Notes To My Mothering Self
Lessons learned/what I'd tell myself 38 months ago.
Below are a few things I wish someone had told me before I had my first baby. That’s it.
I have only been parenting 38 months plus some change. No one is more acquainted with that fact (and the limits that fact represents) than I am. I know the future will hold hard things. And I’m not claiming to know everything about parenting. I’m claiming to know this small bit of my story.
So take this list for what it is. It’s meant to give courage and comfort. If you don’t want to read my words on parenting, or if you start to read them and don’t find them helpful, please send this to your “Trash” or move on to the next tab open in your browser. I won’t be offended.
So many wonderful people told me so many helpful things to prepare me for parenting. I am so thankful for those words I received.
And these are simply things I would add to that pile of good words I needed.
If I could back in time, this is what I’d tell my soon-to-be mothering self.
On decision making.
Data is an invaluable tool in this parenthood journey. Emily Oster is one of your B-List celebrities. But data alone is enough.
As Oster puts it: “The key to good decision making is taking the information, the data, and combining it with your own estimates of pluses and minuses.”
Data can tell you the benefits of breastfeeding past a certain age are negligible, some facts about sleep training and attachment, the benefits of reading aloud and early preschool. That data can’t tell you if you should breastfeed, what sleep habits will work for your baby and family, when and what you should read to your kids, if/when your child should go to preschool, etc. Wisdom is needed. And that wisdom will come from God’s word, community and your God-given instincts.
On parenting and marriage.
On the topic of data, it’s not good when it comes to marriage after kids. Your kids will upend your relationship with your spouse as you each feel exhausted and at the end of your rope. You’ll try to fix your problems by evening out the workload.
But here’s the thing: if you’re comparing who is working harder and carrying the bigger mental load, you’ll always be fighting a losing battle. It’s apples to oranges. So instead of attempting to make the workload even, work toward equitable rest with your partner. Figure out what needs to happen so each of you can rest, and rest well. That will take care of a lot of your problems.
Also, sometimes, there’s just a support deficit, there are more demands than the capacity to meet the demands.
EVERY baby is A LOT of work. There is no way to hack the around the clock feedings, diaper changes, increased laundry, etc. And in that season while your energy is consumed with caring for this little life, some things (maybe laundry or dishes or the yard upkeep) are just going to need to fall by the wayside so that you can obey the command to rest. That doesn’t mean that someone is failing or not handling their fair share. It’s just a reality of the season.
Without oxen a stable stays clean, but you need a strong ox for a large harvest.
(hat tip to K.C. Davis’ TikTok for helping me figure all of this out.)
On “mom friends.”
Yes, you kind of rolled your eyes at the idea of mom friends because of some hurt from your childless days. And so it shouldn’t be surprising that God will meet you with kindness and generosity through other moms who are in a similar season of life as you. It will ding your pride to realize you need these moms. But don’t let the humbling lead you to scorn the gift; receive it with gratitude and choose to love them in return.
And you can have mom friends and still embrace and celebrate your childless friends. It’s not an either/or. Shocking, I know.
On shame and guilt.
Kill the shame, and feel guilt over things worth feeling guilt over. Losing your temper, responding in selfishness, slothfulness, gossiping about your kids? Feel guilty, remember you are a beloved of God, confess your sin, make amends, and give thanks that the Spirit of God is working in you, making you new. Let guilt be a pathway to repentance and restoration.
But feeding your kids chicken nuggets 5 nights in a row and not getting 1000 Hours Outside because you haven’t slept more than four hours straight in three weeks? Yeah, don’t feel guilty about that.
On work + motherhood.
Before making decisions or changes in your work/home/motherhood life, ask yourself some good questions. Am I making this decision from a place of fear? Am I making this decision from a place insecurity or wanting to prove myself (or prove my ideology/theology on work and motherhood)? Is this choice born out of discontent and frustration, or from a space of belovedness and confidence in God’s good work for my life?
“When God calls, a Christian woman follows. [For me, pursuing work as a writer] wasn’t this paradigm of, “I am unsatisfied at home, I need more,” it was out of my mothering and out of my relationship with God.”
So much of parenting is a learned skill. That is humbling, because it means you might not be good at it. But there’s incredible freedom in the humility of embracing that perhaps you’re just not good at something yet, but you can learn and practice. You don’t need to label your baby as hard, or play an ugly game of comparison of “who has it harder.” Learn from those who share your values and know more than you, then show up daily to get to know your child and build a relationship with him/her, and keep practicing what’s hard, whether that’s soothing them when they’re hysterical, getting out of the door to go somewhere, or holding firm boundaries from a place of love.
On the parenting prosperity gospel.
It’s so easy to embrace the belief that if I do X, I’ll get Y. If I do baby-led weaning, I won’t have a picky eater and I WILL have a kid who eats everything. If I have my kids memorize scripture and read the best gospel-centered picture books to them, they will love God and His word. If I read out loud to my kids, they will love reading. If I limit screen time, I will be better than that other mom and my children will be perfect.
But here’s the thing. None of those Xs, guarantee the Y. Because parenting isn’t an equation to crack, a formula to develop, or a game to win. Parenting is a relationship with another person, who (like you) has their own beauty and brokenness. From where I sit right now, success in parenting is loving the person before you, embracing humility, walking in wisdom and obeying God.
So whatever X you do, do it for its own sake, as an act of obedience, because it brings you joy, because it works for your family. Scripture gives a few very important parenting principles and much liberty on the particulars of parenting. The only things that you’ll find abundantly clear in God’s Word is that children are people, and the Bible gives pretty clear instruction and direction about how to treat people. The specifics of how to parent should be made through prayer, before God, attentive to His word, drawing on wisdom, and in the context of community (which should be people in our real life and resources we have access to).
Along with that, remember that “a flexible heart is a discerning heart” (Ronald Rolheiser). Do not be a slave to a philosophy, parenting style or someone’s approval. There’s a difference between inconsistency and sloth, and wisely recognizing that what you’re doing isn’t right or working. Maybe you got some things wrong, or maybe your life changed. Making adjustments is a sign of wisdom, not a moral failure.
A flexible heart is a discerning heart, it picks up each moment and discerns the true and the false voices within it. It asks, in each moment, “Where does love lie for my child in all this?”
On being undone and remade.
You will be shocked by the wonder and beauty of your children. Shocked, I tell you. You don’t think that’s possible. You read books that talk about how sinful babies are from birth and you have read too many social medias posts complaining about children. So you’re kind of expecting the worst. And while yes, children have the same fallen nature as all of us, they will upend you and your little world in the most beautiful, exhausting, and profound of ways.
Your babies’ unabashed desire for you, the comfort, security and solace they find in your presence, the smile they give you when you get them up in the morning, their need to be with you when they are hurting, upset and tired, and their lack of interest in your skills and success will strip you of your “disenchantment, sloth, and radical individualism” (to borrow more Hannah Anderson words).
Your children’s existence and your relationship with them will fundamentally change the way you relate to God, the way you see the world and the way you love others. Parenthood is not the only path to this type of growth and change, but it will be yours. What a gift.