Twenty seven months ago I found out I was pregnant and eighteen months ago I had a beautiful, tiny, healthy little girl. I’ve learned so much about myself and about life. It would be hard to put it all into words so I’ll do my best to just share a few highlights.
First, I’ve learned that no matter how much you prepare and plan, there will be surprises. From pregnancy to giving birth to bringing your baby home from the hospital, surprises are around every corner. The best way to prepare yourself is to not have any specific expectations about how things will or should go. For example, if you have a perfect birthing plan set in place and you are adamant that things should be done a certain way, you will more than likely be horribly disappointed. There is nothing “routine” about pregnancy and nothing “routine” about the birthing experience. Each pregnancy, labor, delivery, and baby is unique. Plan for what you want but be prepared for anything.
The same is true for the first few weeks and months of parenthood. The moment you think you finally understand your baby’s routine, from sleep to eating habits, they will suddenly change it up. This is frustrating for new parents who long to feel some sense of security/control when their lives have been turned upside down! But, the fact is, these changes are completely normal and necessary. Babies change and develop rapidly and no baby changes at the same pace as another. Meeting milestones like sitting up, crawling, and walking as well as teething all disrupt sleep patterns. If you have specific expectations about anything you will find yourself extremely frustrated if your child doesn’t meet those expectations. I have found it is best not to try to figure everything out or compare my experience with someone else’s. Just like adults, every baby has a completely unique sleep cycle. It’s best not to fight nature.
I have also learned that the most exhausting, frustrating stages are short lived. “This too shall pass” is true in parenthood and it should be our mantra when we feel overwhelmed. Your child went from sleeping 6-8 hours straight to waking every hour? Wait a week and it will probably change. Your child let you rock them to sleep and lay them down for the first few months of their life and now they are cling-y and you have to keep them close or they go nuts? Wait a bit and that will most likely change, too. In other words, don’t let yourself get bent out of shape over what you can’t control. When you feel like you can’t survive a certain stage, I promise, you can, you will, and then you’ll look back and realize how short that season was.
My baby is now a toddler and I have found myself staring at her while she sleeps, thankful for every moment I have had with her. Thankful for every single night I chose to meet her needs (ok, and her wants) even when I didn’t sleep. When she’s 18 I know I will look back and wish I had spent even more time with her. “The days are long and the years are short.” “Enjoy every moment, it goes so fast.” This advice rings true to my heart.
I have also learned that the most peaceful home is a home where mom and dad have learned to “let it go.” This has taken a full 27 months for me to grasp. I can’t do it all. I can’t work, clean, keep up with laundry, dishes, work out, send birthday cards, and chase my toddler around, especially with an injury. Something will have to wait—whether it’s a pile of laundry that is waiting to be put away, or a pile of toys that needs to be picked up, or a mound of dishes . . . no one can possibly do it all. The first year is a year of survival. The best way to survive is to relax, go with the flow, don’t over-analyze everything, don’t try to control or over-structure things. Remember, your child is a mini-human. They aren’t an animal or a robot that you can program or control. There’s no manual to teach you the “right way” to meet their needs. It’s all trial and error and a lot of the time you’ll feel like you’re doing it all wrong when you’re actually doing it right.
What else have I learned?
Follow your instincts, ignore pop advice, listen to your baby, your body, and your mom, grandma or anyone else with gray hair. When in doubt, ask yourself what primitive cultures would do . . . (For example, they probably don’t have meltdowns when their babies and toddlers wake up at night. They probably don’t time their feedings or measure their food intake or put them on a rigid schedule. Western society is hilariously hypocritical—we feed our kids organic food but teach parents to ignore what’s natural when rearing them.)
What’s right for your family and baby may not be what your friends do. That’s OK. Erik and I have a unique schedule and travel quite a bit. Every time we’ve tried to put Scotlyn on some sort of a schedule something throws it off. So we’ve given up. We give her as much flexible structure as possible, make sure she gets rest, and try not to freak out if her bedtime is one hour later than we’d like it to be. When she gets older, she’ll have more of a routine. But for goodness sake . . . she’s one and a half years old!
“It is more blessed to give than to receive.” This is so true! Motherhood has reinforced that principle. From pregnancy to birth to nursing an infant, my body has not been my own. My mind has been full of things other than my own wants and needs.
Parenthood is an opportunity to be selfless. It’s hard. Frustrating. Exhausting. But so worth it. And you’ll find it less frustrating and exhausting if you go in with the right expectations.
Remember, for this season, it’s not about you. Let that fact sink in and you’ll be a whole lot happier. Fight that reality and you’ll probably resent being a parent.
Give yourself a break. Give your partner a break. Give your baby a break. Don’t beat yourself up over the little things. Breathe. Enjoy your baby. Drink in the good days and the bad days because I promise you, they are the best days of your life.
To sum it all up, the biggest life lesson I’ve learned (more like re-learned) is that peace only reigns in my heart when I trust Someone greater than myself. So I continue to make it my life’s passion to trust him with everything—the little things, and the big things. I try to pray about what might be troubling me or my child when she’s fussy and I don’t know why. And I ask Him to make my life and the life of my child a living testimony of His faithfulness.
This world is only part of the journey. Our children have a higher and greater purpose than just existing here.
If we can embrace that fact and teach our children to embrace it to, we will find true peace.