As my first-born turns 20, I thought it appropriate to take a little time to reflect on things I’ve learned during my twenty years as a parent. I’m sure this is not an exhaustive list, but one I share hoping that it is an encouragement to you.
1. Sleep when the baby sleeps didn’t (& still doesn’t) work for me. When I was pregnant with my first-born, this was the one piece of advice that was repeated over and over and over. I mean, it’s great advice, but it’s not very practical. And when you add a second kid, it doesn’t work at all. I say, rest when you can. Get stuff done when you can. Do what works for you, and don’t feel guilty about it.
2. I’m an attachment parenting flunky. As much as I like the idea of wearing my baby all. the. time… Uh, yeah, that didn’t work for me either, and it still doesn’t. As an introvert, it doesn’t take long for me to be overwhelmed by people being “up in my space”. I breastfed all four; I wore my babies when it was convenient for me (or in all honesty, hubby wore them more than I did, ha!), but I rarely shared my bed with a kid–too much touch for this mama. But great news: My kids and I attached and bonded in spite of my shortcomings.
3. There’s no such thing as a perfect parent. None of us get it right all the time, and that’s okay. It may even be a really good thing. If you handle your mistakes well in front of your children, they can actually be beneficial. It’s a simple fact of life that none of us are perfect. Our children (yours and mine) need to see us reacting appropriately when we make mistakes. Admitting my faults, making sincere apologies, and righting wrongs are all things I hope my children have seen in me, and I hope they’ll do the same as they grow into adults.
4. I was a much better parent before I had children of my own. I have a feeling I’m not alone on this one. Okay… I hope I’m not alone on this one. Before we had children of our own, I thought I had it all figured out. A + B = C or so I thought. I believed that I, as a parent, would have complete control over what kind of people my children were to become. I believed that somehow MY influence on my children would shape them into wonderful, productive, Jesus-loving people. Somehow, I had overlooked the reality that children are born with their own God-given personalities and temperaments and sin-nature. And parents are too!
Which brings me to…
5. My kids successes and failures are not a direct reflection of my parenting. As much as I’d like to take credit for all the good things my kids have accomplished, THEY are the ones that have done it. I may be a teacher and an encourager, but their successes are their own. Likewise, bad choices they make aren’t all me either. Yes, parents influence their children, but sooner or later, children will walk in success or failure based on their own life choices.
6. Kids need boundaries. I think I probably knew this one before I was a parent, but the belief has been confirmed in the 20 years I’ve been a mom. Kids feel safe when clear boundaries are set for them. Likewise, they feel safe when consequences are clearly communicated and consistently carried out.
7. Kids need chores. We live in a culture where there is an entire generation that never learned a single life skill. A generation of adults is emerging that doesn’t know how to take care of themselves. They can’t do laundry, cook a meal that doesn’t come in a box, or balance a checkbook. I incorporate life skills into our daily routine, and my kids’ confidence is increasing because of it.
8. All kids are different. Whether they are natural born, adopted, or foster situations, they’re all different. Some were ideal pregnancies. One almost killed me. One is easy-going. One is high-strung. One excels in English, another in math. One is quiet and introverted like me; another is loud and extroverted like my husband. God made them like He made each of us–unique, with our own strengths and weaknesses. And that is okay. One of the hardest things I’ve had to do as a parent is to STOP trying to fit my kid into a ME-shaped box. (True confession)
9. Planting the Word is necessary, but it’s not a guarantee. I’m a Christian. I want my children to be Christians. I instruct them daily in God’s Word, but I can only do so much. Psalm 37:39 says that salvation comes from the Lord. I do what I can and trust the Lord with the rest.
10. I’m a bigger sinner than I thought. When my child repeated things he had heard me say… When my little one spoke to her sibling in the same harsh tone I had spoken to her… Convicting!
11. The terrible two’s don’t have to be terrible at all. I had a teacher in high school that had this quote on his wall, “It is your ATTITUDE, not your APTITUDE that will determine your ALTITUDE.” All ages and stages can be challenging. My attitude in how I chose to respond to my children’s challenges made all the difference for both of us.
12. The teen years don’t have to be terrible either. I guess it might be normal for teens to get an attitude, but we moms don’t have to get one back. Our culture tells us the teen years are for rebellion. God’s Word would disagree, and so do I. My teens are two of my biggest blessings.
13. I’m capable of more than I ever thought possible. Through God’s strength only, He has shown me that I can do so much more than I thought… He has placed not only biological children in my home, but at different times and under different circumstances, we’ve had all sorts of kids from all sorts of hard places. He has been–and continues to be–my strength.
14. There are joys and struggles of every phase and stage. As a homeschool mom, I’m with my kids a lot. Just when I think I have “it” all figured out, one of them enters a new phase or stage of growth and development. I choose to celebrate the joys and lay the struggles at the feet of Jesus.
15. Trust your gut! I believe that mother’s intuition is a real thing, and I believe it is a God-given gift. There have been times that I have just had a feeling that someone shouldn’t be alone with my child. I didn’t let it happen, and I don’t apologize for it. I’d rather offend someone than regret something happening to my child.
I’ve trusted my gut concerning books, movies, activities, etc. Any time something doesn’t feel right, I trust my gut.
16. How great and deep and wide is the Father’s love for us. As a parent, I know undying devotion. I know unconditional love. I know what it means to love someone so much that you would die for them. Being a parent has helped me to understand just a little bit more how much God loves us.
17. Watching them become adults is exciting and terrifying all at the same time. I love watching them mature and grow into the people God intended them to be. And yet, I can’t help but be concerned about them heading out into that big old ugly world out there. Again, I have to trust God with them.
18. God loves them more than I do, more than I ever could. He loves them perfectly and completely. He loves them enough that He sent His only Son to die for them, to be the ultimate sacrifice and pay the price for their sins.
19. They’re all worth it. Whether they have come to me by birth or fostering, they have all been worth it. The sleepless nights, the frustrations and tough decisions have all been worth it. Whether in our home for a few weeks, a few months, or until adulthood, they’re all worth it.
So how about you? How long have you been a parent? What are some things you’ve learned along the way?