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8 Things I’ve Learned in One Year of Parenting

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I’m sitting down to write this on the eve of my 34th birthday. Last year on this very night, Ryan and I were out for dinner, no idea that it was to be the very last night of our existence as non-parents. I was 41 weeks and four days pregnant. (That is a week and a half past due date, for those of you not overly familiar with the pregnancy world.) We had a really lovely evening. A few hours later, around 12:30 am, I woke up with chest pain that led to an ER visit where my water broke and… well, you know! So my baby girl’s birthday is the day after mine.

It’s only been a year, but it feels more like 5 or 10 years, with all of the changes and the adjusting and the learning of approximately 1 million new things. Luckily, I love learning, and I’ll probably share here and there about my practical thoughts on parenting topics. However – shocker – I’m more interested in the deep stuff. There’s a hashtag #motherhoodissanctifying, and I resonate so much with that. I don’t know what is more spiritual than parenting. (Marriage might be a contender.) Being a parent is spiritual formation on steroids.

So, with that in mind, here are a few things I’ve learned in year one of being a parent.


1. THE VALUE OF BEING INTENTIONAL BUT NOT RIGID
I did a lot of preparation for labor – lots of books, a Bradley class, hiring a doula, crafting a birth “wishlist.” Some people reacted to all of this preparation with a somewhat dismissive attitude. They told me some version of “Labor is gonna go how it’s gonna go. You can prepare all you want, but you can’t control it.” But the thing was, I was never trying to control it. I was trying to learn and be informed and prepared for this important experience. We ideally wanted an unmedicated birth, and though I made it all the way to pushing with no epidural, I eventually had to get one (or have a cesarean). And that was fine. Birth will be what it will be, it’s true. People asked me “Are you disappointed in the way things turned out?” Not even a little bit! I think you can be intentional about things without falling for the illusion of control. I knew I wasn’t in total control of how things would go, but I didn’t regret anything I did to intentionally prepare.

I’ve felt this in so many other areas of parenting. I really like to learn and inform myself and try to do things according to the best ideas out there (in my opinion), but I don’t hold onto those ideas with an iron fist. If it’s not working for Alice, or if it’s driving me crazy, or if someone else wants to do it a different way when they’re with her, I’m flexible. It’s getting away from an all-or-nothing mindset. In my more perfectionist days, I feel like I would have been of the mind to just push through and stick to the plan, not wanting to change course even a little. All or nothing, and because anything other than “just so” would be failure. I’ve learned the silliness in this way of being and the wisdom of being calm and flexible and confident in the core of my being. I can be intentional AND go with the flow.


2. TO TRUST MYSELF AND MY INTUITION
Speaking of being confident in the core of your being… I’m learning to trust myself more. This has been a theme for a few years now, but it’s really accelerated this year. For some reason, I’ve historically been a self-doubter, but I’m gaining more confidence and trust in my inner voice and learning to follow its lead (and not needing to read 6 books before I make a decision). For example, the weeks leading up to Alice’s birth were somewhat stressful because my providers wanted to induce me. I intuitively felt everything was fine (and tests were good, and long gestation runs in my family, and a few other things – not just my feelings, haha!). So, I resisted. I pushed back two scheduled inductions, and what do you know, I went into labor naturally, and when she came out, my doctor said “Look at her! She’s pink and perfect!” (not wrinkly like overdue babies often are, or something). It was intimidating to stand my ground with medical providers as a first-time mom, but I’m glad I listened to my intuition and what I felt was right for me. There are many other circumstances this year where I’ve listened to my inner voice, and I’m becoming more and more confident in making decisions this way.


3. OH, YEPMARRIAGE DOES GET HARD
This sounds kind of dumb, but I think I secretly thought that we were immune to “hard times” in our marriage. Like, maybe other people have hard times, but not us. We’re so good at conflict resolution, we agree on so many things, we’re so honest and reflective. HAHAHAHAHAAAAAAAAAA. This year has been so hard on our marriage! I know this is exceedingly common – first year of baby is a giant adjustment – but it really kind of caught me off guard. I have a theory that marriage during the first year of baby with one at-home parent and one “working” parent is uniquely hard, and I’ll probably write about that sometime. Meanwhile, suffice it to say that it was rough. But we’re making it through, and we’re getting better and stronger. We’ve unabashedly sought out therapy, individually and together. I’m really proud of us. (For anyone in the trenches where things are hard, know that we turned a HUGE corner around 10 months. I could go on about this – I love talking about marriage – but I’ll stop for now and just give a book recommendation – my favorite book I’ve ever read on marriage. It’s short and practical yet deep and wise beyond measure. Hands down my fave.)


