Hello, Dear Friend Who Hasn't Had Children Yet --
Hi there! I've been meaning to write to you for awhile with some advice and thoughts I have for you, my friend.
First, I want to ask you to sleep. Sleep a lot. Take advantage of sleeping in and sleeping all night and just...sleep. Don't worry about feeling guilty about it. When you have your first child one day, you'll be like, "Dude. I am so glad I slept when I could." I know, I know, it's totally cliche, but totally true. I didn't realize how much I took sleeping through the night for granted. (This doesn't apply to you if you have crazy pets that mess with your sleep. You poor thing. Why did you get that crazy cat, anyway?)
Do lots of things you've wanted to do before having kids, but don't worry if you can't do them all. Fly to Europe for two weeks. Backpack the Appalachian Trail. Drive out west. Skydive! That said, life won't end once you have your first child. We still travel with Gabe to our alma mater, Asheville, New York City, and the beach in his first year alone. Travel is definitely still possible, just not as fun when you have to stop to change dirty diapers, nurse a screaming baby, and so on. I need to travel for my mental health (probably a side effect of growing up overseas), so I will continue to tote Gabe along places...even when it's slightly less comfortable than staying at home.
Go to fancy restaurants and stay out late. If you're into that sort of thing. Gabe has been to restaurants and bar-type restaurants since he was a week or two old, and for the most part, it works out great! But some days, he's being a fussy toddler and going to our favorite Thai and sushi restaurant is just not in the cards. So, go now when you don't have to worry about anyone's crankiness but your own.
But don't be stupid with your money. Sure, you don't have kids now, but you'll be so thankful when you have kids someday if you are without debt and have a generous savings. It will enable you to work less and spend more time with your peanut. Even if you know you want to work 60 hours a week after having a baby, having savings and no debt is smart.
Go braless while you can. Random, but true. (This does not apply to men. Your body won't change after kids, you lucky dog.)
All of this might seem like I'm telling you how much having a kid ruins your life, but really, I've found that it's not as big of a transition that I expected. Having a kid changes a lot less than you might think. I can still do much of what I did before -- go out to eat, travel, run, and read. Sure, there are less movie theaters and bars in my life, but now I have a reason to visit children's museums and the zoo!
Also, everybody has different reactions to becoming a parent, so if you've seen someone completely change after becoming a parent, know that the same thing might not happen to you. Don't be scared. Okay, maybe be a little scared.
It's okay if you don't want to have kids. I mean, really. Just because I have one doesn't mean I think you should have one. Well, maybe, but that's only because I want to make you an awesome mom friend.
About sleep. Please be patient with our preoccupation with our child's sleep. Imagine being a scientist with a tiny test subject. Your goal every night is to maximize the test subject's sleep. You test your hypothesis (earlier nap, room's too hot, room's too cold, earlier bedtime, etc etc) and await your results. If your hypothesis is proven wrong, you have to function the next day while sleep deprived. Now imagine doing an experiment after not sleeping. It's not fun. And you start to feel a little like you are a bad scientist and have no idea what you are doing. It gets better. Way better. And we'll stop talking so much about sleep eventually.
A few notes on being an awesome friend to a new mom: we're sort of scared. Come and visit us. Bring cupcakes. And Starbucks gift cards. And a hug. Nothing has changed between us as friends; there is just a new baby in the picture. We'll return the favor someday. Ask us how the birth went, if you're not too scared. New moms are processing a whole lot of stuff that happened in a very short time. Love our baby even when it looks like an alien-slash-raisin. It means so much when you are excited to see our child.
It's worth it. If you think you might want to become a parent but are worried about how it would affect your marriage, if you want to become a parent but the idea terrifies you, if you are scared of pregnancy and sleepless nights -- let me tell you that being a parent is freaking awesome. Yeah, there are some diapers to change. And sometimes you don't get enough sleep. But when your son tells you "Wub you Mama" for the first time? Or your newborn baby smiles at you for the first time? It's like a joy you've never known was possible. (And you are capable of saying incredibly cheesy-but-true things like that.)
Your Friend Who Has a Toddler and Likes to Give Unsolicited Advice
PS: This is all true of having one child, but I make no claims about having two or more. Having a second child changes things, I imagine.