This time last year, the simple act of reclining was my dream. With thirty pounds overwhelming my abdomen and another five unevenly dispersed between my wrists and ankles, there was no reclining to be had. Baby might flip, they said, so I should lie on my left side if I desired to lounge. Otherwise, my options were to sit upright (which proved both boring and tiring), stand (and allow gravity the opportunity to draw my puffiness down to what were formerly my ankles), or bounce on my beloved Bosu ball (which forced me to finally practice my kegel exercises in a feeble attempt not to wet myself).
Many of my pregnant friends are in the midst of similar circumstances, which brings back all the memories. I’m also reminiscing because Hadley’s first birthday is but a few weeks away (though in many ways, I still feel pregnant, ha!). As they say, it goes by fast. Just shy of a year later, I think I finally have enough margin in my brain to acknowledge the things I’m learning that deserve documentation. Lest you believe I’m sharing with the goal of teaching you something, dear reader, here is my disclaimer: I’m mostly writing to myself! These are the lessons I want to remember for as long as God allows me the grace of being a mama.
Reminder #1: Don’t hold onto methods. Hold onto Jesus.
Mommy advice is helpful… sometimes. It’s a beautiful thing to ask questions and to learn from those who have gone before you. Many of my motherhood victories happened by sheer imitation. I’ve learned a lot from the wise mamas with whom I’ve had the blessing of rubbing shoulders. But I’ve also painstakingly learned that sometimes, okay, many times, the advice of mommy mentors and friends just doesn’t work for your family, and that is okay. As a hypothetical—okay, personal example, if you’re implementing surefire Babywise techniques and your little one refuses to consistently sleep through the night until 10 months of age, no sweat! The Spirit is with you in the midst of that middle of the night feeding. Don’t frustratedly miss out on him because whatever method you’re implementing isn’t “working” the same way it did for others. This is hard for someone like myself. I love systems and formulas, but I know in my heart it’s a good thing our earthly plans aren’t always “successful.” If we could achieve all of our parenting goals by reading books or talking with friends, we wouldn’t need Jesus. The methods aren’t bad, but we’re missing the greatest security of all when we fall back on them instead of him.
Reminder #2: Resist comparison like it’s a disease.
Hadley recently overcame her first sickness at 11 months of age: Hand, Foot, and Mouth disease. Woof. If you’re reading and you don’t have kids I trust you’re utterly disgusted, so I’ll refer to it as HFM from this point forward. The HFM virus spreads through contact with objects an infected person has touched, contact with their bodily fluids, or, get this, THE AIR. Basically, if you’re under six and you’re around a kid that has HFM, the odds are against you. Kiddos don’t show symptoms until days after they’ve caught it, so they run around unknowingly infecting others. The transmission of this contagious sickness is similar to that of comparison. It can happen even before you see it coming and in a number of ways: comparison to other mamas, comparison to your pre-baby self, comparison to your ideal self, comparison to other kiddo’s development, or their clothing, or their toys, and the list goes on. Speaking from experience, it is like a toxic disease that will only lead to one of two things: dissatisfaction or defeat. It puts us at odds with ourselves, other mamas, and as cliché as it sounds (thanks to the well-known quote), it will wreck havoc on our joy. But comparison isn’t something you can just resolve to stop doing. Trust me, I’ve tried. There’s no way to eradicate it alone. We need Jesus, the healer of all disease, sickness, and infirmity to give us a new set of eyes: eyes that see both others and ourselves through the lens of grace.
Reminder #3: Show others as much grace as you expect them to show you.
When you get pregnant it’s like you’re growing a giant bulls-eye on your stomach that says, “OVER HERE! Direct all of your pregnancy and parenting advice towards me!” People will start dishing it out like free candy on Halloween—minus the whole knocking on the door and saying, “Trick-or-treat,” fun. Contrary to Halloween candy, lots of the time the advice you receive as a mama comes from strangers. They may not know how to approach your new, hormonal, and very-tired self in a gentle manner, which will likely result in hurt feelings. People warned me that random people would freely comment on the size, development, and behavior of my child, but it still totally caught me off guard. After a few startling instances, I determined to grow a thicker skin. I snarled my way around the grocery store with a comeback in tow, ready to defend my baby from eager advice-givers. That’s when it hit me. I need to be quick to respond to our offenders in grace, instead of passing judgment on them. The parable of the servant in Matthew 18 comes to mind. A man owed ten thousand talents to the king. He should have lost everything, but his master pitied him and forgave him of his debt. Moments later, the forgiven servant sought out another man who owed him a small debt of only a hundred denarii. The forgiven servant proceeded to choke the man and demand that he pay the debt. My point? I am like this servant who has no place to be choke-holding anyone. Christ has forgiven me, the chief of sinners, and I should overflow that same mercy and grace to others.
Reminder #4: Stop trying to be the perfect parent.
Throughout pregnancy I read books on the birthing process, pored over parenting blogs, researched the best baby gear, and took notes from my aforementioned mommy mentors. In my quest to do the best thing for my baby I came across the book, “Give them Grace,” by Elyse Fitzpatrick. Its message is that your child doesn’t need a perfect parent. He or she needs Jesus. And by the same token, you don’t need to be a perfect parent to prove anything to yourself, your kid, or to others. You aren’t perfect! And that’s a beautiful thing, because Jesus is. We can lay our methods, our performance, and our expectations at the foot of the cross, resolving to walk humbly, knowing that more than anything or anyone, we need Jesus. The Gospel of grace must be central in all things, especially in our motherly hearts. That is so incredibly freeing!
Last year’s dream has become reality. I’m typing while reclining with a cup of (caffeinated) tea in hand and my almost one year old is fast asleep in her crib. Looking down, I see unclenched fists, which were forced open when surefire methods failed me. I feel contentment that can only come from delighting in a Father who knows and loves both Hadley and myself more than I ever could. I feel compassion towards those offering unsolicited advice. And more than ever, I know my need to look away from myself and to look to Jesus, the author and perfecter of my faith in all seasons, especially motherhood.