Here are some tips collected during my son's first five years (and the next seven). I haven't followed all of them, but I wish I had. As usual, your mileage may vary.
You really do not need any furniture for a new baby. You can buy stuff later when you know what you want.
Diaper changing tables are generally a waste of money. Learn to use the floor; there's always one handy and baby can't fall off it.
Tag sales are a great place to stock up on equipment and toys -- the best ones are in high income neighborhoods.
Soak cruddy used baby stuff overnight in a full bathtub with a cup of bleach added.
Due dates mean very little -- this is your first lesson in not being in control. (You can expect comparable frustrations and uncertainties if you are planning to adopt, so you won't escape this valuable instruction.)
Try to meet all your delivery care providers beforehand, including "backups."
Some activities, like going to the theater or foreign travel, will be harder when the baby comes. Indulge yourselves now.
Learn good lifting technique. Your back is the first thing that will go. A squirming 10 pound baby is harder on your back than a 25 pound toddler who knows how to keep its balance.
If this is your first child, there is no way you can fully prepare yourself for what is about to happen. Try to relax, get some rest and don't panic.
You can hear the baby's heartbeat when it's big enough by placing your ear against the mother's lower belly.
The baby will seriously disrupt your love life. Talk about this now.
To learn how to deal with childbirth and the medical community, get a copy of Sense and Sensibility in Childbirth by Judith Herzfeld, Ph.D. You should also check out the midwife option.
You should buy a car seat before the baby comes. Some hospitals won't let the baby out without one. Check up on the latest advice about how to use car seats safely, particularly if you have a passenger side air bag.
The Internet is a great source of information on medical and other problems. Yahoo has a good directory. Google can find just about anything. For information on breast feeding, visit www.GotMom.org.
Learn about antibiotics before you need them. Visit www.antobiotic.org.
Use disposable diapers -- the environment will survive.
Keep a few reusable diapers around for cleaning up spills.
Kiss a baby's forehead to check its temperature -- if it feels hot, baby has a fever.
Discuss the "When should I call the pediatrician?" question at your first visit.
Keep laundry in a well ventilated container -- mildew can ruin all the baby clothes in a sealed hamper in a couple of days.
Turning pants pockets inside out before washing keeps them from wearing out.
Soaking in cold water overnight works on most stains.
Red children's clothing always seems to bleed color in the wash.
Kids are much easier without deadlines. Minimize the number of crunches in your daily schedule where you have to get your kid out on time.
Don't rush walking and don't use walkers.
Backpacks are great.
Don't overdress -- check hands and cheeks for temperature.
Always have an extra layer of clothes with you.
Corn starch is good for rashes.
If baby is stuffed-up, bring it into the bathroom when you shower.
Toilet training is easy if you wait until your kid is ready.
PJ's are a waste of time.
Infants are surprisingly portable. Don't be afraid to travel.
Try to enjoy each age of your child's life.
Child proof before your kid learns to crawl.
You can actually live without any poisons in the house -- just get rid of them all.
Keep nothing under the sink but pots and pans.
Replace all your glassware with high quality plasticware.
Crawl around the house on all fours to see where the hazards are.
You cannot childproof once and for all. As your kid gets more mobile, the hazards will be different.
If there is anything in your house you couldn't stand being destroyed, make sure it is inaccessible or put it in storage for the duration.
Listen to all advice -- billions have done this before you -- but pick your own path and learn to trust your judgment.
You will make mistakes. Fortunately, kids are pretty resilient.
Make sure you have some time off from parenting now and then.
Try tag team parenting -- let one parent be "off" sometimes.
Food does not equal love.
Left on their own, kids will eat enough and sleep enough.
Enjoy each phase of development, it won't come around again.
The best adventures are unplanned.
Give your kids less money and more time.
Ignore developmental milestones unless you think something is seriously wrong.
Don't get in the habit of lying to your kid. Shots do hurt. Some medicine tastes yucky,
Beware of fads in parenting. It used to be regular feeding times, now it is sleeping through the night and early toilet training. [Oops, regular feeding times are back!]
Babies are productive members of society. They spread optimism and good cheer more effectively than any adult. Help them do their work.
Patience is the key to everything.
Your goal is to change your kids' future behavior, not to get them to admit they were wrong.
