Dear First-Time Mama,
I saw your struggling on Sunday a few weeks back. You were battling with a little walker, one that was in full blown explorer mode during a Grown-up sit-down-and-act-reverent meeting. With tears of frustration you wandered the halls, lamenting that there seemed no point in even being there. I tried to offer some encouragement, but I was being called into another grown-ups meeting of my own, for one of my not-so-little boys. He was being given a new responsibility and I was to be there for support, like I wanted to be there for you.
Being a "first timer" is not very fair. You are a mama in a time that is less information highway and more information geyser, blasting out facts and opinions dressed as twins, and drenching you. Every fool, wanna be and meanie, every professional and every wackadoo has staked out a parcel of cyber-turf, and finding an answer that fits is like shopping for a bra online - they look good on other women but will they really feel good when you try them out yourself? Floating your problem out into that ocean may steer your tender new-mama heart into shark infested waters. Commenters hide behind waves of anonymity, free to boldly criticize in a way they never would dare to a sister or friend, or a stranger to their face for that matter. They extol borrowed wisdom from who-knows-where with out even fully understanding it themselves, and of course neglect to site their sources.
Now, I am the first person to turn to the World Wide Wonder that is the web when I am at a loss, and after 17 years on this pregnancy and parenting train I have learned what to ignore or laugh at, and what to truly consider. And, I am first-timing it myself - balancing precariously on the tight rope of teenage-tending for the first time. I have never been the mama of a 16 year old, and I imagine that I have the same white-knuckled expression on my face when I deal with my big boys that you, FTM, have on yours a lot of the time. But going on 6 times of mom-ing little ones, I have a little that I can share. Here she blows:
* You were chosen by God to raise THIS child at THIS time in the world. Those are some pretty great references. I would trust them. Others may have ideas for you, but other than you yourself, the only other authority that matters is the one from above. Before you make a big change, ask your Father. He knows what you should do.
* You probably won't ruin them. You will screw up, it is true. You may yell when you swore you wouldn't. You may not be Job in the patience department (although if you read Job, neither was he sometimes. He didn't turn his back on God, but he let fly with some hefty complainin' here and there!). The most important thing you can do is to apologize to them when you mess up. Let them see you correcting your mistakes, and you will have taught them the greater lesson.
* Ask for real live help from real live people who you know and respect, and whose children are models of what you would love your kids to be like. Stay away from nameless, faceless forums. Have a few mamas who you can call upon as your Mothering Mentors, and rely on them in those rough moments when you are on the edge of the cliffs of insanity. I have no less than six, and I call them for each of the qualities that they excel in when I am in need of coaching. My sister, Kori, is my go-to-gal for handling the really chaotic times when the needs of one child collide with those of many others (I remember calling to ask, "What do you do when a sick toddler wants you to hold them all day?" Mother of only 8 at the time - now 11 -said, "You hold 'em.") For balancing the needs of my children with the needs of other people in my life I call Ruth. For reading the hearts of my children, I call Francine. For sickness, Claudette. Each person that I rely on has a special talent, and I am grateful that I can lean on them in times of need (Come to think of it, I have way more than six!).
And now to that hard one that my friend struggled with.
*What is the point of going to church when neither you, nor your small child, seem to be getting anything out of it? Well, the nice thing about church is that it is usually very repetitive, reviewing the same basic principals over and over through the years. It is one of the reasons some folks judge church-going to be a waste of time, since we don't learn "new" things all the time. Well, everything that you do know was once "new" to you, and it will be to your child, too, from the time they can understand language, whether they seem to be listening or not.
I will never forget the time I was reading to Ethan as he spun around on his heal, looking at a book and singing a song. I scolded that he wasn't listening, and he countered by repeating back the last two sentences I had read to him. They are listening. They hear bits and snatches. If your family culture includes going to a house of worship, your children will learn over time in little doses how to act and what is expected. And because you have had this as a part of your life for years, you will also hear and understand in bits and snatches, calling back to your memory the concepts of faith that you already hold in your heart.
Go. You will see the people you love there. You will feel uplifted by the spirit of community there. You will be blessed for your efforts. You will be teaching your child your family culture through your example.
And if nothing else, I will get to see you there, and I always enjoy that.
Now, this makes me think of a few things that I think are important, even if they don't apply to my particular FTM friend yet. It couldn't hurt to mention them, cuz the very predictable thing about wee ones is that they grow up and begin making us crazy. Here are a few thoughts for the years when sitting through church has become second nature.
* Think long term. A temper tantrum in a 2 year old is normal, in a 4 year old is annoying, in a 14 year old is obnoxious and in a 24 year old is ridiculous. Your responses will come back around for better or for worse in the future. I know its tempting to just buy the Sponge Bob thingy that lights up, spins around and shoots candy out its butt to preserve the peace until you are out of the check out line, but I promise, having a teen pitch a fit over a new cell phone (when they have the skills to argue Judge Judy under the table), or a young adult over financial assistance, is much worse.
* While we're on the subject, PLEASE let your kids experience their consequences when they are young. Don't bail them out. If they take a handful of fishy crackers that doesn't belong to them, it is a great opportunity for them to learn about honesty, and far cheaper than the lesson they would learn by stealing a pack of gum at age 7, which is a cheaper lesson still than the one that is learned by stealing a car at 18. (Think your kid would NEVER do any of that? Well, let me know when the next flight leaves for that fantasy island. I'll join you) Everything that your kids need to learn has a cheap version, and an expensive one. Spare them the pain now and you set them up for much greater pain later.
* Get the heck outta your helicopter. You don't have a licence, and you are going to rob your kids the opportunity of having practice at problem solving before becoming a grown up. Don't rush in at play group and solve a battle between two toddlers over a toy. Don't hurry to the coach to ask that your kid be made forward. Don't swoop in to the classroom to ask teacher that your kid go to the party that they have been excluded from because of not doing their work. Remember that scene in Finding Nemo when Squirt, the little turtle, falls out of the East Austrailian Current into the ocean alone, and Marlin reacts to try to save him? His father, Crush, holds Marlin back saying, "Whoa. Kill the motor, dude. Let us see what Squirt does flying solo." Squirt is fine, and your squirt will be, too.
My favorite parenting philosophy is Parenting with Love and Logic http://www.loveandlogic.com/ , and I use it in tandem with the philosophies of Thomas Jefferson Leadership Education http://www.tjed.org/.