Before I had my first child, I had many ideas of how I wanted things to go and how my husband and I would raise our son. It was easy to watch other parents and comment on what we would or would not do.
As an on looker I would watch from the sidelines and I didn't realize it at the time, but I was passing judgement. Once I became a parent it became real to me that I had gotten it all wrong.
You've probably heard the cliche "you won't know until you have kids." I remember my parents saying that to me and they were right. It's not that if you don't have kids you don't have experience with children; it's just a whole other world. This is where I look back at my pre-motherhood self and realize how mis-guided I was.
We throw advice around like candy at a parade. There is no other time in your life that you will get more unsolicited advice than pregnancy and parenthood. I can't tell you how many times woman (and men for that matter) would share horror stories with me during my pregnancy or say things like "you'll never sleep again," "things won't ever be the same," or my favorite "are you ready for this?" No, probably not but I'm as ready as I'll ever be, I would say.
Why is it human nature to take our negative experiences and place them on someone else? Why must we speak words that plant doubt and fear in others minds? Each day we are given an opportunity. An opportunity to either speak with kindness and grace or an opportunity to discourage. Words have a heavy weight, they carry power and leave lasting impressions.
Pre- baby I had the "I'm not going to" lists and the I"m going to" lists. It wasn't a written list but I had filed all these thoughts in my mind. For instance, I didn't want my child to watch TV. Well, I'm 15 months in and let me tell you that while I firmly believe in limiting TV time for children and babies to little or no time, there are just times TV happens. It may be that you are sick or traveling in the car long distance, but there will be moments you need a little break.
I have several more examples but the point is all of these items on my "list" were well intentioned but unrealistic. I think it is important for you and your spouse to have these conversations and it is ok to have preferences and opinions, but be prepared to change them.
Life happens and your children will teach you life lessons you would have never learned without them. My son has made me a better person, a better spouse, and a better friend. He has changed the way I see people. If I see a mom give a child her Iphone I will think, I bet it's been a long day for her instead of "I can't believe she's letting her child use the Iphone." I have changed not only because of what I have experienced but the way others have treated me as a mother.
At the time my son was around 9 months old, it had been a long day and we had to make a quick trip into Coscto. If you are a member you will know there is no such thing. We were with family members and I was at the mercy of their timing, which was taking a little more time than my son or I had planned.
He is all boy and the time of year was probably fall, not cold but it was a little cool outside. He had on socks but was adamant that the socks first be chewed and thoroughly wet, and then taken off. After a few times of playing socks on and off again I did what any mother would do; I left the socks off!
So fast forward the trip and strolling him up and down the aisles to keep him moving at all times, I stood waiting with him at the end of the check out for my family. As we were waiting a woman approached me and said, "he isn't wearing any socks." I chuckled and mentioned that he kept taking them off so we left them off. To my surprise she gave me a clearly judgmental glance and said "oh dear but it's a little chilly out." I said oh no worries, I will put them back on before we go outside of course. She still wasn't pleased.
Fast forward to a few months ago, when my son was around 13 months. Again, I had to make a quick trip into the grocery, this time Whole Foods. It had been a very long day and my son was cutting 1 year molars (need I say more?) I only had a couple items to purchase and I planned to use the stroller but decided it would be faster to put him in the grocery cart.
I preceded to wipe down the cart and place my sweet, cranky toddler in the basket. We strolled through the aisles as I tried to recall my list while keeping him busy and keep him from climbing out. As I stood looking blankly into the shelves in the baby aisle ("what was I getting again?") an older woman approached me and ghastly remarked "oh my, your child is chewing on the seatbelt." Probably the first time I had forgotten to bring in a toy or snack for him but here we were making the most of it, or at least we were trying to. She continued to tell me how filthy those were. I said yes, but I did wipe everything down. She said "oh, no dear there is no getting those clean." "He needs a teething ring or something to chew on instead of that dirty thing." I said well, we are doing our best.
This experience caught me off guard and made me feel defeated. I had to overcome those feelings of doubt and questionable guilt. It was not a reflection of me as a mother. I am a good mom. It was a hard day and she chose in that moment to bring discouragement to me. How different would my day would have been if she had stopped and said, "I understand dear, sometimes we have to do the best we can. You're doing a great job mom, hang in there!" How would I have left that store? I know I wouldn't have been mulling over that woman's look on her face and what she said the whole care ride home.
Parenthood is amazing and I love getting to experience something new everyday with my son. I feel so blessed that the Lord entrusted him to my care. It is also hard and some days it can challenge you to the core; I realize now most parents are doing the best they can.
We all (hopefully) want what's best for our children and no matter if we agree with each other on parenting styles, let's give each other a little grace and a little encouragement. Instead of judging others based on if they co-sleep or not, breast feed or bottle feed, TV or no TV, regular or cloth diapers, puree or baby led weaning, on and on, I remind myself that no family's circumstances are the same and no baby is the same. What works for someone may not work for someone else.
Maybe instead of offering advice we should offer encouragement. Speak words that lift up one another. How do you think people feel after you interact with them? Do they feel uplifted or discouraged? This is something I've taken to heart after the first, longest yet fastest, first year of motherhood. To all the mommas out there, I'm sorry if I wrongly judged you, I know how hard you work and how much you love your child(ren). You are doing a good job, hang in there!
"Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear." -EphesianS 4:29(ESV)
"Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body." -Proverbs 16:24 (ESV)
Eat Well, Pray More, Move Often!