Friday, January 28, 2011

Things I Wish Someone Would Have Told Me About Parenting

I've had a rash of friends who recently had babies. One of them posted on Facebook something to the effect of "HELP! All my extended family has gone home and it's just me and two babies. What do I do with them?" One of our mutual friends saw her post and reminded me that when she was feeling the exact same way, I had written out a list of random things I'd learned as a mom and emailed it to her. We both started digging through old files and I found the list.

I in no way think I have it all together as a mom. In fact mothering my children is one of my greatest insecurities and I see my inadequacies clearly and daily. I share this list as a tribute to my Savior, Jesus Christ, who gives grace to cover my weaknesses, laughter when I want to cry, and who is enabling Curt and I to raise Grant, Kaitlin, Alli and Paige without completely ruining them (at least yet). To Him be the glory!

Things I Wish Someone Would Have Told Me About Parenting...

  1. Don't neglect your relationship with God - it has to be a priority if you want to have the energy to parent well. And God always comes through - when you make quiet time with Him a priority, somehow the other stuff seems to get done in some miraculous, unexplainable way!
  2. Fall madly in love with your husband, over and over again. Date him. Be affectionate with him in front of your kiddos. Tell him specifically why you respect him. Why you love him. Let your kids know that he is your FIRST love, aside from Jesus, and that he came first, before the kids. Your kids will find security in your love. Find a reason each day to love your husband more, even if you have to really dig deep that day for your reason!
  3. Make sex a weekly priority, no matter what stage of parenting you’re in and don’t make excuses about why you can’t do this. I know- sex is the furthest thing from your mind when you’re sleep-deprived, 20 pounds heavier than when you got married, and filling sippy cups, changing diapers and shuttling kids all day. Believe me - I get it and I often feel the same. But God is very clear in His instructions to us as wives to meet our husband’s sexual needs and to have our sexual needs met as well. After all girls, we are IT for our hubbies – they have no other sexual outlet. If we want to stay pure and have our marriages thrive, we need to make sexual intimacy a regular part of our week.
  4. Find your self-worth in who you are in Christ, not in your body shape or size. This has always been a tough one for me. We are saturated with images of size zero women with big boobs and flat abs and they look like that 2 weeks after giving birth! We are led to believe this is the “norm” and it’s so depressing. But this is not truth. We are valuable, not because of our waist measurement or our bra size (or lack thereof), but because we are daughters of God. Princesses in His kingdom. Embrace this truth. Let it soak in. Rebuke Satan’s lies and realize that our worth comes from our identity as God’s daughter, not on our outward appearance.
  5. We don’t have to look like Angelina Jolie to smite our husbands. They CHOSE us and WE DEFINE BEAUTY to them. My husband is so good at enforcing this truth for me. He often simplifies this by saying, “I love you and think you’re hot, so what else matters?” To his credit, he tells me this when I’m nine months pregnant and ready to explode with varicose veins that could touch the moon AND on those rare days when I can squeeze into my “skinny jeans.” Remember that you are the hottest naked woman your husband will ever see!
  6. You will never be a perfect mom and you will never have perfect kids. Anyone who tries to tell you differently or tries to pass themselves off as “perfect” is LYING! Set yourself free from this expectation and relish the times when your 6 year old is screaming on the side of the road because she fell 6 inches off her bike pedal and all traffic is stopping to see if you need medical attention.
  7. Say “I’m sorry, I was wrong to do that” frequently and often. Be willing to admit your faults to your kids and tell them how sorry you are when you mess up. I feel like I’m confessing sin to my kids on a daily basis, and even if it’s HUGE in my eyes, they always forgive me, embrace me and give me a clean slate. It’s not easy to backtrack and fess up, but it’s a great example to our kids on how to Biblically deal with sin and forgiveness and it also helps them gain a realistic expectation on relationships. Even when we love someone, we mess up and have to confess and seek forgiveness. The reverse is true too. People we love will disappoint us and wound us. It's our job to choose forgiveness instead of being resentful.
  8. There is no ONE correct way of parenting. If you are a schedule-freak like me and decide to follow Babywise religiously (at least with your first baby), you are not a better mom than the laid-back mom who lets their infant nap in the car seat if he happens to get tired while he’s getting schlepped from one place to another. We can all learn from each other and I grew so much relationally when I ditched the judgmental attitude and started to view other parenting styles through the eyes of “not wrong, just different.”
