My kids are 3, 1, and 23-weeks-in-utero. This will mean I had a newborn in 2012, 2013, and 2015. That's 27 months of pregnancy. I'm not a baby person and I don't have oodles of pleasant things to say about being "with child", but I mean it when I say I delight in my children. I have big dreams for my future, but I do not doubt that what I'm doing right now as a mom is the epitome of whatever career or ministry I may have someday. I definitely haven't always felt this way, but some wise counsel from experienced mothers as well as some growing up on my own part has helped me see just how beautiful this season of life is. Hopefully this serves as an encouragement to other moms (and dads!) of little ones! (And please know I write this on a particularly rough day when I definitely wouldn't win any Mommy Awards today, and I'm not exactly cheerful about my mundane right now.)
1) Stop pining for when things "get back to normal."
I remember asking a mom of 6 when she started being able to sleep through the night, and she said "I haven't! But that's okay!" and I really believed her. I realized that I need to have better dreams for my life than the day when I can feel relieved from the burdens of children.
When onlookers see me fruitlessly trying to comfort a baby in the grocery store, they often try to comfort me with "You'll miss these days when she's a teenager!" or "You'll blink and he'll be off to college." That's not really helpful to me because a) It really doesn't feel like time is going quickly at all, especially since I keep having more kids, and b) Parenting gets harder than this? Sometimes I just feel like I would be the happiest person in the world if I could get my old life back!
But who says "my old life" was a better life? This is my new normal and it's not the worst thing in the world to be stripped of my selfishness. Being less selfish actually makes me more of a happy person, so if a baby is forcing me out of reliance on sleep and binge-watching freedoms, that's not necessarily a bad thing at all.
2) Find parenting to be exponentially meaningful.
Oftentimes we don't ask ourselves "What is the point of parenting?" or "Why even have kids?" How we answer that question will definitely shape how we parent our children, and a lot of times our reasons for wanting kids are self-serving and superficial, so no wonder our parenting---especially on the difficult days!---can feel pointless!
Look beyond the two little faces staring at you, asking for juice. Think about how they're going to grow up and probably have kids of their own someday. Though we shouldn't expect our children to turn out a certain way or believe what we believe, we can trust that our efforts at shaping our children will have a real impact, not just on them but on the generations to come. Cultural decline happens in large part---and I'd say primarily---by haphazard parenting. What I'm doing as a mom is huge. I need to see past all the education/career/travel opportunities I might be missing and realize how important my job is. Especially as a Christian with the reality of eternity in mind, I consider my ministry as a mom enormous since I'm literally making disciples all day long for 18+ years. (I expounded on this here!)
3) ...But don't look to your kids for your joy and meaning.
When I hear moms say "My kids are my whole world!", it warms my heart, but I also wonder, "What about on the days when they are really difficult?" Then your whole world comes crashing down and it's their fault. That's not fair to you or to them. (Really, it's idolatry. And I struggle with this big-time when it comes to my husband.)
God made us not because He was lonely but because He was overflowing with joy in Himself and wanted to welcome us into it. I desire to be so overflowing with joy in God that having kids is all about welcoming them into my joy. If I rely on my kids to find my meaning and purpose in life, they'll only let me down...and my response will probably be ugly. (Read more about this in my recent post!)
4) Strive for the "large family dynamic" of selflessness even if you don't have or want a large family.
I love spending time with big families. Sure, just because a family is large doesn't mean it's a good family, and I'm aware of the huge flaws in some of the primary big-family "movements", but the large families I've had the privilege of knowing are amazing, and no matter how many kids I end up raising, I want the kind of dynamic they have. When I would visit my former neighbors, the Reysens, all the kids would come sit around the table to talk with me---six of them, ages 5 through 18---and their love for each other, for their parents, for me, and for all the neighbors just blew me away. And I would look at their mom and she would just glow. They were all used to being selfless in their day-to-day, and, again, selflessness tends to make people happier.
It's good for kids to know that the world doesn't revolve around them. (It's good for us grown-ups to know that too!) When I'm trying to figure out what to buy my kid or what expectations of me that I'll let my kids develop, I try to ask myself, "Would this be sustainable if our family was larger?" and that's helped me make a lot of wiser decisions.
5) Remember that parenting isn't supposed to be impossible (or expensive.)
Many times I've had the thought, "How have so many people had kids when they're so stinking hard to deal with!?" But then I would remember that people have been having kids for a really long time, and other than recently in America, nobody had food pouches or fancy strollers or noise machines. Now that I have an idea of what parenting is actually like, I love going to Buy Buy Baby and laughing to myself about how parents don't actually need 98% of the "must-have" gear. Of course carseats are imperative and some little gadgets can be really helpful, but it's helpful to remember that parents have been making it work with far fewer resources and conveniences. I could get into a bit of a crunchy-mama/trust-your-body/baby-wearing/breastfeeding rant here, but suffice to say that God equips us for parenting.
I think another forgotten God-given gift for parenting is the glory of discipline. I used to get so frustrated that baby Stephen kept throwing food from his high chair. One day Peter reminded me that I don't have to let him do that; we let Stephen know our expectations, we disciplined him when he disobeyed, and eventually Stephen not only stopped throwing food from the high chair but he learned a little bit more that the world doesn't revolve around him. There have been dozens or hundreds of other situations like that with both kids when I realized I could either let them rule the world and drive me crazy, or I could remind them that they are not in charge and everybody will be way happier. "Good parents" who never discipline their kids also tend to be the parents who find themselves screaming at their kids or quietly feeling embittered towards their children because they can't handle the pressure.
We can stop believing the lie that parenting either has to be miserable or fluffy-lovey-dovey. Parenting can be real, but really good. And a lot of it has to do with us and what we're expecting to get out of our kids.
Now go kiss your babies! :)
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My name is Hope.
I'm 25, married to a rad guy, and raising three little people ages 1,3, and 5...and I'm now expecting my fourth. I like chartreuse, calligraphy, Coke Icees, childbirth, crocs, Studio C, and...alliteration.
Quick links to some of my posts:
Articles I've Written on Other Sites:
Youth Ministry's Family Blindspot - Christianity Today