Being a parent is the best...and the worst.
Feb 24, 2020
I wish I could grab you a cup of coffee or tea, pour it into your favourite mug and tell you to put your feet up so we could visit a bit. If you have babies or toddlers right now, this one is for you.
I am imagining that as you read this you are huddled under your blanket at the end of a long day, or you are going to start reading this and you will be interrupted 20 times before you are done. Deep breath mama, these are crazy days.
The season you are in feels very fresh to me, but somehow, mysteriously, I am out of it. Our kids are 10, 9, 7, 7 now. Around the time the boys (our twin youngest) turned 4 a very strange thing happened....I read a book during the day. I finished a book in two days because I could read - during. the. day. It still seems like a mystical fog.
Maybe I should give you a little bit of context.
Our kids came in a bundle. 4 kids in 2.5 years. Emma is our oldest. Her arrival in 2009 marked a brand new season for me. I was 39, I had been in my career or in school for my entire life and for the first time, I would step out of my career and be home full time. She came so sweetly. In my memory, everything was glowy and gentle. She was a good little baby. She took naps twice a day. I cleaned the house for one of the naps and took a nap myself for the second. I had a nap every day for a year. It was amazing. My firstborn and I would take walks, go to the library and get a coffee (well, I got a coffee, she didn't), we visited parks, we grocery shopped. She would go with me everywhere I wanted to go.
My life changed but in good ways. I slowed down. I rested. My house was clean. It was pure bliss...
I got pregnant with Alina and other than some pain in my ribs, it was a pretty event-free pregnancy. I was tired, but no problem, I could still take a nap every day. Alina joined our happy little tribe in December of 2010. I still slept, not as much. My house wasn't quite as clean and I couldn't get out as easily. With Emma walking and Alina in a car seat, it was a lot to juggle, but I pulled it off for playdates or the occasional trip to the grocery store.
We were home more often, the pace was picking up but it was kind of manageable.
Shortly after, I found out I was pregnant with twins. I was ecstatic, I was stunned, I was terrified.
Not because I wasn't happy or grateful, I just really didn't know how I was going to fit 2 more babies into our already busy schedule or increasingly shrinking house.
My pregnancy was a little more complicated this time. I had a gallbladder attack at about 6 months along. I was admitted to a hospital in the States for a few days with acute pancreatitis and I was managing severe pain in my ribs. Our community began to gather around us to help. I was on bed rest until the boys came.
We welcomed two healthy boys, 6 weeks premature, but healthy in the spring of 2012. They were beautiful and sweet. Oh, I was so tired. My body was tired, my heart was tired, my soul felt like a paving truck had run over it. A beautiful paving truck filled with 4 little bundles that needed my undivided attention 24 hours a day.
Thus began the season with the steepest learning curve of my life.
We very rarely left the house. I couldn't go anywhere by myself with the kids. I felt so lonely some days even though I was surrounded with noise and people. They were just little people, who were so cute but they always, always needed something.
All of this is to say to you, my young friend trying to read this blog while feeding a baby and keeping the other one from lighting the house on fire...you are going to make it.
I would like to offer a few humble observations and encouragements regarding the baby and toddler years to those of you who have made it this far in the reading.
1. Connect with moms you respect.
This can be your mom or any mom who is ahead of you in the journey. These are moms you admire, moms you want to be like. Spend time with them. Ask questions. Older moms, experienced moms will reassure you. "You are not going to break your child", "Just love them and be yourself".
One of these moms watched Emma when she was 2 weeks old while she rubbed the couch with the back of her hand. "She is a touch baby", she said. I sat there like I had just met Elijah the prophet. How does she know such mysteries??? She had four grown kids and a bushel full of grandkids, that's how. Mama's and Grandma's are smart, they have experience that is time-tested and parenting fad-proof.
They will have thoughts and input about healthy discipline, what things matter and what things you can let go. If they have well-adjusted grown children, ask them what things really worked. This advice is like gold, search for it. You won't be sorry.
2. Don't let blogs or books tell you how to parent.
I am an over the top relational person. People make sense to me. Imagine my surprise when nothing about caring for infants came naturally to me. I mean nothing. Babies I had an idea about. Babies could sit up, babble, reach for things and giggle. Infants did none of the above, and they look so frail. I was sure her head was going to fall off for the first month.