  9. Find parents you admire, and pick their brains. Ask them why they do certain things, what they like about parenting, what they would avoid, why they opted for 3 kids in 3 years or 4 kids in 20 years, etc. Look for kids you enjoy being around, and pick their parent’s brains too.
  10. NOTHING ever goes according to plan. Once you have kids, things have a way of spiraling out of control every time you turn your back. You think the kids are loading in the van while you take the dog potty, when in reality, your 4 year old is riding her bike down the street sans shoes, your 2 year old just messed her pants, and your 7 year old forgot his towel. Within 30 seconds, you just became 10 minutes late. Parenting forces you to become flexible. You can either laugh or cry. I’ve done both, but recommend laughing!
  11. You can’t control what your child does, but you can control your reaction to what they do. Acknowledging this fact has set me free from a lot of guilt over embarrassing toddler behavior. When my daughter started screaming at the top of her lungs in the library and the librarian kicked us out before I could even respond, I just took a deep breath and chanted internally to myself “You can ONLY control your reaction!”
  12. Don’t discipline in anger. Proverbs 29:11 says, “A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control.” Nothing good ever comes from acting in anger. I have made my kids sit in isolation for up to an hour before until I can deal with the permanent marker drawings on the wall in a spirit of love instead of rage, and I’ve never regretted it.
  13. Parenting requires creativity. What works for one child, doesn’t necessarily work for another. So get creative and don’t try to force each of your individual kids into the discipline mold that worked for your first born.
  14. You will come to dread the “bewitching” hour. It miraculously occurs every afternoon around 4:30, right at dinner preparation time. Your child will become whiny, tired, hungry and inconsolable at precisely the moment when you can NOT focus on your child. In spite of what “the experts” say, your two-year-old will not need special ed if they watch Dora while you make supper, so put the movie on already!
  15. Try to embrace each phase of parenting, even the sleepless-nights-everyone-has-a-need phase, and live joyfully in the moment. I look back now and think we were CRAZY to have 4 kids in 4 years, and there were definitely days I would dial the emergency pager when my husband was in the middle of a surgery, bawling my eyes out, begging him to come home because “I just CAN’T do this!!” But drama aside, those days in the trenches overall were great. We still laughed all the time, managed to get out and about, grew in our marriage and in our walk with God. We made wonderful memories, although I wouldn’t choose to go back because I’m completely enjoying this next phase of parenting too.
  16. If you choose to be an at-home mom, it’s OKAY and normal, to go through a grieving process for the person you were before kids. My dream as a little girl was always to be an at-home mom, so I was really surprised when I wrestled with giving up the job I had come to love to stay home with our son. My work gave me a sense of purpose, a measure to weigh myself against, and defined a big part of who I was. Once Grant was born, I walked around in a constant state of sleep-deprivation, feeling like an over-weight dairy cow that was about to be sent to slaughter because I wasn’t producing enough of my daily quota! I would look in the mirror and see a shadow of who I used to be and I grieved for the familiar. Life at home all day with a baby seemed bleak with no way to measure success, but it does get better. You will find a routine. You will fall hopelessly in love with your baby. You will find something to stimulate yourself intellectually. You will lose the baby weight. It just might not happen overnight.
  17. People ask me all the time what my hardest transition was between kids. Although we both struggled with being forced to realize the depth of our selfishness after our first baby, the hardest transition for us, was from one baby to two. Figuring out how to juggle multiple needs was really challenging, but after a few months, we settled into a more predictable routine. Transitioning to 3 and then 4 kids was much easier for us.
  18. God’s plan for you family may look much different than your dream or your parent’s dream or your neighbor’s opinion, etc. Ask God to give you an open heart to accept His family plan for you and then embrace His answer. And remember, what works for your family may look completely different for your best friend, so try to embrace “not wrong, just different.”
  19. Consistency is a big key to successful parenting. Think carefully about what you say to your kids, because if it comes out of your mouth, you HAVE TO FOLLOW THROUGH. If you are constantly changing your mind or can be swayed by whining, fit throwing or negotiating, you leave the door open for your kids to NEVER obey the first time or with a happy heart. Believe me, we have seen this work to our advantage and we’ve been humbled publicly when we are failing in this area.
