You've been on my heart a lot lately, first time Mama. I've watched you nearly bursting with anticipation to meet this precious little one you've had the privilege of carrying these past months - and now that time is nearly here. You've done everything to prepare that you could possibly think of: attended classes, read books, chosen names, purchased baby gear, researched all the "things", written up your "birth plan" and now all that remains is just to wait. You dream, and try to remind yourself that you will in fact, meet this baby one day very soon, Lord willing.
So while you're waiting and dreaming, I want to encourage you with some things that I've learned along the way. I don't claim to be an expert on anything, but I'll pass on what wisdom I've gained. :)
Keep An Eternal Perspective. I say this one first, probably because it's the most difficult. When you stand before God one day to give an account for your children, He will not ask you whether or not you chose to vaccinate your children, whether they were breastfed, or bottle-fed, or whether you sent them to private school, public school, or home schooled them. You get the idea. ;) Your calling as a mother is a sacred one: to raise up children in the fear and admonition of the Lord - for His glory, and for His purposes. That, Mama, is your ultimate goal. Period. So when you are having a crisis over which carseat is safest, or whether you should be making your own homemade organic baby food instead of buying the kind at the store, remember your goal. Pray, as Jonathan Edwards did, that God would "stamp eternity on your eyeballs".
Your Marriage Comes First. You've just been given a new identity: Mommy! Your family life will always look different from this point forward. Want to give your children the very best? Focus on your marriage first. Before you were a mother, you were a wife. Someday (I know it's hard to even imagine at this point - and probably will be when you're in the throes of potty training too . . . ) this itty bitty baby will grow up and leave home, and it will be just the two of you once more. Marriage is hard work in the best of times, and there will be plenty of times it will be easy to put it aside because you're so busy with the baby. Don't make that mistake. Children are naturally self centered, and it's doing no one any favors to promote the fallacy that the world revolves around them. Make a point to offer your husband the best, and not just the worn out leftovers. Mentally plan ahead to when he comes home, so that you can engage with him. Make time for intimacy - even if that doesn't look like it did before baby. My kids never did well with a sitter when they were tiny, and you know what? That's okay too! Plan to get the baby down a little sooner one evening, and maybe even make a point to take a nap that day, so you won't be exhausted when your husband comes home. Order dinner in, and make it a "home date" night. Play a board game together. Do something that shows your husband that you are thinking of him - a simple text during the day, making his favorite dessert, etc. You are striving together to model for the world the glorious love between Christ and his Bride, the Church. It takes effort, especially in the little years, but it is so worth it.
Take It With A Grain Of Salt. Probably since the earliest time your baby bump started to make an appearance, everyone and their Uncle has been offering you advice. One of my favorite phrases from an author I've come to respect is: "Eat the meat, and spit out the bones." Your Mom, your best friend, the lady from church, and the well intentioned check out person will all have opinions and ideas about how you should be raising your baby. But here's the thing; God gave this child to you. He has given you the grace you need to raise this baby, and he will continue to do so as you trust in Him. There are so many decisions that come with babies. One friend may say co-sleeping is the only way your baby will feel secure. Your Grandma Hazel may say that rocking the baby for exactly five minutes and putting them in the bassinet to fall asleep on their own is the only way to go. Every child is different. What works for your friend's baby might be something your baby hates. It's your job as Mama to learn the way God wired your baby - and find what works best for your family. The only standard you should be measuring yourself against is the one God has given you. So take a deep breath, relax, and ask God to help you. He is faithful, and he designed motherhood to make you dependent on Him, instead of your own strength.
Keep Yourself Fed. While this is true in the literal sense, especially if you're breastfeeding, it's even more important in the spiritual sense. You need God's word in your ears right now. Get creative with your time - listen to an audio Bible while you're in the shower, or in your headphones while you're taking the baby for a walk. I used to prop up my Bible on a nightstand or end table while I was nursing (especially since in the beginning, those sessions can last for a while!) and read out loud to my baby. At first, yes, you feel completely foolish reading Psalms out loud to your newborn. Do it anyway. What has more worth? God's Word, or "Goodnight Moon"? Certainly, you'll be reading your fair share of sweet bedtime stories too in the years to come. :) Your baby is used to hearing your voice from the safety of that warm space beneath your heart - listening to you read is soothing for them, and helps you focus on the text. You are exhausted, and your body is still recovering, which means your hormones are haywire. You need the Truth in front of your face, and in your ears constantly.
Rest. Really. More than you think you need to. This one is completely counter-cultural especially in our "I-just-had-a-baby-two-weeks-ago-but-I'm-already-back-into-my-skinny-jeans-and-ready-to-go-back-to-work" climate. Your body is healing physically, you need time to adjust emotionally, and your baby will not benefit from a bleary-eyed sleepwalking Mommy, even if the house is immaculate. Give yourself time. As eager as you are to get back to "going and doing", stay at home and rest. Enjoy this time, and give yourself grace to just be. This time will be taxing enough on you without adding lots more activity. Plan to use paper plates. Ask your husband to take over the laundry for a while. Resting is just as much of a discipline as being industrious, and is becoming a "lost art". Find ways to make time for rest. (This will become even more important when you have more babies!)
