A friend of mine is pregnant and asked a few friends to share some “words of wisdom” about parenting and I was privileged to be among that number. Since you asked and since I’m a writer you get a blog post! This is dedicated to you, Teri, my beautiful friend.
For the new mommy and daddy:
Welcome, friends to the wonderful world of parenting. You are about to embark on a journey that will last a lifetime. Your journey will be filled with adventures and missteps, occasional pain, frustration and frequent joy, if you let it. You won’t do it perfectly, so don’t get caught up in beating yourself up or wasting any time trying to be or look perfect. God has chosen you to be the mom and dad of the brand new person hanging out in your womb. The Lord already gifted you with everything you need to bring him up, so don’t worry too much.
Here are a few things I learned along the way:
1) The first best gift you can give your child is spiritually healthy parents. Don’t place your child before your relationship with God. Your relationship with God will make you a better parent. “And now these three things remain: faith, hope and love; but the greatest of these is love.” You will need all three in abundance, cultivate them purposely.
2) The second best gift you can give your child is parents who love each other. It is easy to lose yourselves in the mundane day to day business of parenting. Wife, don’t forget to be your husband’s girlfriend and husband, don’t forget to be your wife’s boyfriend. Dream together, talk, plan, hope, commiserate together. Be best friends. Kids flourish under the light of two parents who genuinely love each other. Your relationship creates a sense of security and stability that allows them to grow in the best possible environment. Not only that, they learn what a love relationship ought to look like. Lastly, remember that someday your children will be gone from your home and it will be just the two of you again. Don’t neglect the friend you hope to have in your old age for the sake of the kids that will leave the house.
3) Develop a parenting plan. Choose a book, or a few, and read them together. A little study will save you a lot of potential heart break. There are many great books out there. They espouse various philosophies. Some advocate spanking, some advocate time out, some lean toward attachment parenting. The important thing is not so much which approach you choose, but to choose one together and to follow through with it. My personal favorite is Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp. And very, very importantly, never undermine one another to your child. This is important, especially for mommies to remember. We often tend to think (not always on purpose) that we know best and too often interfere with daddy’s discipline. Trust your husband. Let him be a dad. Your kids need you both, that is why it took the both of you to make them. Back each other up!
4) Think in terms of the big picture. You are, in reality, launching an adult into the world, not a child. That doesn’t mean you should start treating your new born like an adult. It means that as you think, plan and discipline you should keep in mind how your decisions will contribute to turning your child into the kind of adult you hope he will be. When you are caught up in mounds of laundry, dinner-making, sinks full of dirty dishes and tantrum-throwing toddlers, stop and remember what is most important. Laundry, dinner and dishes will always be there, but your chance to teach your child won’t. In those baby and toddler years, it can be tempting to avoid leaving the house with your child. You feel overwhelmed and that toddler challenges you at every corner. Don’t give in to this temptation. Get out, take the kid with you. Risk a scene in public. Your child learns how to behave because you teach him what is acceptable and what is not. You can’t teach him this if he never experiences being challenged to behave appropriately in restaurants, stores, museums, parks and movie theaters. Sure, you may have to abandon the activity if little Johnny flips out, but you have begun a lesson that will teach him the things he needs to know to get along in the world.
5) Major on the majors and just don’t even worry about the minors. Say “yes” as often as you can so that when you say “no” you aren’t drowning yourself out in too long a set of rules. This is best accomplished by focusing on matters of character. This will grow in importance as your child grows into the teenage years. Give your child plenty of room to be himself. If something interests him or he likes a certain style of dress that you don’t particularly like, ask yourself if the interest is a matter of character and if it isn’t, then why stress about it? Your child is an autonomous being. Let it happen. You want it to. But draw the line when matters of character come in to question. The presumption is that you want to launch a responsible, modest, hard-working, honest, kind person into the world. Hold the line with an iron fist in these matters and practice liberality in the rest.
6) Simply like your child. This may sound strange, like it would come naturally, but that is not always the case. Your child is a unique person, with a unique personality. That personality may or may not be a natural fit for your personality. Get to know your child for who he is. Remember to laugh, play and have fun with your kid as you develop your relationship with him. And, frankly, decide to like him for who he is. A tomboyish mother may get a girly-girl daughter or an artsy dad might get an athletic son, or any combination there-in. Let your kids be who they are and learn to like it! Don’t compare them to other kids, either outside or inside your home. Compare your child only to the best version of himself and help him become that.
7) Lastly, trust your instincts. You will get a lot of advice along the way. Everyone thinks they know the best way to do this thing, but the truth is, every child is unique and even within your own home you will find that discipline techniques that work with one child make no difference in another. In the final analysis, you will be held responsible for the children you were given. So whether you breast-feed, cloth-diaper, wear your baby, spank, give time-outs, co-sleep, or do them all or some or none, don’t worry about what others think of you. You must look into your own heart and soul and after you do, look yourself in the mirror and answer the question, “Am I doing the right thing?” No one else can truly answer that for you. And never forget to enjoy the ride, mom and dad. It’s like a roller coaster with ups and downs and thrills and over way too soon.