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What Has Surprised You Most about Parenting?

By Vincent O'Keefe

Every time I smile into a mirror, I remember one of parenthood's many surprises: injuries. Before having children, I never thought of parenting as a contact sport. Then came the tooth incident.

My two daughters and I were enjoying a new playground. The trouble started when I lifted my eighteen-month-old up to a chest-high platform that led to several slides and ladders. The moment I let her go, I realized she was in danger due to her shaky sense of balance. So without looking around my head, I launched myself up to the platform. But on the way up, BOOM!

I banged my head on a monkey bar.

As if in a cartoon, I saw stars, fell back, and staggered away for a moment. Pain shot through my head. I also knew my teeth did not feel right. All I could think was I better go look in the minivan mirror to check my mouth.

"Girls, we have to go" I muttered as I retrieved my daughters and guided them away while trying not to make them nervous. When we got there, I saw the bad news: one of my front teeth was chipped in half from the impact.

Upon returning home, I called the dentist, held an ice pack to my mouth, and awaited my wife's return from work. As the pain subsided, I had to smile: here I was, a snaggletoothed parent with a bruised head about to greet his spouse! Wasn't it the kids who usually got such injuries?

When my wife arrived, I had to stifle a giggle to avoid alarming her with my ghastly smile. With a semi-closed mouth, I explained what happened before revealing the tooth. After a moment of shock, she realized I was okay and we had a good laugh. All the while I looked like a professional hockey player.

Strangely enough, in subsequent retellings of this story to other moms and dads, I realize my capped tooth and I are not alone. Many parents chime in with their own injury stories involving broken arms, sprained ankles, and other surprises. All suffered in the dangerous line of work known as parenting. Their stories make me feel less like a klutz and more like an ordinary parent. Well, an ordinary parent with a lifelong reminder of his children lodged in his smile.

So what has surprised you most about parenting? Perhaps you have an injury story as well?

Vincent has been a stay-at-home father for nine years. If you are interested in sharing your own parenting story, please e-mail

By Stacey Garfinkle |  April 1, 2009; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Guest Blogs
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I'm overwhelmed by how much I love these tiny people who keep reappearing in my kitchen each morning and I'm surprised at how angry I can get at them. Guess its the yin and the yang of it all.

Posted by: moxiemom1 | April 1, 2009 7:50 AM | Report abuse

Having 7 brothers, the injury part was more or less business as usual. Falling off bicycles, knocking heads accidentally, broken bones, no biggie.

I had always heard you will love your children but sometimes dislike them strongly--esp the teenage years. A big confirmation on that one becoming a parent!

Finding out that my (late) father DID know what he was talking about even though he could not completely articulate a reason, a mild surprise.

But the biggest surprise to me is how different our children are. For 4 kids who have the same mother/father, raised in the same house, attended the same public schools with many of the same teachers, our 2 boys and 2 girls display distinctly different personalities.

The other surprise is that the boys have more of the personality traits of Frieda while the girls have more of my personality. For instance, Frieda would have never been in the military. But the daughter formerly known as AF dau joined the military without any overt encouragement or discussion with us. My daughters and I are a bit more driven. If it is time to go, daughters and I will be in the car waiting on spouse and sons. Daughters and I sprint through life while Frieda and sons amble on.

The other surprise that awaits those of you with young children is finding out how long you will be a parent. Simply put, even if you live to be 100, you will be a parent and hear "Mom, Dad" until the day you expire.

Remember you heard it here first!

Posted by: Fred_and_Frieda | April 1, 2009 8:32 AM | Report abuse

Nothing's happened to me yet, but I have a very clear memory of being at the beach with my family growing up and my younger brother made a beeline for the water. My father chased after him and wrenched his back pulling him out of the surf. 30 years later, my dad still has significant pain on a regular basis. These are the things I'm not looking forward to.

Posted by: freakymf | April 1, 2009 8:40 AM | Report abuse

"So what has surprised you most about parenting?

I vowed never to tell my kids to turn that 'effing music down! But I did...

Posted by: jezebel3 | April 1, 2009 8:42 AM | Report abuse

In our house we have a saying.... "It's all fun and games until Mama gets hurt." I'm the one that usually gets hurt when the roughhousing starts or tantrums fly or the balls are being tossed, etc.

The most surprising thing for me is how watching them sleep can smooth over all the awful things that they may have done that day. You love them all over when you see their little, angelic faces so innocent in sleep.

I have a beautiful picture of my child nestled against her teddy bear that I keep on my desk. I took that picture because I couldn't belived how sweet she looked after the most awful behavior.

