Thursday, October 17, 2013

Advice for Jen

My precious cousin, Jen, just had her first baby.  When my aunt asked me to give her some advice this summer on becoming a new mom, there was only one criteria:  let it be light-hearted.  Light-hearted?   At the time she asked, I was stuck in a tunnel of parental weariness where I wasn't seeing many light-hearted things about being a mom.  

Here's my first draft:    
1)  You will be tired, FOOOREEEEVER.                                 
Does that count as light-hearted advice?   

2)  There will ALWAYS be something you will be training out of your child. Always.         
Is that encouraging enough?

3)  I have been doing the same load, SAME LOAD, of laundry for 15 years.    
Fun stuff. 

4)  You will forevermore fight feelings of failure.
What a downer.

I might as well have given Jen a prescription for anti-depressants along with her baby gift with all the "light-hearted" advice that was rolling from my pen.   All my aunt was looking for was fun advice about childbirth and new baby issues.    There was no need for the Eeyore warnings.     
Perhaps, it's because I have a mild case of parental confusion. 
The reading pile beside my bed consists of three books:  
1)  What to Expect When You Are Expecting.
2)  Shepherding Your Child's Heart.
3)  I Kissed Dating Goodbye.   
I told my OB doctor this and she raised her eyebrows when I mentioned the dating book.    In case she was confused about my interest in dating, I clarified that I indeed had kissed serial dating goodbye many years ago when I got married, but I was currently reading it with my teenage son.   She added a positive spin---"at least you haven't bought a pre-menopause book yet." Awesome.  Like I'm not already feeling a little bit old sitting beside all these spunky twenty-something mamas in the waiting room.  

Light-hearted.  Upbeat.  Fun. 
Light-hearted.  Upbeat.  Fun.   

Draft #2: 
Advice for a new mama:    

Sounds like a Doomsday prediction.
Surely I'm not so jaded that I can't remember all the excitement and fears and questions about being a new mom.    
Dear Lord, remind me...

And then...
I lay waiting anxiously on an ultrasound table to hear my own baby's heartbeat.    
An external scan at an earlier doctor's appointment had picked up nothing but silence.
The ultrasound would reveal whether there was still life.  
In those few hours of waiting, I knew without a shadow of a doubt that I totally wanted to be a new mama again.   I was no longer too tired.   I was eager to do more laundry.   The forever training didn't seem so daunting.   
Because there's nothing that revives a tired mama's soul than to hear the beating of her own baby's heartbeat echoing through the room. 
The hours stretched on.           
Finally, the tech began the scan.   
A tiny fluttering filled the screen and the ultrasound broadcasted my new little baby's heartbeat loud and clear.
The sound of a new life. 
Instantly, I became a new, yet old mama once again. 

All of the sudden, I was filled with all sorts of memories of love stories for Jen and moments of pure joy that come with falling in love with your new baby for the first time.   Childbirth---a necessary means to a blessed gift.  Lack of sleep---inevitable.  All of the worries of being a new mom...part of the journey. The light-hearted (and somewhat useless) advice to Jen came easier as I thought about all the things I'll remind myself having a baby again fifteen years after becoming a first time mom.            

To Jen, 
There’s no perfect, fool-proof way to raise kiddos.   The more kids I have, the more I realize how little I actually know.  There's a book called, I Was A Really Great Mom Before I Had Kids.  It's kinda true.  Every child is different, every family is different, and you really have to pray for wisdom continually, beg God on behalf of your children, and make lots of adjustments as you go.   Never forget that there’s only one perfect parent:  Our Heavenly Father.   He’s perfect and look how we’ve wandered.  "No matter how great of a job you do parenting, your children will not make it through your home unscathed." (Kandy Jackson quote)  Don’t wallow in guilt.  Cling to God's mercy and grace.  There’s no way you are going to do it perfectly, so show yourself and show your husband the same mercy and grace.   And surround yourself with Godly moms that can encourage you and pass on all their wisdom to you!
1) Child birth advice:  Our moms did it all natural.   They didn’t have a choice.    You get to pick.  Not by choice, I've had to do it both ways (you know I have no tolerance for pain, so I was certainly not a likely candidate for natural child-birth.)   There was no award for going the natural route--even though you do feel like Super Woman for a couple minutes afterward.   And then you feel like Super Woman who has just been hit by a truck.    Don't feel bad if you want an epidural.  Let's face it, Chris will thank you FOREVER if you get one.    Either way, the baby is the award...not the method by which you deliver.        

2)  Grace abounds during delivery.    Anything you do or say will not be held against you while you are birthing a child.   Even if you turn into Satan for a period of time.  But also know, your husband will remember and it will become part of his “labor story” to share with your mom and friends later.   

3)  Nursing…try it…it can be really precious time.  But please, please, please don’t be one of those women that wears around shirts that say things like, “Breast:  The New White Milk.”   Some things should just be done and enjoyed without making a public statement about it.   I'm not saying you shouldn't nurse in public---nurse anywhere you want---BUT for goodness sake, don't wear a t-shirt advertising it. 

4)   Be ready for the first time Chris wakes up in the morning with total joy and exclaims with bright, rested eyes, “The baby slept through the night!”    “No, Chris, no, she didn’t. Daddy just slept through the night, but baby and mommy were still up four times.”   Good for the dads that they can sleep through anything.   Must be nice...(there's a bit of the martyr mom syndrome coming out)               

5)   Hold loosely your baby’s schedule.   She will not be eternally messed up if she doesn’t eat every day at the exact same time or if her nap is an hour later than it was yesterday.   A schedule is to help you…not to enslave you…

6)   If you want to make all of your own baby food, do it!   That’s for the over-achievers and I’m pretty sure you do get an award for that.   You’ll have to talk to someone else about that because I couldn't even find my food processor until last year.  It has never once been used to grind up baby food. (Judge away.)  If you don’t want to make her food, think of all the time you’ll save by just buying the baby food in jars.  It even comes organic if you are so inclined, but I’m almost positive your baby will not grow a third eye if you just buy the normal baby food in jars.         
7)   Don’t feel guilty if you don’t want to rock your baby to sleep!  Your baby will turn out just fine.   