4. CONTENTMENT OVER STRIVING
I’ve really felt this idea driven home over the past year with Alice. She exudes peace and contentment, and she’s been this way from day one. I mean this quite literally – she was content in the womb until 41.5 weeks, content during labor through hours and hours of pushing (no decels or any signs of distress; had to use the vacuum for the final push), and is currently content to hang out on the floor in one small area (she isn’t moving around too much yet, which is uncommon at age 1). She’s truly not striving or worrying about getting to the next thing, and she seems unconcerned about others’ expectations of her. She’s just being her, content with where she is. Maybe God’s reminding me that this is the way. Relax. Enjoy where you’re at. Be you.


5. THE UNMISTAKABLE AND URGENT VALUE OF SIMPLE LIVING
Having a child has expanded my desire to cut excess from my life. I mean this both in terms of things – possessions – and non-things. My new favorite phrase has been resurrected from my teaching days with a vengeance: AIN’T NOBODY GOT TIME FOR THAT. Really, though. It’s amazing how much less time I have, so I’m that much more particular about how I spend it. And spending much of my time at home this year has made me see how un-peaceful our home is filled with things we don’t need and/or like that much. And the desire runs deep – I believe simple living is so important for our kids. One of my favorite parenting books declares: “By simplifying, we protect the environment for childhood’s slow, essential unfolding of self. Our society – with its pressures of ‘too much’ – is waging an undeclared war on childhood.” Sadly, I don’t think that’s an overstatement. I’m so on board. I’ve worked relentlessly this year to continue to pursue simplicity, and I’ll probably never stop.


6. THE EXTENT OF MY EGO AND PRIDE
When I was living my stressful teaching years, I dreamed about being a homemaker, days spent working around the house and cooking and gardening and building an intentional home for our family. And though I still have that vision, the work of an at-home parent is harder for me than I’d imagined.

All the parenting advice says it’s important that you “make time for yourself,” and for me, that seemed to translate as more time to write. So I tried to work it in, but it was never enough: no matter how much I’d written that week or how many submissions had been accepted, I always felt dissatisfied, a vague sense that I need to be writing more. It took prayer and reflection to see that not having enough of this “time for myself” was not the issue; the real issue was ego and pride. I’ve realized this year that a big part of me that doesn’t want to do the unseen, unglamorous work of an at-home parent. I don’t want to spend my hours serving my family through the doing of laundry, the changing of diapers, the organizing, the cleaning, the cooking; I’d really prefer the compliments, praise, and appreciation that comes with writing. “You’re such a great writer” or “This is best your piece yet.” The validation of being accepted for publication, and then I want the satisfaction of saying yeah, I’ve been published there. Becoming aware of this tricky pride thing has really freed me from this “dissatisfaction” with my writing life. It’s a work in progress, but awareness is always the first step.


7. HOW TO BE IN THE MOMENT
I have this post-it taped on my kitchen wall these days, which I totally stole from Jess Lively. It says “Be where you are, and do all things in joy.” As an at-home parent, the work and tasks feel endless, and as a natural go-getter, I want to DO ALL THE THINGS. Lists and checking off items. YESSS! That was my approach for a while, making giant to-do lists each day and attacking the items like someone was holding a gun to my head. And sometimes that energy is fine – it’s great to get a lot done. But I’ve found that the vibe of a daily to-do list doesn’t work for me as an at-home parent. I’d often end the day and feel like “I should have gotten more done.” (No matter how much I’d gotten done!) I’ve learned to slow down and just be fully present in all moments, whether I’m on the floor with Alice or folding the laundry or cleaning the kitchen. To just be 100% there – not worrying about the past or the future, but totally there. To notice and breathe and choose gratitude and joy in whatever is in front of me. It helps that Alice is always just living in the moment – that’s one of the ways kids can really teach us, I think. And I still do get things done. 🙂


8. TO LET GO OF FEAR
I was so afraid when I was pregnant of all of the things that could go wrong, especially early on. But for some reason, since the end of my pregnancy and now in parenting, that fear has largely dissipated. I don’t know what exactly helped with this, but I’m so thankful. I definitely still have moments of stress or worry, but I have an overall sense of peace about Alice and her safety and health and all the other things one can worry about as a parent. Because children are gifts, right? I do the best I can to care for this little one, but I’m strongly aware that I’m not entitled to have her be or turn out any certain way. Our children are straight grace, and we ought to receive them as such, with openness, curiosity, and a loose grip. In my view, they’re God’s, only on loan to us.

It’s really something to think that humans are babies for just one year, and then boom – they’re little people. The baby phase is a tiny fraction. So to Alice June, who is ONE TODAY: Happy Birthday, baby girl. We’re so glad you joined us, and we can’t wait to keep getting to know you. You’ve already taught us so much, and you are loved, loved, loved!



Amber is a thirty-something wife and new mama living in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She is a freelance writer and editor. She blogs at Alternative Grace where she muses on things like intentional living, faith, and books. You can follow Amber on Facebook and Instagram.

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