Posted by: AnotherMom | April 1, 2009 8:52 AM | Report abuse

If you had asked me this when my first child was about a month old, I would have said how relentless parenting is. I remember just being shocked at how much work a teeny little person could be. I thought I knew what it meant to be a parent, but until she was born, I had never really thought about the fact that you're on duty 24/7 (though, admittedly, when DD was an infant everything was a GREAT! BIG! DEAL! to me, so I may have been overstating the work of it somewhat).

A whole three years into this gig, I'd say the most surprising thing is how much fun it is. You hear so much about the drudgery of parenting, but I don't know if anybody can adequately express the sheer joy of watching a kid's face as she discovers something that's become totally mundane to you.

Posted by: newsahm | April 1, 2009 8:53 AM | Report abuse

The most surprising thing about being a parent was how easily I adapted to the cognitive dissonance.

How could I possibly love these four creatures so much while being so mad at them at the same time?

How could they possibly bring me so much pride and happiness while at the same time causing me so much heartache and inconvenience?

How can I be so happy to see them spread their wings and fly off on their own while being so said that they're gone?

How could they possibly be so different from their parents, and from each other, when they're all raised in the same environment?

Several years ago I gave up fighting it or trying to figure it out. Now I just accept it. It is what it is, and it makes me happy.

Posted by: ArmyBrat1 | April 1, 2009 9:02 AM | Report abuse

Honestly, the thing that has surprised me the most has little to do with the kids -- I've truly been surprised at how vicious and cruel women can be to one another when the stakes are the children.

And I also never expected that HAVING children would sometimes cause me to feel so much like I myself was repeating all the worst aspects of junior high and high school myself.

I was always a nerd and I hated all the tension and unhappiness of socializing in middle school and high school -- and I"m finding it really hard to have to both experience it again through my children's eyes and also to have to reexperience it when the parents themselves reproduce it.

Finally, I never expected to feel so powerless. I guess I was naive enough to think that if I just WORKED hard enough at it, I could somehow guarantee that my daughter would bring home A's, not C's, and that she would study and care about academics the way that I did -- and I'm finding it scary to have to admit how little control I seem to have over the outcome.

Finally, I'm always mystified at how smug and self-assured all the other parents seem, convinced that they know exactly the right way to raise childrren and convinced that they're going to be successful. I doubt myself at every turn.

Posted by: Justsaying4 | April 1, 2009 9:11 AM | Report abuse

If you want the injury story - what surprised me was the lesson that, if your daughter is a pitcher and you're catching for her during warmups, you'd better wear the right protective gear, if you know what I mean.

Otherwise she's going to short-hop you with a fastball and you're going to have people asking why you keeled over.

Posted by: ArmyBrat1 | April 1, 2009 9:25 AM | Report abuse

My most wonderful surprise about being a parent came about after I had my second child. My son was 3 at the time. Beyond the stress, exhaustion and craziness was the unexpected way in which my love for my first child reached a deeper level. Watching him react to his sister, share things with her (like leaving Goldfish crackers in her crib when she came home in case she got hungry) were so sweet. It was like I had a little 'partner' in caring for her.

Don't get me wrong...having two kids can be a bear. (Mom...She's LOOKING at me!!!) It hurts when they fight and disagree, but nothing is sweeter than to see signs of closeness and support as they mature.

Probably the most memorable accident occurred when my two were on the bed in my bedroom wrestling. My 7 year old son pushed his 4 year old sister hard enough where she fell off the bed and hit her chin. The soft part of her face and neck under her chin swelled up immediately, making her appearance quite frightening. It definitely scared the bejesus out of me and we took her to the Emergency Room, leaving my son in his Aunt and Uncle's care. My daughter was vacillating between crying ("Mommy, Don't let them take my chin off!!) and being noble to her brother, who was also very upset. ("I forgive you, Dylan!")

When they are sniping and arguing over something stupid these days (at ages 7 and 10), I sometimes tell them this story. Definitely breaks up the tension and lets them focus on something else.

Vincent...Good luck with your dental work. It can get expensive. Your kids are blessed that they have a Dad who still enjoys the playground. I try, but honestly the dizzy feeling I used to enjoy as a youngster now makes me sick!

Posted by: HuckleberryFriend | April 1, 2009 9:29 AM | Report abuse

The one little thing that no-one ever told me before I had kids - that "mom" is another word for "trash receptacle." Especially when they're small - lollipop sticks, wrappers, dirty tissues, etc. What joy.

Even though my kids are now 15 and 11, they still try to hand me their trash on a regular basis.

