One of my FAVORITE quotes about parenthood goes something like, “I will never be as good of a parent as the one I was before I had kids.” As someone who’s worked with thousands of parents, here’s what I’ve learned… The type of parent who you think you want to be before you have kids often has little bearing on the type of parent you’ll ultimately choose to be. So this is how I learned what kind of parent I wanted to be.

Natalie Willes and her two children in a kitchen doing cheers with mugs

Photo Credit: Kiara Rose

What You Think You’ll Be Like

There are lots of women who have a vague sense of how they’d like to approach parenting. And many others who have a clear set of expectations when it comes to what type of mother they want to be. Trying to explain to someone who doesn’t have children what it’s actually like to have kids, is like trying to explain to someone who has never been in a pool what jumping into cold water is like.

You can say that jumping into a pool of cold water overwhelms your senses. And that it is extremely unpleasant at first. It’s shocking both physically and mentally, and you’ll feel pin pricks all over your body… But then, within minutes, you’ll probably acclimate to the temperature. You could use every descriptor in the world! And yet, the experience of jumping into cold water would still be new (and shocking) to that person.

Just because you observe others parents (and criticize and judge their choices in your mind) before you have kids does NOT mean that you have any actual idea what being a parent will be like. Add to that the fact that each woman’s experience getting pregnant, sustaining that pregnancy, giving birth, recovering, breast or bottle feeding, then dealing with whatever little personality that baby has will vary widely from person to person.

You simply cannot imagine what the experience will be like for you individually. Depending on how old your child is when you’re reading this, you may still have certain expectations of what type of parent you want to be like when your child is a toddler, or school aged, or teen aged. But the reality is: who you think you’ll be, and what you’ll actually be like as a parent will be different.

What You’ll Actually be Like

The best thing one can do is simply give oneself a break. As you’ve undoubtedly noticed, parenting can often be extremely challenging. Your own desires and personality will have a great influence over the choices you make for yourself and your children. And they will also impact your interpretation of how good of a job you’re doing. Or how successful you’re being as a parent.

I can’t tell you what you’ll be like, but what I CAN tell you is to go easy on yourself. Allow yourself grace, and focus most of your energy on how you want to feel as a parent. If you want to be a parent that is calm and relaxed, work backwards and figure out what changes you need to make to facilitate you feeling that way. If you wish you were more organized, evaluate what changes you need to make in your life to enable less chaos.

How I Learned What Kind of Parent I Wanted to Be

And here’s my secret. I didn’t realize the type of parent I wanted to be until recently. How you appear to others as a parent, and the type of parent you actually are, aren’t always aligned. Another secret…the type of parent I want to be changes a lot.

Right now, with a middle schooler and 2nd grader, I want to be a parent that is HERE for my kids. I am focusing almost all of my parenting energy on being a very physically present parent. Meaning spending as much time with them as I can after school and on weekends. Why? Because when they were younger, most of the time I spent with them consisted of caretaking tasks (feeding, dressing, etc). These were activities that I considered would easily be handled by caretakers that weren’t me.

Now that they’re older and are… 1. Able to take care of themselves. 2. Spending more time engaged in sports and extracurriculars. And 3. Being pulled in various directions by their peers – the type of parent I NEED to be is one who monitors their media, reads them important books, and engages them in conversations about what is happening in their daily lives. The type of parent you want, and will need to be, will change as often as your kids do. So worry less about what type of parent you think you want to be, and focus more energy on being the type of parent your child actually needs.

If you want learn why sleep is a huge piece of the parenting puzzle, sign up for my newsletter!