I've inherited the habit of letter-writing from my Dad, who always seems to pull out a sentimental, wise and funny word at special family occasions. This one may not meet those standards, but it did just pour out of me one day after sitting in retrospect for a while...realizing all I have learned, and all I still have to learn about the adventure of parenting. This letter is to my little sister, who is expecting her first in just a few weeks! We are so excited!
No one has ever doubted that you would be a fabulous mother. From the day your were born, you were nurturing everything you could hug. Because I was 5 years older than you, I can remember it. We would dress you like a baby doll, and you in turn would dress your own baby dolls.
So, it seems unusual that I would be writing this letter to you. I am by no means an expert- in fact, after I had Knox I remember Mom commenting that I had surprised her as a mother. She was right- I've never been the most nurturing or affectionate. But motherhood does change you. And for some reason, God has had me experience it before you. So half for myself, and half for you- I want to write down a few things.
These are things I wish I had known- mostly the highlights of my struggles as a parent. None of which I have conquered or perfected. Some things I've learned- mostly the hard way. Some of these you will also have to learn the hard way- despite me mentioning them here. :)
So here are a few notes before sweet Hayden makes her debut.
1. You will acquire the taste for your own feet.
There aren't many words I said pre-babies that I haven't had to eat like it was a giant plate of spaghetti shoved in my face after I just had a 4-course meal. All the expectations, research, and ideology you have will, at some point, come crashing down in a desperate moment that likely involves poo. This is your chance to give yourself some grace. This one is tough for me because you know I like to be right. :)
2. They were never yours to begin with.
Ugh. Stewardship. It's like the most incredible, scary assignment God could ever give us. I know that you know that this little one is a precious gift. Give her up, every day. Ask God to help you, every day. Remind yourself that she has a heavenly purpose, and THAT is why she is here.
3. You are not supposed to be able to DO everything.
The older they get, the more stuff there is. There's school stuff, church stuff, social stuff, stuff that you feel like you're supposed to be doing because Pinterest said so....can I just tell you to practice "no"? What really matters is the aforementioned "heavenly purpose". If the stuff coincides with that, great. If it doesn't, practice "no"- for her sake and yours.
4. You are not supposed to be able to BE everything.
The days where I really start to become critical of my own momming are the days when I forget that my earthly self is really not cut out for this job. And that is just plain, black and white truth. It's written in the scriptures! Your sweet baby was born with a spiritual hole in her heart that you just can't fill. So please be her arrow. Point her to Christ. Let her see you fail. Tell her when and how you have to rely on Jesus. God designed this parenting adventure to be one we go on WITH HIM. That is the only way it works- in partnership with the One who wrote both your stories.
5. Let them see your love story.
One of the most important things you can do for your kids is assure them that Mommy and Daddy love each other. This security will provide a platform for them to understand and experience more emotionally than any other sort of comfort or information you could give them. Tell them all your old (and appropriate, haha) stories. Be friends in front of them. Watching your relationship will shape every other relationship they have- romantic or not.
6. Practice letting go in all the small stuff. Do it from Day 1.
When Knox was born, the hardest part for me was dealing with my own perfectionism. When he didn't cooperate with my perfect schedule, I found myself angrier than I'd ever been in my life. When I wasn't producing milk like I had wanted to, I was frustrated and disappointed with myself. It was totally ok for me to experience those feelings, but after I did, I let myself feel guilty about it all, too. Please, for your own sake, don't let guilt have a role in your parenting. If something isn't working out like you feel it should, pray. Let God tell you what to do- stick it out or ditch the plan. Ask other mothers for help (ours is a great one!). But know that God has chosen you as the perfect parent for this baby- and with that gift He's also given you the ability to discern what is right and good- and also what is just not essential.
7. Talk to God about your own identity. Trust Him with it.
As a first-time mom in America, you are in the sweet spot of the comparison trap. The only way to combat the overwhelming feeling that you just aren't enough is to know WHO your identity is found in, and just WHAT that is. This is a conversation I get to have a lot with God, and the comparison seeps into your identity as a mother so quickly and seamlessly that it's hard to distinguish it a lot of the time. So you must be on the offense with this!
8. Babies are portable and you need to get out.
Looking back, I have been amazed at just what we have put our kids through and how well they have handled it. Proud Mom moment here, but I do think that we have exceptionally well-traveled and easygoing kids when it comes to new environments. Yes, there is the issue of all of the baby gear- but really, babies can travel well if you have the right attitude and do it right from the start. When Knox was a few weeks old my personal challenge to myself was to get out once a day, if even just for one quick errand. Doing this really helped me understand the best nap schedule for Knox, how to get a diaper bag ready and realize that life does not end if I forget a change of clothes. (So if you choose to heed this bit of advice, yes- your child will likely be naked in public somewhere at some point). But overall, just GO and DO. This is the best way to combat the temptation to hold your children too tightly. If you are not able to face the germy, weird world at some point in those first few weeks, anxiety likes to make its nest in your heart. It will begin to speak to you: You can't do it. It's not a good time. What if she gets sick? What if she cries? What if YOU cry?
Just a warning, all of the above will likely happen. Even so, there is grace and victory to be found there. And it gets better and easier with time.
9. Cherish, celebrate, be thankful.
With as many hard and challenging moments you may face, please know that they will all be outweighed and overcome by the beautiful ones. On certain frustrating days, you may have to look harder for the beauty. But it is there. I feel like this is one of your strengths already- so I won't elaborate much- but at the end of the day, hold on to the good and toss the bad. Make a practice of speaking gratitude to and with your children. Tell them when you see them doing right. Praise the Lord in front of them for provision in your life. You will be fabulous at this.
I hope this letter has been encouraging and not overwhelming. You are already a mother. You've done a wonderful job taking care of that growing life inside of you. And you WILL do an amazing job in each day you are given with Hayden from here on out.
I can't wait to meet her and see the wonderful plan God has for your family play out. We are so thankful that we get to be a part of that. Please know that we are praying for you as you parent and for her as she grows. We will be asking God for her salvation and that she would recognize Him as the hero of her story. Congratulations. We love you!
Photo above is of me and a brand-new Liv a couple of years ago, photographed by my wonderful friend Shanna Dietz.