Posted by: lorenw507 | April 1, 2009 9:30 AM | Report abuse

My cousin and her husband are trying to decide whether or not to start a family. They are in their late 20's and have been married for about 3 years. We started talking and she asked what I thought and I told her I thought they should wait, as in what is the rush? Once you have kids not only does it all change but you don't really understand the word forever till you have a baby.

Fred is right, we will be parents till the day we die. It's wonderful and exhausting and I freely admit I sometimes wonder, what would I be doing and where would I be if I hadn't started a family? Of course this thought is interrupted by a kid rushing in to tell me they found a gross frog in the creek, or so and so told them such and such and can they do it too? Then I realize how much I love these big eyed critters and my life would be incomplete without them and my husband.

Oh, and I forgot how absolutely goofy elementary school kids are, the stupid jokes and silly songs and laughing till a drink comes out their nose. These are the fun years and we are really enjoying them.

Posted by: cheekymonkey | April 1, 2009 9:31 AM | Report abuse

Hop on Pop. All 4 of them loved it, (the book too). They would catch me napping on the couch or hammock, take a running start, flying leap, and "GOTCHA"!


I warned them if they kept pouncing on me like that, it could burst my spleen and then I would bleed to death internally and die.

Yeah, I'm surprised that I haven't broken my neck from slipping on that sock left on the steps, fractured a leg tripping over the toys in the middle of the living room (or a baby for that matter), broken a toe from stubbing it on a rearranged piece of furnature, or sliced a foot on a Leggo or piece of plastic. I guess I'm lucky, no casts, splints, or stitches so far.

Posted by: WhackyWeasel | April 1, 2009 9:32 AM | Report abuse

And I have to add that I'm surprised that I'm still sane...

or at least I think I am.

Posted by: WhackyWeasel | April 1, 2009 9:51 AM | Report abuse

Great article. Have to agree with other commentors: surprised how different my kids are (and actually, surprised that I'm surprised - of course they are!) and surprised I still have my marbles (yeah, well most of them).
I'm surprised that no matter what craziness the day brings, the bedtime book really works to wind us down... it's like magic.

Posted by: supernannydotcomeditor | April 1, 2009 10:08 AM | Report abuse

i'm amazed that i can't wait to see her every morning. no matter how cranky she was the day before, all is forgiven by 7am.

Posted by: interestingidea1234 | April 1, 2009 10:40 AM | Report abuse

I thought my friends were INSANE for repeatedly checking to make sure their baby was breathing after the first few weeks. Now my son is 7 months old and enormous and healthy...and I still check him to be sure he's breathing both when I first go upstairs AND right before I go to sleep. (AND again if he's slept longer than usual...) I'm surprised how much I worry about him, even when there's no reason whatsoever to be concerned.

Another surprise has been that I have WAY MORE patience and endurance than I ever knew. I've always thought of myself as an impatient person who doesn't function well on little sleep, but I seem to have unlimited reserves when it comes to my baby.

My favorite surprise is how my love for my husband is changing and deepening as I observe him as a father. He tells people all the time, "I had no idea fatherhood would be so much fun!" It's just pure joy to watch him play with our son. :)

Posted by: newslinks1 | April 1, 2009 11:16 AM | Report abuse

Ditto on all those comments about being surprised at how hard it can be, how joyful, how much you end up loving your kids, etc. But what surprises me most is how well we actually do it. Which does not mean that we are perfect, but when I was single, I would have been appalled at the image of myself cleaning up after others, waking up in the middle of the night to deal with projectile vomiting and diarrhea, having my house overtaken by a tidal wave of toys, and generally becoming a mom in full force. I had this idea of myself as some kind of independent career woman who would not fall into the motherhood trap, who would be free to work, travel, and I don't know what else. But somehow, here I am, and somehow, it works for me. But it does surprise me.

Posted by: emily8 | April 1, 2009 11:53 AM | Report abuse

so many stories.
The younger one is a daredevil (who cut his thumb this AM in preschool, actually).
They have jumped on dad so much his eye was hurting for a while - so he FINALLY went to the eye dr - who said he had 'iritis.' Which is extremely rare, so he called in the other drs to look at it. And the dr said it can happen by an object (like, say, a KID) hitting your eye.
Little one took his bicycle down our driveway, which is a hill, and bumped into the gate. Gashed his lip (6 stitches) and had a tooth taken out (he was just 3 at the time). So he's got a smile with a tooth missing. Like a hockey player...

The boys jump on dad a LOT. He says he doesn't like it, but I don't believe him...

But I do agree with those above. They are so adorable. And wonderful. And frustrating. And...

