In light of our story, which I recently recounted in the post, Peace in a Colicky Storm, I would like to share some of the lessons God has embedded in my soul so far. These have become life rafts for me in the rapids of early parenthood.
1. Importance of encouragement – We were designed to be encouraged and to encourage one another daily according to scripture (Hebrews 3:13). Our words hold unbelievable power (James 3, Proverbs 18:21).
In the early months of parenthood, be sure to write down encouragement you receive from scripture and friends/family in large print near your rocking chair. If possible, record some of these words on your phone audibly so you can listen to them. Keep headphones near your rocking chair.
Sometimes reading is hard to do when you’re crying or sleep deprived.
2. The power of permission – Sometimes we simply need to give ourselves permission.
Permission to cry, to feel angry, to be messy, to smell bad, to eat fast food, to buy the formula, to use paper plates, to ask for help, to not sleep train, TO sleep train, to not know the answer, to call the pediatrician, to order groceries on amazon, etc.
3. Sometimes survival is enough – Seriously. The expectation in these early days is truly to just stay afloat. Any additional pressure that exists is unnecessary. Do whatever needs to be done to keep everyone alive, and let the extra pinterest ideas fall to the wayside for now.
4. Human need and vulnerability is required for godly community – If you do not ask for help, you are stealing an opportunity for someone to be Jesus’ hands and feet to you.
Community, as God created it to be, is precious. We need to be vulnerable with our brothers and sisters around us in order to grow and deepen relationships. We cannot just sit and wish for deep friendships and community to form if we are unwilling to be vulnerable and needy.
It’s a two way street.
5. You must slow down and submerge fully into the happy moments – When my daughter was 5 months old, I remember God telling me to open my hands and feel. I stopped rocking and sat up as my heart tingled.
I literally thought I was having a heart attack. It was happiness. It had been so long since I had felt happy that I had forgotten what it felt like! I pictured myself taking a bath in that feeling and let it wash over me. I captured every bit of it in my mind. I drank in what the baby was wearing, the temperature, how the light shone through the window, the coffee I was drinking. I physically breathed it in and allowed myself to smile.
God took me on a journey of intentionally doing this and celebrating those happy moments. At the end of each day, I would recount my instances of happiness to my husband. They were fleeting, but they were there. And I needed to highlight them. Rejoicing is a weapon.
6. The “grace to get through this season” will sometimes mean you’re able to smile and serve others in the midst of your half-awaken state. Some days His grace will mean you simply won’t throw your baby when you feel like it. His grace is enough and just as valuable in each scenario.
7. Comparison is…sometimes empowering. We must use discernment in this. Sometimes it is helpful to observe in what areas our baby is more difficult or different than other babies. This can help us give ourselves a pat on the back given our situation. Also, every baby and every parent is so incredibly different and recognizing this will help you to manage the 10,876 recommendations on how to feed, bathe, sleep, and soothe your baby.
Perhaps Susie never tried cry it out simply because her baby never cried more than 1-2 hours straight, or only cried when he/she was hungry or dirty. Had I chosen to not let my baby cry it out, I would get nothing done and would literally probably sleep 3 hours a night.
Comparison can also be a thief of joy. It is important to recognize that all of us are different. Our marriages, our babies, our spouses, our homes, our expectations, our capacities are all different. We cannot compare apples to oranges.
You must tune into the voice in your mind that is comparing your situation to other situations and tend to it according to what God says is true and what brings you life.
8. Hard days do not disqualify us – You will have days that are impossible. Have a plan for the days that you feel at the end of your rope.
Who will you call? Where will you go? Is there just a code word you can text your spouse? Is there a relative nearby that can come over? Do you have emergency milk pumped so when your spouse gets home you can get the heck out of dodge? A friend who can have an extra bed made and ready for you if you need a place to crash alone?
Think and plan ahead. I’d recommend doing this before the baby is even born and altering the plan as necessary. This plan will be God’s gift to you on a hard day.
9. Becoming a mom is not a 9-month, pre-natal process. According to the world, I am a mom because I conceived and birthed a child.
The truth is that I am becoming a mom.
I will never be a perfect mom. I will continue to make lots of mistakes. I have no clue what I am doing most of the time. I did not feel the “mama gut” so many people spoke of. I still can hardly discern my baby’s cries. But I am learning. I am learning to be a mom. Yes, it feels like I’m building a plane while flying it. Yes, it is sometimes terrifying. But, I am giving myself grace to be in this imperfect process. And I do not think becoming a mom is an overnight event.
10. Motherhood was designed to kill you – God calls us to lose our lives. He designs sacred relationships such as marriage and parenting to kill our flesh so that we might find true life in Him. He calls us to do impossible things! Otherwise, we would not need Him. As we die to ourselves, we will be resurrected to new life in Him. This new life is filled with the power we need to survive this crazy storm. (Galatians 2:20, Ephesians 4:22-24, Luke 9:23, John 3:30…)
11. Soul care may look different, but becomes more important than ever before – we have heard the all-too-familiar analogy of the oxygen masks on the airplane and how we are instructed to place it on ourselves before our children. Such is life.
In order to be the best parent you can be, you must tend to your soul first. Acknowledge and accept your limitations. Take time to tune into what brings you the most life, where you find God, how you experience rest, and create a rhythm so that soul care is folded into your daily life.
