People joke that there is something in the water at my church. Someone is always pregnant. And it’s not crazy to assume that for every one pregnancy you see there are 3 more you don’t know about. I’m surrounded by new moms all the time. As someone who still has a lot to learn about parenting, I’m hesitant to hand out too much advice. But I also know that I’ve been helped tremendously from the encouragement of moms who are just a little further ahead of me in this journey. So for my mama friends with young children, here are four things I want you to know.
1. You don’t have to keep someone else’s standards.
When I talk to new moms, I feel exhausted for them. There are so many decisions about diapering, feeding, sleeping, discipline, diet, screen time, education, etc. And many of these decisions have to be made in a sleep-deprived state of new motherhood. Most moms I talk to want the best for their child and worry they will somehow put their child at a disadvantage if they make the wrong decision.
Depending on who is in your circle of friends, the standards for “doing it right” can be high.
If I could go back and talk to my younger self, I would tell her that it’s okay to be “good enough”. If your child is in a context of love, and you are making the best decisions you can with the information you have, it’s enough. I’d even go further and say it’s okay to do a mediocre job of parenting some days. When you’ve reached your breaking point sometimes the whole family is helped by an episode (or five) of Dora and Diego. Rest up and try again tomorrow. His mercies are new every morning.
God didn’t make you like other mothers. You and your husband make decisions for your children before God and no one else. He gave you the children that He wanted you to have and wrote your disposition and capacity in your DNA. He places no burden on you to live up to other people’s standards and preferences. Instead, he desires you to trust Him. He will provide the grace that you need to parent your little ones today.
2. Your kids don’t have to be like other kids.
It’s super annoying when your friend’s kid can recite their ABC sounds at 18 months and yours can barely say “Dada”. It’s also annoying when your kid is doing bum-scoots across the church lobby and their BFF is literally running circles around them while catching a football. If I could go back and talk to my younger self, I would tell her to relax. Ten years from now you won’t be able to tell the difference between early-starters and late-starters.
I would also tell her to absolutely positively scrap the early potty training. It is so much work for parents and kids are totally fine with having soiled pants. (I may or may not have told my youngest repeatedly to go in his diaper because I wasn’t ready to potty train him.) Guess what, in the end he got potty trained. And no, he’s not scarred for life.
Other mothers can be a tremendous support and encouragement for you. (How else are you supposed to learn about resources like the Letter Factory video and warm compresses for clogged milk ducts.) But it’s also important to remember that just because your friend’s child is learning Latin for toddlers, doesn’t mean you have to scramble to catch up.
You have the freedom to pick activities, routines and pursuits that fit with your family rhythm and preferences. It can be character-building for kids (and their parents) to be second best. It’s less important to impress the world than it is to please God.
3. Physically, your life is about to get a lot easier.
I read somewhere about the golden years of parenting (ages 6-12). And guess what, they weren’t lying. Kids this age can get themselves breakfast and buckle their seatbelts. The can puke into a bowl and engage in interesting conversations. They’ve moved past toddler tantrums and not yet reached teenage meltdowns. Imagine sleeping through the night and drinking your coffee while it’s warm. This will be you in a few years.
4. Your conversations are about to get harder.
It’s so important for moms to take time to keep developing as a person. Not only for their own sake, but also for the sake of their children. You see, something shifts as the children get older. Mothering isn’t as much about caring for our children’s physical needs (although they still require food, clothes and kisses!). But the primary emphasis of parenting shifts to character development, decision making and moral dilemmas. Conversations turn to spiritual matters, playground dynamics and understanding the world. We suddenly have to engage with our kids in a thoughtful, nuanced manner and help them understand the world from a biblical perspective. This is hard to do unless we are also growing spiritually, emotionally and intellectually.
I read once that the primary reason young people fall away from the faith is because their parents seemed irrelevant and out-of-touch with the real world. I’m not overly worried about this because salvation belongs to the Lord, not to me. I don’t have to bear the weight of saving my kids. But I still think there is something to be said for genuine, thoughtful interactions with the world we live in. We don’t retreat in fear, but engage with hope because we’ve tasted “the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge” (Ephes. 3:19).
I have a growing hunch that kids benefit from seeing their parents try new things, and struggle, and grow as people. Kids need to know they are loved and prioritized by their parents, but as strange as it sounds, I don’t think that they actually want it to be all about them. They also need examples of adulthood that inspire them. Moms don’t have to be spiritual superstars, but when we grow in maturity, we will be better equipped to help our kids grow into adulthood.