, but he was not ready and the pressure to ‘perform’ actually made him constipated. It got so bad that we had to take him to the ER, where he got powerful laxatives. The doctor there told me that you have to wait until kids are ready to potty train and they’ll let you know when they are! So we put our son back in diapers and waited. He didn’t potty train until he was 5 but this time it was quick and painless, without a single accident.” —Marie H., 38, Madison, Wisconsin

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Kids cost a bundle

“Okay, I knew that having a kid was going to be expensive but I didn’t realize exactly how expensive until we had our first. I remember watching our bank account draining and just thinking, ‘this is the rest of my life.’ They’re worth it but, wow, they cost a lot of money. And everything that is for a child costs more than the adult version, even though it’s always smaller!” —Jeff R., 32, Miami, Florida

(Here are 11 relatable parenting quotes that are sure to put a smile on your face!)

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Don’t neglect your relationship

“When our kids were born, my husband and I focused all our energy on them and because of that, our relationship kind of fell apart. Everything became about the kids, not about us. We didn’t even realize how bad it had become until we were talking divorce. Thankfully, marriage counseling really helped us, but I wish we’d known that you have to actively protect and nurture that couple relationship you have, especially after you have kids.” —Jill S., 34, Kansas City, Missouri

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Nothing will ever be the same, and that’s okay

“Having five kids in eight years was tough. But I made it harder on myself than it needed to be because I had this idea in my head that everything—my body, the house, the car, my hobbies—needed to ‘snap back’ to the way it was before kids. One day I finally realized that nothing in my life was ever going to be like it was and that’s okay. Not only is it okay but it’s great. Kids change everything, and I wouldn’t want it back to the way it was anyhow. (Okay maybe I’d like my flat stomach back!)”— Jessica K., 44, Spanish Fork, Utah

(These are the 16 things every parent with little kids wants you to know!)

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You can handle a lot more than you think you can (like poop)

“Being a parent means I’ve done a lot of really gross things, starting from the very beginning when I pooped on the delivery table during labor. Since then I’ve cleaned up more poop than I care to think about, not to mention blood, vomit, pee, and snot. I used to be really squeamish about that stuff but it turns out I’m stronger than I thought. If I’d known all this before I probably would still be a virgin! But seriously, I wish I’d known that I’m a lot tougher than I gave myself credit for.” —Rachel L., 39, Lakeville, Minnesota

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Your children will make you relive your childhood, for better and worse

“I was abused as a child and I never really got help for it but when my own daughter got to be the same age I was when I suffered that, I totally fell apart. It took seeing her and how little and vulnerable and innocent she was to make me realize how hurt I had been. I finally got into therapy and am doing better with it now, but it was really hard for a while. I wish I’d known that your kids can bring up a lot of emotions and memories you didn’t know you still had.” —Linda S., 50, Monterey, California

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Mama knows best

“I was told not to breastfeed my twins holding them a certain way. But I tried the suggested alternatives and got a tendon problem for my efforts. So I just went back to doing it my way and they’ve been happily nursing for two years.” —Jana J., 40, Brooklyn, New York

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Kids are hilarious

“I’d heard a lot of bad things about being a parent, just how hard and scary it could be. So I was a little surprised when my son was born to find out how awesome and funny he is. Every day he makes me laugh, in ways no one else can. There’s a reason there are so many kid memes on the internet—they are natural comedians. I love it!” —Scott A., 35, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

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