8)  BUT…don’t feel guilty if you DO want to rock your baby to sleep.    There might be some days that the only part of the day you enjoy is the moment the baby is quiet and you are rocking her to sleep.  If you want to rock her--enjoy it--don’t let your friends or a book tell you how to put your child to bed.  Do what works for you and Chris!

 9)  I hope you are a mama who loves to play with their kids.    I’m not really THAT mom.   I just don’t really like playing much of anything.   So, play away if you love to, but if you don’t like to play either have six kids so they all have a built-in playmate, or take them to grandma's house.  Because grandmas can play all day long without getting tired. 

10)  Beware…your children will do all those things you always said your kids would never do…and then some…

11)  You will never again judge the mom in the grocery store with the little one throwing the fit…instead you will walk by in relief knowing that today is her day to be “that” mom…yesterday was your day.

12)   Kids have sketchy memories.   I learned this one from my mom. She used to always talk about “pulling taffy” on snow days.   Finally, my brother and I looked at each other and said “Do you have a memory of this?”  No.  Neither one of us had the memory aside from our mom's stories.   “Mom, did we really ever pull taffy?”   Once or twice.   She admitted once or twice.   So, play games one Friday night and a month later begin talking to your kids about the tradition of how you always played games when they were growing up on Friday nights.   Is there really harm in planting the memory to your advantage?

13)  Forget about going to the bathroom by yourself.  Even shutting the bathroom door will not keep your little ones away.   They will sit down outside the door and just keep talking to you through the door.   You really need a safe room if you want to ever have silence again.

14)  Be careful what you say at home.   It will be repeated loudly in public.     

15)   Make sure your kids feel free to question you or ask you to clarify something they don’t understand.   I have a daughter who misunderstood something that she overheard and for days thought that before Preston and I got married, that her father actually preferred men to women.   What she misunderstood was a discussion I was having with someone where I had said, “Before Preston was engaged...” She thought I said, "Before Preston was gay..." (That's probably an important rumor to squelch.  Here's where you need to get started on the counseling fund.)

16)   Don’t give your kids a choice about what they want to eat when they are toddlers.    They are 3.  What do they know?   Fix their plate…put it in front of them and say, “Here’s lunch.  Let’s eat.”   If they don’t like it, “Better luck next meal, Kiddo.”    I gave my oldest the choice on which part of the plate I even put the food ("Where should the ketchup go?"  "Where should the nuggets go?").  Is there any doubt, I created a food monster for a couple years.    It all came to a head when my mom put some delicious smelling soup in front of him and he looked at her and arrogantly stated, “I’m not eating this crap soup, Grammy.”  They don’t need a choice on what to eat.  Nothing good will come of it.        

17)   Bless you if you want to cut the crusts off the sandwiches and apple peels off the apples.   Don’t feel bad if you don’t have time for that nonsense though.   Just tell them that in your home for ten years they get to eat the crusts and apple peels, but when they turn ten you will gladly give them use of a knife to do whatever they want with the edges of food.  By that point, you aren’t going to care what they eat.

18)  Don’t spend too much time fretting if your preschooler teaches her friends, “We’re Sexy and We Know It.”  Clap, clap, clap, clap.    Your child will come home with plenty of things that other kids have taught her that make you cringe.   But if they slip and say an inappropriate word or phrase, NEVER, NEVER, NEVER ask them where they heard it in front of other people…because the answer may be YOU…and that’s always embarrassing.

19)   Don’t feel bad if you love being a mom…but have moments when just hate doing all the things that a mom has to do every day.   Call your mom or sister on those days and have them come help you or take you out for coffee or bring you a Diet Coke.   Don’t call me, Jen, because I don’t like doing all that stuff and I’ll just jump right into your pity party and drag you down.  Call one of the encouragers in your life and make some of those repetitive mom tasks more fun!         

20)   Finally, a dear friend reminded me, "In a healthy family, everyone gets a turn having their needs met.  Our kids need to learn that sometimes it’s just NOT THEIR TURN." 
So Jen, you are going to be a fantastic mom.  All of us are going to love this baby and pray for this baby. I’m super excited to see how your sense of humor explodes into even more hilarity as you deal with kids and mommying.  Like when Chris comes home and asks you in that tone of voice, “So, what did YOU DO all day?” (“Nothing.  I did nothing.  Ate some chocolate.  Watched some Lifetime movies.  In fact, I don’t even know where your kid is.”)  Or when you yell at the kids to get ready to go to the pool for a swim and they yell back, “Do we need to get on our bathing suits? (“Did they lose their brains?”)  Or when your three-year old insists on going into a public bathroom with only his older brother—and he’s like the 5th child so you don’t pay much attention until he tells you he would have been faster, but he had to clean the “mud” off the toilet first.  The slightly pale older brother confirms that the "mud" wasn't really "mud."  (Gag.)  Or when you are walking into the CU/CSU football game wearing CU black and gold clothing and your daughter exclaims loudly for all to hear, “We are the big black family!”  (All you can say is, "Go Buffs!") 
Or in twelve years, when your overly honest/working on holding his tongue pre-teen looks at you and says,
You know, Mom, you really just aren’t that good with kids.”   
At that moment, you realize in relief, that your secret is out...after so many years of parenting, there is still so much you have left to learn.  
Jen, I can’t wait to hear your stories and get YOUR advice in future years!    

Love you always!