Because of this, I had a couple of "go to" books for getting the kids on a schedule and keeping them alive. I loved "Secrets of the Baby Whisperer" by Tracey Hogg. She had a really practical approach to getting kids on a routine that worked like a charm. She also gave room for the different personalities of the babies.
When the kids needed some more structure and discipline around the one year mark, I picked up Kevin Lehman's books and devoured them. I still use his books as a reference for discipline ideas that are creative.
Parenting books were really helpful at first, but as my confidence grew, it became information overload and began to breed a sense of inadequacy in me. I wasn't trusting my instincts. I came to realize this truth: God has given us as parents to these children. We are the human answer for them. God has graced me to be their mom, and them to be my children. No book can be the answer. I must go to God and ask Him for the blueprints for their little souls.
Other moms are a MUCH better resource than books or blogs, see point #1.
3. You be you
If you want to throw a lavish party with Pinterest worthy decorations for your two year old, do it! If you want to buy a cake at Costco and decorations at the dollar store, do that instead.
Maybe it is just me, but I felt so much pressure to have beautiful, homemade decorations or rent a facility that could accommodate half of the township in order to have a worthy birthday party for the kids.
I took the girls to a birthday party a couple of years ago and I kid you not they had pony rides with ponies painted and dressed up like magical unicorns. There were incredible handmade favours for each of the children with their names on each one, there was a photo booth and a bouncy castle. It was a child paradise. I was speechless.
Did I mention that I had 4 kids in 2.5 years? I can not. I would not be able to host a party like that. It just isn't in my Mommy wheelhouse. There is no doubt in my mind that the mom who hosted that party, loved every minute of it. She was not showy, or boasting. It was just who she was. She should continue throwing those parties, and I need to release myself to being the "Buy a cake at Costco but play fun games at the house" kind of party thrower.
This is one example, but I could go on and on. Breastfeeding vs. formula, natural birth vs. cesarean or v-bac, cry it out vs. rock the baby to sleep, working vs. stay at home...we all do it differently. We are all unique. I don't need to feel pressure to do it another mommy way.
Oh, but I do feel the pressure.
When I just had the girls, we never, never left the house without their hair tightly combed with bows in each perfect little ponytail. We never, never left the house in clothes that didn't match. Often all three of us would be colour coordinated. I had time, you see, to think of and execute such ideas.
Then the boys came. To this day, I shudder when I look at my kids running through Home Depot or wherever we are, with their cowlicks flying in the breeze and their super hero runners that totally clash with their super hero socks, which totally clash with their shorts and their shirts...you get the idea.
I am that mom now. The mom who runs out of the house without looking at her children to see if their hair has been combed. We dress up for church, that's about it these days. But they are happy and they really, super duper, don't care.
Anyway, my point is: you be you and that is just right.
4. Take some time to fill up
Find time for yourself.
I would roll my eyes at me if I were you.
Other moms would tell me this and I would scream on the inside and say "Exactly HOW should I do that?? I can't get away, there is too much to do!" I really don't know how you will do it, but you need to.
Find something that fills your tank and do it. Maybe it is in an evening after bedtime (even better if you can slip out before), you take a book or your journal and go to a coffee shop and read or write or just sit there and watch other people who seem to be living well-balanced, sleep-filled lives...jerks (kidding, I am kidding).
Go shopping by yourself. Take a bath, with the door locked. Ask your husband or friend to take the kids to the park so you can lay down in a quiet house. Go for a walk with a coffee in hand. Clean your house (that may not be a fill immediately, but a clean house feels nice once it is done).
You will be a better parent if you are not running on empty. I promise.
5. Find a routine that works for your family and stick to it.
This might be the most practical advice in this whole blog, but I swear by a 7:30 bedtime. As soon as we could get our babies into this routine, our lives would begin feeling a bit normal again. It took some time and each kid got there at their own pace but by the time the kids were 2, they were all in bed by 7:30.
This one thing saved a major portion of my sanity and certainly helped our marriage. 7:30 bedtime meant Shawn and I had at least two hours to sit together or watch a show or whatever we wanted to do.
