Lessons Learned As A Young Mom
Just in case you’re curious, here’s the week at a glance with my two-and-a-half year old son, Judah: he paints his doorway with POOP from his diaper during nap time on Sunday; we pull up to the museum on Monday and he says, unprompted, “I’m going to share, Mommy”; on Tuesday, he calls himself a rabbit and hops everywhere he goes; and on Wednesday, he throws a remote at my face, pulls my hair out, and then says, “I love you mommy. You’re beautiful, and I love your eyes.” (all within two minutes). There’s just really no way to prepare yourself for the ups and downs of parenting a toddler… or a baby… or a teenager (thankfully, I have not gotten there yet).
I’m writing this at about 36 weeks pregnant with my second son, and as I think back to this time in pregnancy with Judah, all I can remember is how blissfully unaware I was of what parenthood would look like. I knew babies cried, but I didn’t really think mine would cry thattttt much. I knew babies didn’t sleep much at first, but I figured that only lasted about two weeks or so. I knew there was no such thing as a perfect parent, but I assumed I would be pretty close. HA! I have never been so wrong about anything in my entire life. Parenting is the hardest thing I have ever done in my entire life, hands down.
BUT, it is also the best thing and the best thing for me. I am a better person now than I was three years ago. Judah has taught me more about myself, my human limitations, and my need for God than anything else ever has. As I’ve started preparing for this next little human, I can’t help but reflect back on the things I’ve learned so far in this parenthood journey.
The absolute first thing you learn as a new parent – how incredibly selfish you are. When you get married, you realize you’re selfish, but you work through it and grow as a person and you think, Wow, I’m good now. The first week of parenthood? You realize how much more you have to grow in that department. The first thing a baby interferes with is your freedom, and for me as a very independent woman who LOVES her solo Target trips, that has been my biggest struggle as a mom. Especially those first few months, it felt like I couldn’t go anywhere, do anything, without this child attached to me, needing me every second of every day. And it’s not like you can ignore them (at the beginning at least 🙂 ). If Judah cried out from hunger at 2am when he was six weeks old, I had to get up and feed him. There was no other option. When he pooped, even if I was comfortable on the couch, I had to go change him. If he was crying, I had to stop what I was doing to soothe him. That’s annoying to my self-absorbed self! On my good days, I could handle it. On my bad days, I didn’t want to handle it, but I still had to. And, I think that’s the beauty of the newborn months. Doing what you don’t want to do for so many days/months in a row to serve someone else – it rids you of your selfish tendencies (or at least some of them… I’m sure baby #2 will show me some remaining selfishness I need to weed out).
The second thing I’ve learned as a young mom: the second you think you’ve got it figured out, something changes. Can I just get an “Amen!” already from my fellow parents? Y’all know what I’m talking about. The moment you get your child to sleep through the night, there’s a growth spurt. The second you learn how to keep your child happy, they start teething. The exact minute that you breathe and think, “We’ve figured it out,” they start walking. Life becomes a constant guessing game of flexibility and adapting to whatever the day brings. Honestly, I’m still trying to figure out the spiritual lesson this particular truth teaches… Maybe it’s another reminder of the fact that we are not in control of anything in this life, or maybe God just gets a really big laugh out of watching tired parents handle sleep regressions!
The next lesson I’ve learned in parenting: hard work is holy work. That’s a pretty phrase, and I’m sure I didn’t come up with it, but it’s true nonetheless. There is something beautiful about finding God in the midst of the mundane. In culture today, we celebrate excitement, entertainment, freedom, enjoyment; we roll our eyes at the monotonous, at the everyday, routine aspects of life. Yet, it is exactly that which transforms us most into looking more like Christ. Cleaning up spit-up on the daily, changing thousands of diapers, giving baths every day (or so), chasing toddlers, disciplining said toddler for throwing his cup on the floor for the umpteenth time that week… When we look at this hard, exhausting, never-ending work as hard, exhausting, never ending-work, it can get discouraging, and we can feel like we are constantly drowning, overwhelmed by a life of mind-numbingly boring monotony. BUT, if we can have the eyes to see these tasks like God sees them – as opportunities for us to die to self – we will come out of this whole thing much better people for it. Or, at least, that’s what I’m counting on…
Perhaps one of the most recent lessons I’m learning as of late: my success as a mom is not tied up in my child’s successes or failures. I cannot base my worth as a mom on my son’s inability to use a spoon, I just can’t. In that same way, I cannot find success in myself based on how sweet or polite my son tends to be (most of the time) or how funny he is on my Instagram videos (spoiler alert: he’s pretty funny. I’m totally unbiased). I can do my absolute best to disciple my son into a Jesus-loving, humble, servant-hearted, compassionate, brave man, but at the end of the day, even if he turns out that way – that is not what gives me worth. His successes do not make me a success; his failures do not make me a failure. My identity comes from being a beloved child of God; my worth stems from that role, not my role as mom or youth minister or wife or friend. We may say we know these things, but I think, for me at least, it’s taken a toddler to remind me of it. He’s going to throw tantrums, he’s going to hit, he’s going to spread poop on the door (I’m clearly still not over this incident), but those things don’t mean I’m a failure- it’s just Toddler Mom reality. Hopefully, if I can learn not to base my worth off those things now, I’ll be less likely to find my identity in his successes or failures down the road, too.
Last, but DEFINITELY not least, the parenting truth I have to remind myself of every day: it’s.just.a.phase. Even though Judah didn’t sleep through the night for 9 months, he does now. Even though I never thought he would ever start talking… he never stops talking now. Even though he calls me his best friend today, I know he won’t say that forever. It’s all just a phase: sometimes it moves too quickly, and sometimes (in our more sleep-deprived states), it seems like it moves too slowly. Nevertheless, it passes. Some days that makes me happy, most days it makes me sad. But, on the days when I want to pull my hair out from the frustration that is trying to teach a toddler to share, I need to preach to myself: it’s just a phase and I don’t want to miss out on any of it.
These are just the first few to come to mind for me… Parents: what other lessons have you learned? I’m only 2.5 years into this whole parenting thing, and I know I have a lot more lessons heading my way… What do I have to look forward to most? And, please, someone encourage me about the poop situation! Why are little boys so curious about their poop?!