Hold Your Baby Loosely. I don't mean that swaddling is forbidden. ;) God has given you this precious baby, and given you the awesome task of shepherding her little soul. In the end, though, you are only stewarding her for a time. One day, she will be grown, and it will be your task to "release the arrow" as it were. Remember #1? God has brought this little life into the world in His timing, for His purposes, and He loves her even more than you do. Her life is His hands, and you can rest in that. I used to agonize over the "what if's" with my first baby - "What if she stops breathing in the middle of the night, and I don't realize it? What if we get into an accident and her carseat isn't tight enough? What if she puts something poisonous into her mouth when I'm not looking?" Remember that God has Sovereignly ordained every one of her days, and nothing on this earth can alter His will for her life. (Psalm 139:16)
Be Consistent. Babies and small children thrive on predictability and routine. Aim for the same "bedtime" every night. Try to have naps around the same time every day. Begin as you mean to go. If you're not planning on having to spend half an hour rocking your two year old to sleep for every nap time or bedtime, don't get them accustomed to having it all throughout their babyhood. Please don't misunderstand: rock your baby! By all means! Let Grandma rock your baby to sleep! There is nothing that says you have to adhere rigidly to any kind of "method". Just aim to be consistent in general with the lifestyle your family has. This certainly applies as your baby gets older too. Don't be wishy-washy in your expectations. This takes a lot of work from your end too! It is easier sometimes to ignore bad behavior because you're just too tired to deal with it for the umpteenth time that day. Don't give up. It is not wrong for you to expect a child to obey you. Every time.
Let Your Husband Help. I know this kind of sounds like a no-brainer. I mean, you just gave birth, you're exhausted, and you can use all the help you can get, right?? Especially with your first baby, it is easier sometimes to swoop in because you want to spare your baby the discomfort of Daddy's somewhat less experienced hands than to listen to them struggle to figure it out. He needs this time to learn and grow as a Father just as you are learning and growing. Leave the baby with him for half an hour while you take a long shower. Let him take the baby for a drive. Let him find his way as a Daddy without you "coaching" him as tempting as it might be, or innocent as your intentions may seem. My Mom has told me stories of when I was an infant, and she would be worn out after a day of dealing with a colicky baby, and my Dad would take me into the middle of the living room, sit in a rocking chair, and blast Rock & Roll. And I loved it. It might not make sense to you, but let your husband be a Daddy in his own way.
Stay Humble. This one is especially important. It was so easy for me, before I became a mother, to judge other's children, or their parenting methods. To roll my eyes and say "MY child will never . . . !" In the body of Christ, there is no room for "Mommy Wars". What God has called one mother to, may not be the same as what he has called you to. You may never know the full circumstances behind another family's situation.
You are going to make mistakes. Lots of them. Be willing to admit when you are wrong, and seek forgiveness. There may come a time when you have burned dinner, the washing machine just broke, and your three year old darling just did something that you've told her a thousand times not to do, and you lose it. Our children need to recognize that Mommy & Daddy are sinners too, in need of God's grace, just as they are. Ask her forgiveness, and ask her to pray with you that Jesus would give you patience, and lovingkindness. It is a seriously humbling experience to ask forgiveness from your three year old. Ask me how I know. ;)
Seek Wisdom. Not just "ten steps to getting your baby to sleep through the night" kind of wisdom. Obviously, you've been doing a lot of learning since you found out you were going to embark on this journey of Motherhood. It never stops. Parenting is a constant learning curve. Once you think you have something figured out, you're moving onto some completely new and mystifying experience. Hopefully your primary source of wisdom will come from the Bible, since God has so much to say on the matter, but certainly seek out practical wisdom from other sources as well. Find a family in your church whose children are enjoyable to be around, or even a family who has teens who are respectful and honor their parents, and talk to their parents about the way they raise their kids. Keep reading. Keep praying. Here are some resources that I have found to be valuable:
- Give them Grace - by Elyse Fitzpatrick
- Shepherding A Child's Heart - by Tedd Tripp
- Loving the Little Years - by Rachel Jankovic
- On Becoming Babywise - by Gary Ezzo & Robert Bucknam
- Treasuring Christ When Your Hands Are Full - by Gloria Furman
- Mom Enough: The Fearless Mother's Heart and Hope - by Desiring God
If you're breastfeeding:
- The Nursing Mother's Companion - by Kathleen Huggins
For Family Devotions (you can start these when your toddler is old enough to sit through simple Bible stories!):
- Long Story Short - by Marty Machowski
- Old Story New
For practical advice on Motherhood, and generally Godly Womanhood:
A good (and fun!) way to start your littles learning Scripture:
Sing the Bible with Slugs & Bugs
I am so excited for you as you begin this journey! Motherhood is a refining fire, and through it you will continually be confronted with your own sinfulness, your need for Christ, the beauty of His abundant Grace, and the miracle of His love for you. Nothing can prepare you for the moment when you first lay eyes on flesh of your flesh, and bone of your bone - when you hear for the first time a voice that has never been heard on the face of the earth before - and when you get to know the person God fashioned so exquisitely, in His image, for such a time as this. Enjoy the journey, from a fellow traveler. Congratulations, Mama!
Grace and Peace,