I have been out of the blogging game for WAAAAY too long, but alas, I make a brief return. I'm not going to promise to update frequently, because I'm done kidding myself. I have 2 toddlers, I'm in my 3rd trimester with my 3rd son, I run a photography business, I run a household while my husband slaves away at the hospital, I'm a party planner, a graphic designer, a website designer, an author and the list goes on. So no, I'm not going to promise an entry every week or even every month. But what I will promise is that when I get inspiration, I will write.
Over the past couple of months, I've started to write a blog entry about parenting. But I always deleted it. I have read so many articles (both good and bad) about parenting and so often it inspires me (or angers me) into wanting to write my own. But I never sit down and actually do it. Well today... I will, because it's as if the Holy Spirit was saying "WRITE THE BLOG ALREADY!"
Yesterday, a friend from college asked me for some books, websites or anything that would help guide her and her husband on their journey to starting their family. I was shocked. Why would someone ask me? I'm not a perfect wife. I'm not a perfect mother. And let's be honest... I'm just not perfect in any way. But I'm humbled by the notion that someone thinks of me as a source for this type of information. So, if you aren't ready for some advice... don't read on. If you want to read my bullet points... voila, they appear below.
Based on my experiences thus far in parenting, to new parents or those preparing for a family, know the following:
In no particular order:
1. You will fail. (Starting on a high note, eh?) But you can succeed. You will have good days as a wife/husband and you will have good days as a mother/father. But you will have bad days. And they actually come frequently. If you go into parenting thinking you will conquer all everyday, you will be sadly surprised.
I'm a perfectionist; I'm very competitive; And I'm very ambitious, so I went into parenting thinking I would rock it. Well, after the 25th dirty diaper, the 3rd change of clothes for me and the kids, the 7th time I've cleaned up the same toys and the 100th time I've said "turn on your listening ears," I'm done. I'm ready to check out. But it's only 10am. Husband won't be home for another 8 hrs or more, and I'm there with the kids, failing. I have no patience left. So what do I do? Get out of the house. I'm failing at home, so let's change the environment and see if I can succeed there. So when you feel like you are failing, try something else. Try something new. You can succeed even on a bad day.
2. Parenting is a team sport. Thank God for your spouse. When I have nothing left at the end of a day and Jacob comes home and takes over even to just give me a second to go to the bathroom without an audience or to cook dinner without a toddler wrapped around my leg, I think "God gave me one heck of a teammate." And I make sure to tell Jacob that. Your spouse needs to hear it. Tell them you appreciate them.
3. Stay pretty. Parenting can suck out the beauty of you if you let it. You may not be able to shower because the kids are too demanding of your time from the minute you wake up. You may not get a chance to brush your teeth until after lunch time because the baby wanted to eat every 5 minutes. You may not be able to wear the cutest clothes because they aren't toddler friendly (say goodbye to white clothing forever.) But at the end of the day, find something that makes you feel pretty. For me, it's painting my toe nails. It seems silly, but if I can find the 5 minutes every couple of weeks to paint my toe nails, I feel like I can conquer the day better. Keep in mind that although you are a parent, you are still a spouse too (a subject for full blog for another day). Doing things to make yourself feel pretty will help keep the fire alive in your marriage as well as give you confidence to conquer the day as a parent.
4. Don't read most parenting blogs/websites. I laugh as I type this, because of course, that is what you are doing now. What I mean is, for some odd reason, a lot parenting sites are set up to scare you, provide a forum for people to complain about their children or spouse, discourage your from growing your family and more. I can't figure out how this is supposed to be helpful, but thousands upon thousands of people view these sites every day. (There are some good ones out there, but they are far and few between! I tend to share some of my favorites on Facebook if you are ever looking for a good, quality one.) Instead, look to the advice of family and friends that you trust. They are the ones who love you and your children and can provide help and advice that will line up with your belief system better.
5. Evaluate yourself. After a rough day with the kids, I sit down and think "What did I do today to exasperate the issue?" "Was there something I could have done differently?" "Were my actions today based in Love?" You'd be shocked how much that can help the next day. Whether you are a stay at home parent or a working parent, you have to be a parent everyday. It's not a job you quit, it's not a job that someone fires you from, it's one you have every day when that little person wakes up. So improving yourself to keep your sanity will help you through each day.