Perhaps, before you were a parent, you enjoyed hours at the gym, or a book club, or going out late with friends. Maybe these activities aren’t possible for you anymore. Find what is possible and incorporate it into your life as soon as you can. Focus on what is doable in this season and not what is no longer possible.
12. Mary did not sleep train – There are thousands of different opinions and convictions around raising children and the value of sleep. And the most difficult truth is that everyone is right. All babies and situations are different.
You are raising a world changer. I realized I had assigned so much meaning to sleep due to my research that I was convinced her lack of sleep was going to make her a psychopath or convict. Then God whispered to me gently on the beach one day: “But Mary didn’t sleep train.” That moment with God completely changed my way of viewing my baby’s sleep and parenting in general.
These little moments will shape her, but the small things like sleep habits are not going to determine her impact on our world. Jesus was fully human! He cried and teethed and learned to walk and learned to sleep…all without the rigidity of schedules and methodology.
Sometimes this generation can be so reliant on information because it is easily accessible that we lose touch with the sanctity of parenthood. We no longer allow ourselves to trust and listen to God, and to discover the mama gut he placed inside of us because we can type our questions into a search bar and get 10,000 results.
I can trust God to empower my baby above and beyond something so trivial as a nap schedule. She does not have to be on a perfect 2-3 hour schedule or take more than 45 minute naps in order to change the world. If such matters were that important they would be explicitly outlined in the Scriptures.
13. Take a giant chill pill – Seriously. Parenting in this information age is a challenge our parents and their parents cannot understand. There is so much pressure to ‘get it right.’ The value of empirically based philosophies on every aspect of parenting is in your face at every minute of every day.
Most mamas are constantly engaged in online forums – many of us spend 5+ hours nursing, pumping or rocking every day! And let’s be honest, we are mostly glued to our phones during that time. We all are familiar with the monotonous facebook scrolls, the insta checks, the snapchats, the e-mail updates, etc.
We are inundated with new information about the safest technology, the best way to bathe your baby, the do’s and don’ts of sleep training, how to introduce solids, what foods will kill your baby, how to buckle your kid into the car, what stroller was recalled, what toys could cause sudden death, and what is not acceptable crib paraphernalia….and there is this harsh expectation that we are all submitting to the most recent research all of the time.
Because if you don’t, you probably do not love your baby enough. At least, that seems to be the overarching tone of most online messages.
In the storm of colicky sleeplessness, this can feel infuriating. When you’ve heard your baby cry inconsolably for hours and finally the thing that calms them is the one “no-no” listed on facebook that day, you experience a fury, shame, and exhaustion that is inexplicable.
The most freedom I received was the day an adult I admired advised me to throw the rule out the window and allow my baby to just ride in my lap in the car (after enduring an hour of her screaming). It was the first 30 straight minutes of silence and smiles I had gotten out of my child in over 5 months.
It was in that moment that I realized I needed to just swallow a giant chill pill. And ever since that day, I decided I would be a careful parent, but not a fearful parent. I will do what I feel is okay when I feel it is okay alongside my husband, and I will not sweat the small stuff, despite what the internet tells me. And my baby has become remarkably happier and more pleasant since I made this mental shift.
(DISCLAIMER: I am NOT encouraging anyone to not utilize car seats. We are blessed with technology that will protect our children in dangerous situations and I am a firm believer in utilizing this technology. I simply shared my experience as an illustration. I safely buckle Summer into her car seat regularly and received instruction on how to do so from a qualified professional at the local hospital.)
14. Often times crying just has to be okay – It’s almost impossible to not walk in this acceptance if your baby is truly colicky. If your story is anything like ours, you grow numb to the screaming and crying by week 2 or 3.
I’d say the challenge becomes keeping your anger at bay and remembering to comfort the baby (it sounds awful, but when the child is inconsolable it just gets monotonous to take turns hopelessly rocking a screaming baby – but he/she still deserves our attempts of comforting even if they don’t seem to work!).
There is nothing anger can do that love cannot do better. In order to help us manage the crying, my husband and I would set a timer and agree on an amount of time to allow her to be alone, keep a stress ball close by (we kept one by the rocker), place a noise machine in our room (if we were sleeping), watch a funny movie and hold hands, sit on the porch or somewhere directly outside the house, and take turns going in to provide comfort.
15. Let your marriage change shapes – I think some of the greatest stress can come from trying to make our marriage continue to work the way it did before having a child. It can feel like trying to shove a triangle through a square hole.
Our expectations, attitudes, and involvement must change. We must accept the fact that life is not going to look the same anymore, and we cannot make it the same no matter how hard we try.
It can look different. It can look better! It cannot look the same.
My husband recently described our early parenting dynamic perfectly: “It’s like, in these early days, we are not really romantic partners, but instead have become a team. Except it’s like we are losing badly and both of us are playing with broken limbs. But we still are in the game, nonetheless. Supporting one another despite the impossible challenges.”
These trying days will not last forever. And marital/parental/life obstacles will not disappear. They will simply continue to change shapes. We need to allow our roles and functions to change and discuss those changes openly with our partners.
Identify the places of change that are hardest for each of you and look for ways to bring important pre-baby elements into the current season as much as possible. Create new, special times and traditions. Sitting in the past will lead to depression and sitting in the future will produce anxiety. Rejoice in the new now.