To say we were thrust into parenting would be a vast understatement. It was more like being shoved off a cliff and landing in a river when you don't know how to swim. When we got the call about Caleb we owned a glider, a Boppy pillow, and a couple of books I intended to read before a baby came along. I thought we had 4 more months before Nora Kate arrived, and we did. We just didn't know about Caleb. (And just so you know, I never got around to reading those books.)
When we brought Caleb home, we were so excited, and also so scared. This tiny baby was now our responsibility, and we had just met him an hour or so earlier. Between his unexpected entrance into our family and Nora Kate's more conventional entry, we've been on a crash course in parenting. And here are 10 things we've learned:
1. Parenthood will expose your selfishness and require you to change.
There is no room for concern for yourself in the middle of the night as your baby screams. There's no snooze button and no silent feature on your baby. You must care for every need, and that means placing them before yourself. Babies have a way of knowing where your selfishness lies, and imposing themselves on it. You love to take long showers? You want some "me time" to read or write or cook dinner or eat or clean the kitchen or sit down on the couch for 5 minutes? Start cry fest at that very moment. In all seriousness, this is a painful good that helps root out sin that you might not even know lives deep in your heart. (Note: The desire to have "me time" is not sinful. What was sinful was my desire to please myself rather than spend that time serving my children.)
2. Some babies take years to sleep through the night.
No one tells you this because if they did, the human race might end because everyone would be too afraid this would be their child to have a child at all. We've been blessed with a child who sleeps like a champ and also a child who still sleeps like an infant, waking 5-6 times a night. And the doctor said there's nothing I can do about it. Apparently, some kids just don't need as much sleep as others, and we won the prize and received one of those. Side note: For those of you who are expecting your first child, go ahead and set your alarm for 4am now and just know that this will be your child's favorite time to wake up at some point in their infancy.
3. Parenthood changes your marriage.
Spending time together now includes cleaning up slobbery mashed banana pieces from the floor after the babies go to sleep and wrangling slippery, wiggly babies out of the bath and into their jammies. A good marriage doesn't "just happen" anymore. We must be deliberate to pursue time together and real conversation that isn't centered around if that bodily function our child just had is normal.
4. All that junk you think you need to bring baby home is a big marketing ploy.
You don't need half the things the baby industry tries to sell you. When we brought Caleb home, we had a crib, a glider, a swing, diapers, wipes, and clothes, and we were fine. Oh and a car seat. The law requires that you have one of those to actually take a child anywhere. We did quickly acquire a truckload of other things, and some have been super useful, and some have been barely touched, but contrary to popular belief, you can raise a child without all that stuff.
5. Without intentionality, friendships may fall by the wayside.
This is not a "Your life is over after kids. Forget your friends. Prepare to live a lonely hermit life for the next 18 years." Children are a gift from the Lord and there's nothing we love more than being parents. This is a "If you don't plan to spend time with friends, it won't happen." Quick "Do you want to meet for dinner?" texts don't really work in the post-baby life (or at least in our post-baby life). We've learned the hard way that investing in friendships is something we must plan for, invest in, and seek out or it is very easy to live within our walls and normal dinner to bath time to bed time schedule. (Note: it's ok to break your kids' schedule every now and then to benefit your heart, contrary to some of the books you'll read about babies.)
6. Go ahead and invest stock in laundry detergent.
There have been days when I've changed shirts 6 times due to any number of baby bodily fluids (and sometimes without a shower in between because there was no time for that. Now that I think about it - go ahead and invest in dry shampoo and deodorant that smells really wonderful because there might be a lot of days when there's no time for that. You'll thank me later.) You'll be washing a lot of clothes. Also, get a good system for this. (The system we use -- which is wash when we are almost down to no clean clothes remaining; wash them all in one day; separate them into baskets but don't fold or put away for 5-7 days because at least you'll use 5-7 days worth out of that basket and now you won't have to fold them -- is probably not the system to choose.)
7. Parenting will prove what habits you are committed to and squash the ones that you are not.
Babies can be unpredictable. They wake up when they want; they need diaper changes all the time; they get hungry, and sometimes it's not on a schedule. I've found that I've had a much harder time being faithful to daily Bible reading because when I plan in my head to do it, a baby will be awake, angrily demanding my attention. I've had to learn to be flexible with timing, but committed to making it happen. This is true with any habit you want to keep. It sounds crazy, but it's even true for brushing your teeth (I wish I could say I've never gone to bed without completing that task post-baby, but that would not be true.) Want to read every night? Want to write every day? Commit, but also give yourself grace. You are raising a baby, after all.
8. Your body will literally hurt when your baby screams for an extended period of time.
I'm not sure if this is scientific, but I've heard this from multiple moms recently. It's like their old home, your uterus, cries with them. Maybe it's just your heart breaking because you can't figure out how to calm them or maybe it's really your ears hurting from the shrillness of the screams, but it really does happen sometimes.
9. Your children will take on your countenance.
I'm sure I was told this before I had children. Nature vs nurture, of course, but I am surprised how quickly I see their little personalities forming around the way that we react as their parents. I pray we keep that in mind.
10. 7:00pm is an appropriate bedtime.
As I type this, both kids are in the bed. It's 7:45pm, and in just a few more minutes I will go to bed as well. It's a roaring Friday night over here, and I'd be lying if I said this is not normal. When your baby gets up a million times a night, you gotta get sleep when sleep is available.
We have loved the last year and a half or so. Parenting is the most wonderful, chaotic, busy, fun thing we've ever done. Above all, we want to love our children well and point them to Jesus, so that they might be arrows sent out into the world (Ps 127:3-5) and that we will teach Scripture diligently to them, talk of it when we sit in our house, when we walk by the way, when we lie down, and when we rise (Deut 6:6-9). We've learned that we can build these foundations even now, before either can talk, so that they recognize the things of God and the name of Jesus early in life.
Dress your kids in funny costumes for Halloween before they are old enough to remember. That way, they will avoid the psychological scarring and counseling needs :)