Posted by: atlmom1234 | April 1, 2009 12:01 PM | Report abuse

so i guess part of the surprise is boys. I have two sisters, so had no ideas how boys really can be. Wow, how active!

Posted by: atlmom1234 | April 1, 2009 12:09 PM | Report abuse

I agree with Moxiemom, as usual. I guess the other thing is that as much as I love being with my children almost all the time, there are times when I want to be away from them (albeit briefly) almost as badly. I never thought that would be the case, used to beat myself up about it, but now realize it's the mark of a sane person and one who knows her limits.

Posted by: WorkingMomX | April 1, 2009 12:40 PM | Report abuse

fr HuckleberryFriend:

>...Probably the most memorable accident occurred when my two were on the bed in my bedroom wrestling. My 7 year old son pushed his 4 year old sister hard enough where she fell off the bed and hit her chin...

My most vivid memory of kidhood was my younger brother, who was arguing with my sister at the time, respective ages being 3 and 4. She pushed him, and his elbow went THRU a window, he knows he's gotta tell mom. So he goes downstairs, holding his arm, and says "Mary and I were fighting and she pushed me AND LOOK WHAT SHE DID TO MY ARM!" He brings his arm around to my mother's line of vision, she almost faints, slings all four of us into the car and heads for the ER. Kid had 36 stitches all around his elbow, and this was back in 1963.

Posted by: Alex511 | April 1, 2009 1:00 PM | Report abuse

I was surprised by how much doctoring is involved.

I never expected to become an expert in minor vs serious health questions.

There was a lot to learn. When the Peditrician told me not to worry about the therometer and trust how hot a forehead felt I knew that this was a whole different set of intutions on the rise.

It's actually very broadening.

Posted by: RedBird27 | April 1, 2009 2:05 PM | Report abuse

What surprised me the most was that:
1. Our best friends would lie to us about their children's good behavior, eating habits, etc. I have no reason to lie about my child.
2. That Moms would be so competitive with each other about their children.
3. That so many of our friends have blinders on about children's behavior- in many cases the parents of a charming girl have a normal boy second and start tearing their hair out immediately. Some literally apologizing to me for thinking I was a bad parent because my 2 year old acted like a 2 year old. (You did? gee, thanks!)

Beyond the reactions and communication with other parents, I think I was unprepared for the 24/7 nature of parenting. When I had a very important meeting at 9am why couldn't someone else help me with my screaming infant with the fever between 1am and 5am? I had a critically important meeting that I had to be ready for! No, both lives (manager and Dad) went on and I slept between 5am and 7am.

Posted by: bbcrock | April 1, 2009 2:05 PM | Report abuse

Top Ten Surprises on Becoming a Parent!

11. "Because I said so, that's why!" is a perfectly good reason.

10. If you smile while they are saying "you just don't understand", you are thinking about when you were a teenager.

9. Insanity is hereditary, you get it from your children.

8. Dogs and small children consider the toilet a source of potable water.

7. You can tell by the tone of your child's voice if you need to use standard lecture 534, 473.b or (the dreaded) 1028/1.b.4.

6. You know the difference between your dad's lectures 1028/1.a, 1.b &1.c and can recite them verbatim. The nuance is lost to your children.

5. All those things you swore you kid would NEVER do? Well she is doing them now.

6. The word "infant" is a misnomer. The proper term is constant feed poop machine.

5. Denial is not a river in Egypt. It is a parental coping strategy.

4. Hearing "I hate you" sometimes really means you are doing your parenting job properly.

3. Mom spelled backwards is still Mom.

2. I have become my mother.

1. Now, I understand why!

Posted by: Fred_and_Frieda | April 1, 2009 2:30 PM | Report abuse

right said Fred! Thanks for the laugh.

Posted by: moxiemom1 | April 1, 2009 2:50 PM | Report abuse

Fred, you forgot a quote from "For Better Or For Worse" when Elly thinks that "being a parent is wanting to hug and strangle your kid at the same time!"

And Bill Cosby was right. Two-year-olds truly do eat by smearing their food all over themselves and consuming the nutrients via osmosis. He was also right in the declaration that all kids have "brain damage." You know, the kind that makes them disobey you when you tell them not to do something, and then reply "I don't know!" when asked why they disobeyed. Even the most steadfast parent will end up with their eyes rolling up in their head like a Charles Town slot machine to that one....