6. Have friends in the same situation. Having a group or even just one good friend who has children approximately the same age as yours will make life more enjoyable. It gives you some support and allows a support system to start to build for your children. If you don't have the opportunity to have friends in a similar situation, you'll still survive. Don't worry. But try to find someone: lots of churches have Young Family groups, community centers have play groups, library reading times allow you to meet other people with kids the same age, etc. There are people out there. Sometimes you just need to branch out. Before I made some good friends with kids the same age, I felt like something was missing. I had moved to a new state, I was working from home - so I didn't have any co-workers, but I had a baby (almost toddler at the time.) I was bored. By noon each day, I was out of ideas. I could only make so many trips to the grocery store in a week before they knew me by name, so I really needed to branch out. I ended up creating a spouse network through my husband's work so that the spouses could set up play dates and start to get to know each other. From there, I made some really strong friendships and so have my children. There are people out there for you.
7. You will be exhausted. This one is kind of a "duh" statement. But you don't know exhaustion until you've been a parent. In college, I went to school full time, worked full time and played collegiate sports. I was up from 4:30am until after 2:30am depending on what assignments I had due. I was only getting a couple of hours of sleep a night. I thought I was tired then. But nothing compares to being a parent. The difference between being a college kid sleeping two hours a night and being a parent sleeping 2 hrs a night is this: in college, you have only you to take care of. As a parent, you have another life (or 2 or 3 or 4+ lives) that you are taking care of. So whatever exhaustion you have, you have to set it aside, throw some water in your face, drink some coffee and wake yourself up. Tired or not, the kids need to be fed, changed, driven to school/practice, fed and changed again, entertained, etc. Learn to find ways to rest. I'd love to say that I take a nap everyday at noon when the kids nap, but I'd be lying. I rarely nap. I very rarely nap. But I find that while the kids are eating their breakfast, if I take those 10 minutes to say my morning prayers, eat my breakfast, check my email, read something funny online, I can take on the day a little better. Find a way to take a break-- seek out the opportunity. Your body needs rest to keep your mind clear.
8. Keep the faith. There will be days that you feel empty. You have nothing left, you are drained. But remember that God is always with you. God is always there, watching, supporting, probably even laughing at your experiences. When you feel empty, pray. It doesn't have to be extravagant, it doesn't have to be long, just talk to Him. You'll feel Him fill your soul where you felt like you had nothing left. He'll give you that energy boost that a Red Bull or cup of coffee can't. I can remember a day when Joey was still a baby when I was sitting in his room nursing him for the millionth time and finding that I was running out of milk, Mark was in a bad mood, I hadn't had a chance to shower yet, I hadn't had a chance to eat yet and I had no positive thoughts in my head. All I could think was "I've got nothing left to give." I handed Mark a book and closed my eyes. I said the following thing "God, when I am empty, please fill me up. You gave me these blessings to care for, but I feel like I have nothing left to give them. I need you." It may sound crazy, but I really did feel like I received some sort of energy shot in my soul. I didn't magically start to produce more milk for Joey, nor did I jump up and start dancing, but I did feel like I had more to give. I felt like God opened my eyes and reminded me that it isn't the materialistic things I have to give to my children, it's just love and attention. I finished nursing Joey, picked up Mark in my lap and just held them both. They needed love and attention and that's what God reminded me.
9. Quit complaining. I wouldn't classify myself as an avid complainer, but I can get on a good run of complaining if I don't keep myself in check. When Jacob gets home after a rough day or even via text during the day, I can complain. I complain about the kids pushing my buttons, how tired I am, how much housework I have to do, how many diapers I've changed, how many messes I've cleaned, etc. But I try to keep those complaints to a minimum. Why? Because, if you are a stay at home parent, you get to experience things that working-parents don't. Yes, you have to deal with the negatives too, but you get to see a lot of the positives that they don't. Complaining about your children doesn't achieve anything and can actually lead to ineffective parenting, a struggling marriage, mental instability, etc. Try to see the positives and as our mothers told us "If you don't have something nice to say, don't say anything at all."
10. Enjoy it. Some days (especially as a photographer), I forget to enjoy my kid's childhood. I spend so much time scheduling, planning, photographing, transporting, etc that I forget to just sit there and enjoy the experiences of parenthood. Remind yourself that they are only this age for a second. The next second they are older. You can't stop it, you can't go back and live it again, all you can do is take advantage of the situation now and enjoy it. Soak up the happy times, laugh at the rough and messy times. (Take pictures, but also remember that pictures only remind you of the experience- they don't let you experience it again, so enjoy it now.)
11. You can do it. This is simple. You can do this. You can be a great parent. Focus on what is important - raising a strong, faithful, respectful, loving child and you will succeed. Teach them well, but also remember to listen to them. You'll be surprised how often they can guide you to succeed. You can do this.
Do everything with love and you will raise some super children.