As my husband and I anticipated the arrival of our first child, we knew we needed to be prepared. We got the stuff (much of which turned out to be useless). We read the books, the blogs, and the articles. We set up her nursery, washed and folded her tiny clothes, assembled her crib, and waited impatiently for her debut. And then she came. And she was beautiful. And wonderful. And our lives were changed forever.
Having your first child is sort of like starting your first job. You learn a lot of stuff in school, but until you're given context through experience, preparation only goes so far. There was a vast difference between what I thought would be necessary and what turned out to be truly essential. I discovered that most of what I learned didn't come from books or blogs, but through the daily death-to-self required to sustain an infant.
So, here are a few things I learned (the hard way) during my first year of motherhood:
1. Kids make terrible gods.
By nature, we make idols out of the things we love most, often without realizing it. We're given children as a gift to steward, but before long we're bowing down to them like golden calves. We look to them for validation, for proof that we're in control and living up to the latest parenting standards.
But fortunately, like every other idol, our kids eventually fail us. They poop themselves at the most inopportune times. They cry when we desperately need sleep. They are always hungry. They make us feel helpless and out of control, and that’s when we realize that they cannot deliver the validation, approval, and identity we’re looking for. These desires have already been met in Christ, which is the most important thing I’m learning as a mom. It’s a daily struggle.
2. Husbands are daddies too.
After nine uncomfortable months of pregnancy, I was tempted to believe that I was our daughter's primary caretaker. After all, I did most of the work in getting her here, and I knew more about caring for her daily needs. Plus, I'm a pediatric nurse practitioner, so keeping kids alive is pretty much what I do. While I wouldn’t have admitted it, I thought my baby daddy's parenting opinions just didn't matter.
But our child was born into a family, and my husband is indeed the head of our household. Our daughter has a mother and a father (not to mention an entire community). I need his voice of reason when I'm an emotional mess. I need gospel reminders when my child becomes an idol. I need to be reassured that 5 minutes worth of crib tears simply will not traumatize her. Plus, my husband is a pretty smart guy. He knows how to swaddle, bathe, burp, and change a diaper. He makes animal sounds, reads books, and cuddles. I need him, and our kids need him too. We make parenting decisions as a team, which hasn't been easy, but choosing to submit in this way has been incredibly lifegiving for me.
3. The ultimate goal of parenting is to make disciples.
Every book and every blog has a different goal in mind when it comes to A+ parenting. For some, it's adequate nutrition (nothing but organic, cage-free, gluten-free, vegan foods). For others, it's breastfeeding for the first year and beyond. For still others, it's the Bradley Method, the Ferber Method, Baby Wise, baby-led weaning, or the next latest and greatest. These are certainly helpful tools, but they can crush us if we turn them into law. Personally, I wanted to meet every single expectation. I needed to know that I measured up. But most of my goals were rooted in fear ("If I don't breastfeed my child for 12 months, how will they ever get into college?!”). This left me exhausted and defeated.
But as followers of Christ, our standard of success in parenting is not the same as the world's. That's not to say we shouldn't parent thoughtfully or care about nutrition. Of course we should! But our ultimate goal is to make disciples and steward our children to the glory of God. Believing that God is my child’s Father—long before I am my child’s mother—frees me to parent joyfully and from a place of trust. And I need that. Because making disciples is a long-term process without many measurables along the way.
4. Mommy-blogs can be dangerous. Use caution.
I’ve learned to be careful when looking to mommy-blogs, internet articles, and Pinterest posts for parenting advice. There is certainly helpful information out there, but it all has to be filtered through biblical truth and sound wisdom. As a general rule, we filter parenting advice through the following grid:
- Is this safe for our child?
- How will this affect our marriage?
- How will this affect our ability to engage in biblical community?
Think wisdom, discernment, and community. We can avoid much of our confusion by talking to actual people we trust and respect rather than the nearest search engine.
5. Comparison is a strategy of Satan.
Scripture warns us against giving the enemy a foothold to breed disunity in our midst. Instead, we're told to replace all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander, and malice with kindness, tenderheartedness, and forgiveness (Ephesians 4:27-31). Comparison always results in either pride or despair. Bitterness, resentment, covetousness, and jealousy will eat up your soul. So if you find yourself resenting other moms because their children sleep better than yours, you need to repent. If you find yourself scorning other moms because no one else managed to breastfeed for 3 whole years, you need to repent. Comparison tears the Body down, but repentance builds the Body up. We are a family, and we serve one another without sizing one another up.
I've struggled with this more than I'd like to admit. Rather than looking for ways to serve and encourage other moms, I secretly use them as a litmus test to rate my own performance. I have to continually repent and ask for God to renew a right spirit within me (Psalm 51). It’s hard, but for the sake of our unity and sanctification, it's worth it.
6. Enjoy every minute!
Everyone says kids grow up fast. But, really, they grow faster than I could’ve imagined. It's not easy to see the blessing of the 3am feedings. It’s not fun knowing that dry shampoo has been keeping the stank out of your hair for the past week. But there is so much joy… the joy of witnessing the miracle of a life created, nourished, and sustained by the hand of God. Enjoy it!