Some of my friends put their kids down later. It works for them. (See point #3). There is no wrong way to do it necessarily. You may try something for a while and then need to reevaluate and try a new strategy. No problem. Just find one that works and stick to it.
The bigger point is that sleep is important. The kid's sleep, your sleep. Many behaviour issues (both mine and the kids) were changed for the better when we all got enough sleep.
6. Love never fails.
I was talking to a young mom the other day and she said what many young moms fear: "I am afraid I am messing him up already".
My response to her was this: "Impossible. You love him. You are learning, he is learning, you will grow together and it will be beautiful."
You will fail. You will blow your lid sometimes. You will over discipline sometimes. You will be wrong. You will be overwhelmed and utter things you wish you never would have said to your kids, your spouse or your friends, it is a guarantee, it will happen.
You will be embarrassed. You will feel a deep sense of inadequacy.
These are all good. I didn't say they feel good. I said it is good.
If you are a Christian, all of these feelings mean that you need a saviour. Furthermore, your kids need a saviour and you are not it.
It is good to be wrong and admit it. It is good for your kids to see you praying and depending on Jesus for your next move.
Sometimes, in the heat of the moment, I will actually stop talking to the kids and close my eyes and pray out loud: "Dear Jesus, help me. I am not kidding, this is a tough day we are having here and I am not thinking great thoughts right now about these kids. I want to help them, not hurt them. Can you give me the strength to do that please?" (Read between the lines here "Help me not to kill the ones you sent me, Amen"). More than once, after employing the "stop the madness and pray" method, I would open my eyes and see the kids staring at me with shock and kind of an "oops, we have really done it this time" look in their eyes.
Sometimes, I need a time out.
I need to remind myself that the mess they just made can be cleaned, the item they just broke can be replaced, the fight they are having will pass but how I respond will last in their memories much longer than the mess they just made. When I lose it I need to say sorry.
We all need to remind ourselves that we are not ever going to get it right every time. That is why we have a Saviour.
7. How to handle the "It goes by so fast" comment.
It actually does. But not now. Right now it feels slow and you really won't "enjoy every moment" and that is ok!
When I feel nostalgic, I lay in my bed at the end of the day and I look back at the videos of when the kids were babies. Much to my surprise, I sound really happy. That season, once the boys came, was such a blur. My memory tells me that I cried a lot. I struggled daily to figure out how I was going to keep these little people alive, much less shape their character into something we would all be proud of. I was really relieved to hear my voice sounding so bubbly and happy in those videos.
On that note, take video, lots of it. Take video of the little things: their voices when they babble, their voices when they say those cute words that will soon be corrected when they roll around when they look at you with pure adoration, what your house looks like (yes, the mess)....you will hear yourself and you will be happy and sweet and you will know that there were some really beautiful days tucked into the hard ones.
Take pictures, lots of them. Take pictures of the little things: what kind of soap you used, their baby room, their toddler bed, their cutest little outfit, their belly button and their feet.
The hard days will fade. You won't actually remember them as much as you remember this beautiful, fleeting time and you will find yourself uttering those very same words that kind of make you cringe right now "Make the most of it, it goes so fast".
It does mama, it really does.
You blink and they look like this:
...and this stage is a whole other kettle of fish. Fun, but...yeah...a different topic for a different day.
There will come a day you will read a book within a few days. Your house will be clean again. You won't have 20 loads of laundry a week and lego filled floors. Those will be great days, but they are not what you are living right now.
These might be the most important days of your life.
Of course you feel pressure. It is no small thing to shape the next generation.
If no one else is saying it, allow me to:
Thank you for your sacrifices, for your willingness to bring new life into the world and do your best to bring them up to contribute to our great society.
You rule the world you know? You rock the cradle, you rule the world as the saying goes. Right now, your empire is a loud, sticky mess. But one day, they will be the ones who lead in the marketplace, preach in the pulpit, build the new homes and raise your grandchildren.
My company of experienced moms tell me that when the kids are little it is busy on the outside, its lots of work but you steer the ship. You have more control over their lives. As they grow, you are busy on the inside. (Who are their friends? Where are they now at 11:00 PM?? Each stage has its benefits and its challenges.)
We who have passed before you are all cheering for you.
You've got this. We love you.