Lower your voice when angry -- this works as well as raising it
It is amazing how angry you can get at a toddler. Don't be shocked, but do control yourself.
Discipline only works at the time something happens. Reprimanding a young kid for something they did half an hour ago is a waste of time.
Pick your battles.
The next time you are in the supermarket, try pushing your shopping card from the small end. At first it will careen all over the place, but with practice you'll find you can steer it gracefully. The key is making only small corrections and thinking ahead about where you are going. It's a very useful exercise.
Tantrums and melt-downs are not learning experiences for your kid. Let them blow over and avoid getting sucked into the emotional whirlwind yourself.
If your kid is "difficult," try pairing up with parents of children having comparable issues.
Set limits that are meaningful to you and your partner. Don't worry about what friends and relatives think.
Do not judge your parenting skills by how well your kid obeys you. You are raising a human being, not a robot.
Keep track of the number of times you say "no" to your kid in a single day. Try to find ways to say "yes" more often.
You and your partner will have different approaches. Try and work these out ahead of time as best as you can, then support each other's decisions.
Do not compare your kid to other kids.
Keep one step ahead -- kids are always changing.
When kids are tired they get cranky, loud and defiant. This is not the time for discipline. Just get them out of the situation they are in and let them crash.
Babies don't need a zillion toys
Don't waste money on those ugly black and white mobiles for infants.
Standardize on a few toy systems -- the big name ones are generally good.
Age ranges on toy boxes are usually a good guide.
Noise making shape sorters are cool.
Duplos & Legos are great and a good value in play time per dollar.
Don't expect your kid to love the old toys you had as a child -- kids have an instinct for new.
It's OK to pick toys you would like to play with too.
Collect a dozen or so small screws and other fasteners from smashed up old toys. They will come in handy when repairing other toys.
The swim vest system with little foam slabs that you remove one at a time really works.
TV and video games? -- just say no.
You thought baby poop was yucky? Day care, after school programs, summer camp, etc. all provide wonderful new opportunities for these tenacious little critters. There is a lot of good information available on the Web, including the National Pediculosis Association (NPA) at http://www.headlice.org and the Harvard School of Public Health http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/headlice.html. Here are some suggestions based on experience:
Creams and shampoos are a waste of time and money. Modern lice are immune.
Mechanical removal is your best bet. You will need a good lice comb. The one made by NPA is particularly good. Buy one before you need it.
You can buy cheap reading glasses at a drug store that work as a magnifying glass, keeping both hands free while you comb.
Wash the hair and then carefully comb the entire head. Don't spend a lot of time looking for lice or nits on the head as you comb, just comb, comb comb and keep on combing.
Wide plastic packaging tape, laid sticky-side-up, is good for cleaning your comb as you work.
Our doctor suggested soaking the hair in olive oil overnight to kill the lice. The lice survived but the olive oil made combing a lot easier.
Keep combing every day for at least a week after you stop seeing lice and nits.
"What's your opinion about kids and drugs?"
"It's vital that we teach them to 'Just Say No!'"
"I was asking about Ritalin."
I don't pretend to know the right answers to questions about medicating kids for attention deficit and hyperactivity. Here are a few observations:
Many parents and kids who take these medications strongly believe they are a God-send. Clearly some kids are being helped.
The number of kids being medicated has grown to alarming proportions. News reports say as many as 40% of incoming freshmen at some colleges are on prescription psychoactive medicines.
The list of symptoms for these disorders reads like a catalog of annoying but normal childhood behaviors.
As the most disruptive kids in school are calmed through medication, kids who were previously acceptable become the class troublemakers.
The pharmaceutical industry is probably capable of creating a medication for every child that will make him or her happier, easier to manage, a better student, and a more productive member of society when they grow up. See Huxley's Brave New World.
Manufacturers receive vast profits from the sale psychoactive drugs for children.
Much attention has been given to environmental factors that could account for a rise in unusual behaviors: sugar, food additives, vaccinations, perfumes and so on. Other factors such as the paucity of casual friendships in neighborhoods with few children, or the lack of opportunities for meaningful work and vigorous play, are ignored.
There are many measures of a successful childhood. Quality of homework submitted in elementary school is not one of them.
If you think that your child might be a candidate for psychoactive drugs, you should get professional advice. But temper that advice with information from multiple points of view and make your final decision based on your common sense and parental instincts, not on social pressure from school and relatives.