Cheeky, I agree...there is nothing more fun than the goofy elementary school age where fart noises are fun, gross songs become the norm, and the crazy things that gross normal adults out, but the kids find hilarious. It takes me back to the days when my friends and I used to drive everybody on the bus totally bonkers singing crazy songs like "99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall" to pass the time on field trips and actually making it down to one bottle of beer before the entire bus killed us, "Great Green Gobs of Greasy Grimy Gopher Guts," or equally wacky songs like that (what was the title of that song that makes you think you're about to cuss at the end of the verse, but segues into another verse right off the bat?). Nowadays, with the PC atmosphere that permeates the school system, we'd probably be reported to the principal's office for singing about alcohol...oh, those days were fun while they lasted!

And I've said it before, but being a parent is a lot like that Army commercial: We do more before 9:00 than most people do all day!

Posted by: dragondancer1814 | April 1, 2009 3:26 PM | Report abuse

The things about parenting that surprise me most:

1. How protective I have become of kids. Not just my (2 yr old) daughter, but all kids. I never really paid much attention. I always just figured their parents should be looking out for them. I guess now I know that we all need to lookout for each other.

2. How patient and calm I can be in the face of a screaming toddler, especially compared to how I react if anybody else screams at me.

3. How absolutely petrified of my absent-mindedness I am, especially after reading Weingarten's Fatal Distraction column about kids dying in cars. When he wrote "If you're capable of forgetting your cellphone, you are potentially capable of forgetting your child" I had just left my cell phone on a plane three days earlier. (I got it back. Phew!)

4. How much our little daughter makes us laugh. I've never laughed and smiled so much in my life. Shes just a constant source of entertainment and wonder.

Posted by: TonyFo | April 1, 2009 3:29 PM | Report abuse

fr dragondancer1814:

>..."Great Green Gobs of Greasy Grimy Gopher Guts," or equally wacky songs like that (what was the title of that song that makes you think you're about to cuss at the end of the verse, but segues into another verse right off the bat?). ...

Oh, thanks a LOT! Now I've got that dumb song stuck in my head

Posted by: Alex511 | April 1, 2009 3:44 PM | Report abuse

(just for Alex 511)

Rabbit ain't got no tail at all!

Ouuuweee Whooweeee was a worm!

Sainted Mother used to lead us in numerous choruses of "99 Bottles" on our many car trips.

And to think, the most original song now is Sponge Bob!

(Of which I have written many permutations!)

Posted by: Fred_and_Frieda | April 1, 2009 3:49 PM | Report abuse

dragondancer, Our kids were lucky to get a CD called "Gross and Annoying Songs" about 4 years ago from my in-laws. I have never forgiven them, lol.....

Posted by: cheekymonkey | April 1, 2009 3:54 PM | Report abuse

"what was the title of that song that makes you think you're about to cuss at the end of the verse, but segues into another verse right off the bat?"

Miss Lucy had a steamboat, the steamboat had a bell. Miss Lucy went to heaven, the steamboat went to...

HELLO operator, please give me number nine...

Sorry, couldn't resist planting the earworm.

Posted by: newsahm | April 1, 2009 3:59 PM | Report abuse

Great list fred. I especially like number 4.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | April 1, 2009 4:16 PM | Report abuse

"Cheeky, I agree...there is nothing more fun than the goofy elementary school age where fart noises are fun, gross songs become the norm, and the crazy things that gross normal adults out, but the kids find hilarious. "

Have any of you folks read the Captain Underpants books with your kids? My little boy loved it when he was about 6 or 7. I remember one part where protagonist discusses that for the first 3 years of life, parents spend all their time talking to their kids about pooping and peeing and other such things, and this kind of conversation is fine and acceptable, and then strangely, after the kids get a little older, the parents frown on any discussion of these things and talking about poop and pee is suddenly taboo. So he then comes to the conclusion that parents are just weird and incomprehensible. LOL

Posted by: emily8 | April 1, 2009 4:36 PM | Report abuse

Alex511: Sorry about that, but it was one of our favorites...that and making up gross verses to "I'm Taking Home A Baby Bumblebee." (MUAHAHAHAHA)

Cheeky, can you burn me a copy of that CD? My kids would LOVE it!

Newsahm, that's the one exactly! Now all I have to do is remember and write down the verses to it (I get about as far as "ask me no more questions, I'll tell you no more lies," but then my brain shorts out). Goddess forbid a cool song like that should die out!

And Emily8, no I haven't read Captain Underpants to my kids, but when there was that flap about "Walter, The Farting Dog" several years back, my parents immediately ran out and got me a copy for my kids. It's one of my older daughter's favorites, especially the part where the burglars are nearly asphyxiated by the monster fart! (Apparently, there's something in the way I imitate them gasping and choking for air that leaves her in stitches...go figure.)

Posted by: dragondancer1814 | April 3, 2009 4:05 PM | Report abuse

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