Nothing prepares you for the realities of parenthood. Even the best written books, parenting websites, seminars, and advice can only equip you with so much. Everything in theory sounds doable, manageable, even a breeze! What's so hard about it? The truth is parenting is an everyday learning (and humbling!) experience which begins when that little person enters into your life, for the rest of your life.
By no means am I an expert on the subject, but here's what I've learned about parenting thus far:
- In the early years, it drains every part of your being - physically, emotionally, and mentally. Some days you're barely just getting by, and some days you do what you gotta do just to get by (i.e. TV makes a great babysitter, microwave dinners every now and then won't kill anyone).
- But parenting also fills your heart with a love like you've never known on a human level. Even though many days your children may drive you absolutely bonkers, there is nothing keeping you from going to the ends of the earth for them.
- If you thought you were a relatively patient person, news flash! You've probably never experienced the "broken record syndrome" and had to instruct a little person to do something 10 times in the span of 5 minutes ("time to get ready"..."okay, did you brush your teeth yet?"..."it's time to get ready"...."let's get your shoes on"...."come on, let's go!" or "don't touch that"... "I said don't touch that"....repeat and repeat again). I lost my patience just typing that.
- Treasure the moments! It goes by quickly. Long-time parents told me this all the time, but I just couldn't wait until the next phase when things might be a little easier. While I was waiting and waiting and eagerly looking ahead, I missed out on being present and enjoying many sweet moments with my children. And then before you know it, that beautiful, precious baby is off to school, then college, then down the wedding aisle (okay, so I personally still have a number of years before all of these events take place, but I'm sure it will happen in the blink of an eye).
- Kids are super observant and pick up everything you do! And I do mean everything. The way you sigh, the way you wag your fingers, the way you pull your hair in frustration, or the way your voice goes up 5 notches when you're mad. The way you spend your downtime, the way you greet people, the way you drive. The way you talk to friends and family or your spouse. When my older son gets upset, I see a little mini-raged version of myself, and boy, is it humbling! My children constantly remind me that I need to walk the walk and be a good example for them.
- Kids are fickle. One day, they'll love the meal you spent 30 minutes preparing for them. The next time you prepare it, it's as if that meal caught cooties and they won't go anywhere near it. One day, they love blue. The next, red is their favorite color. Every day is a surprise....which leads me to the next point.
- Every day is a surprise. As much as you may set up routines, schedules, structure, there is always something that comes up that throws you a curve ball. You never know what's in store. And for people who need to know (like I do), it's a learning experience to be flexible, make the most of the situations that arise, and try to just go with the flow. Speaking of surprises . . .
- You build a tolerance for things you never thought you would. Like poop, explosive diarrhea, vomit, bloody gashes. I personally hate the sight of blood. My younger son was quite sick last summer and had to be taken to the hospital, where he vomited a couple pints of blood. It was the nastiest and most frightening thing I ever saw, and yet God gave me incredible strength to hold it together because I knew I needed to for my little boy. As for explosive diarrhea, I think I would still scream like a little girl if it happened (thankfully, my boys have outgrown that phase... I think).
- Who knew there was a Mount Everest of laundry to be done? Seriously, it seems we do laundry every other day in our house. Putting the dirty clothes in the washer & dryer isn't too big a deal. It's folding the clothes and putting them away each time that's a huge chore! So we usually have baskets of clean clothing lying around. It seems pretty efficient to me, until it gets mixed in with the dirty ones. Which may explain why we have so much laundry in the first place. Hmm. Something for me to think about.
- When it comes to parenting, your spouse is your greatest ally but can also be your toughest foe. You and your spouse may not see eye-to-eye on every issue that comes up in parenting. So good communication is even more essential now than ever! Talk things through, make sure you're on the same page, and be a unified front when it comes to raising your children! Like I said before, kids are extremely observant and they can sense when there's a rift or a gap between the parents.
- On that note, parenting is not meant to be done alone! The wise old adage that it takes a village to raise a child is spot on. If you and your spouse are trying to parent on your own without a good network of other parents, relatives, friends, you're doing yourselves and your children a huge disservice. We need that support, encouragement, help, and friendship to guide us and help us grow as parents.
- You will start to sound like your own parents. Even if you swore you'd never be like your own mother or father, it's crazy when you catch yourself saying something they've said to you. They were our example of parenting, so it's natural for us to follow their lead. If it wasn't a positive example for you, then it takes extra work and effort to be conscientious of it and try to do better.
- Pinterest is an amazing resource but can also be an ego-crushing one. I won't lie. I get a ton of fabulous ideas and inspiration from Pinterest. But at the same time, looking at all those amazing crafts, homes, meals can lead to envy and feelings of inadequacy. And this is when you have to remind yourself not to compare. Each person is uniquely gifted, so find what yours is and hone it! Maybe yours is doing laundry, in which case, call me, maybe? :) And if you're not gifted in anything (which I highly doubt), that leads me to the next point . . .
- Give yourself grace upon grace upon grace. If you're a perfectionist like me and/or tend to be hard on yourself, you have to give yourself some slack. Remember every day is a surprise, things don't go the way we plan, the kids are fickle and sometimes out of control, and we are just mere human beings (and broken ones at that). There is no such thing as "all put together" and "have everything right". If you do believe such things exist (which my imagination often leads me to), do yourself a favor and throw that notion out the door.
- Take advice with a grain of salt, including mine! Every kid is unique. Every family is unique. What works best for one family isn't necessarily what will work best for yours. And what works for one of your kids may not be as effective with the other one(s). If an individual is particularly vocal and even pushy about his/her stance on a parenting issue which you may not agree with, you can just kindly say, "Thank you. I appreciate your viewpoint." Usually, most people will respect that. And if they don't, de-friend them on Facebook. Just kidding!
I'm sure there's much more to add to the list, but my memory is not what it used to be (I guess that could go on the list, too). What valuable lessons have you learned? I'd love to hear them.