  20. If you stop enjoying your kids, it usually is a good indication that you need to step back and take a hard look at how you’re approaching parenting. It’s a cyclical pattern in our family that occurs approximately every 6 or 9 months. Curt and I will look at each other and ask, “Where have we gone wrong?” And it almost always comes back to CONSISTENCY. We get lazy enforcing discipline, the kids take advantage of it, and we all end up miserable. In that light-bulb-comes-on moment, we confess our failures to God, regroup, and start fresh.
  21. Don’t give your kids a higher level relational than they Biblically deserve. We should love God first, our spouses second, and our kids third. It breaks my heart when I see moms and dads neglecting their spouse because they are overly in-love with their children. If we want to be families that God can get behind and bless, we need to keep our love for kids in a Biblical perspective.
  22. We once heard a parenting expert suggest that we as parents say YES to our kids as often as we can and say NO to our kids, only when we really mean it. We have tried to put this in practice. If you really don’t care if your son has a handful of M&M’s for an afternoon snack, say YES. Does it really matter if your 4-year-old daughter is wearing pattern-with-pattern-with pattern and has a skirt layered over capris? Say “YES you can wear that – you have a great sense of style.” If you’re uncertain, say “I don’t know” although this leave room for negotiating from your budding attorneys to sway you to their side. And when you say “No,” mean it and stick to your guns without being swayed.
  23. Choose your battles. Wow! Have we learned this lesson the hard way! Two of our four kids know what they want, the path they’re going to take to get it, and will NOT be diverted from their course (we have no idea where they get it from – must be a recessive gene). Needless to say, we’ve had many battle-of-the-wills showdowns at our house and it forced me to evaluate the criteria I was using to define “important.” Does it really matter if my “fancy” daughter leaves the house wearing a sundress with flip flops in winter? Will the fact that my son took 2 years to potty train cost him a job offer as an adult or does it bug me just because it makes me feel like a failure? Will my two-year old need counseling if she still uses her pacifier for sleeping? If, in the grand scheme of things, the answer is NO, I force myself to just let it go, and life flows so much smoother. If the answer is YES and you chose to battle, you MUST win, no matter how long it takes.
  24. Take a specific area of parenting you’re struggling with and really give it to God. Do a topical Bible study, find worship songs that combat that sin, memorize scripture, and leave yourself positive reminders. I have been surprised to see that one sin I consistently struggle with is my tone of voice. I find myself raising my voice, even yelling at time, minimizing what my kids are saying, or speaking to them in a sarcastic or condescending tone. I HATE that about myself and am continually giving this sin to God. I have James 1:19-20 written in permanent marker on fancy paper and taped to the inside of my pantry door. It reminds me to be slow to speak, slow to get angry and quick to listen, all of the things I am consistently working on. Thanks to God’s grace and theses visual reminders, I’ve made significant improvement in this area.
  25. Maintain hobbies outside of being a mom. It took me a few years of trial and error, but I finally figured out that I might not be able to exercise 7 days a week, sing on the worship team every weekend and scrapbook at least once a week with girl friends, but I could still say YES to those things, in moderation. I started making time to maintain those interests and hobbies on a schedule that worked for our family and I have found such fulfillment, invigoration and refreshment in them. Taking time to pursue outside interests actually makes me a better mom.
  26. Laugh with your kids and write down all the funny things they say. I keep a book of all the goofy, cute, and funny things the kids say because if I don’t write it down when it happens, I forget by the next day. We often take out those books, re-read them, and laugh our heads off at how fun kids are to have around. And I know we’ll be re-reading them in 20 years and still laughing.
  27. Find moms you admire and ask them to mentor you and pray for you. I have found comfort beyond measure and great encouragement in times of wisdom gleaning and prayer with mature moms who have walked the road before me and can truly empathize with me when my heart is heavy.
  28. Love never fails. I have a friend who has been such a role model to me of what a Godly mom looks like. She has 4 amazing kids who are lots of fun to be around, a home that she opens to everyone she meets, and a thriving marriage and relationship with God. I came to her one day, crying hysterically because I felt like such a failure as a mom. She told me to look up I Corinthians 13:1-8, read it out loud and replace the word “love” with “a loving mom.” Verse 8 ends with “A loving mom never fails.” Girls, if we love our children, the way God asks us to love them, we will not fail. We may have days that feel like a failure, but in the grand scheme of life as a mom, love NEVER fails!

1 comment:

  1. Jodi - you posted this before, right? I loved it then and I love it now. Such great insights and lots of godly wisdom to be found in your list. Thanks for the reminders - you rock! - Faith