Trent and I started preparing for him 2 years before he arrived. We read books and even attended a parenting conference about raising the pastors kid before I was ever pregnant. Intentionality was not our weakness. Perfectionism, probably. Intentionality we had covered though. We heard a lot of great advice and 90% of it was solid. 100% of it was about how to raise secure, successful, and/or God fearing children. None of it was about how to survive the stress of parenting.
So as a mom of 15 years, I have a few pieces of advice for young moms to help you nurture your own souls.
1. Focus more on making memories than measurable outcomes
When I was in high school I watched a talk show where there was an elementary age kid who was taking college classes. I remember thinking that his parents were the definition of successful parenting. My parenting theories thankfully evolved by the time I had my own kids but not enough for my goals to still not be measurable. I wanted my boys reading by kindergarten and then excelling in sports, the piano, or whatever they committed their time to. They needed to memorize their verses and know their alphabet forwards and backwards. Yes, we literally learned it backwards too.
That method of parenting is not only exhausting for the kid but it is also exhausting for the parent too. It sends the message that you are only as valuable as your performance (or your parents ability to brag about it) and it robs the family of an opportunity for a better goal.
When Maggie had her strokes, our gratitude that she survived caused us to shift our mission as a family from achievement to making memories. It was as much subconscious as it was conscious but it was life-changing nonetheless.
I still care that my kids put forth their best effort because I believe that is a reflection of character instead of achievement. I did change though my expectations of the outcome and how I talk about their experiences. My questions now are - Did you have fun? Did you make a memory? Did you do your best? They are not - Did you win? Did you make the highest grade? Did you look the best? or even - Were you the most obedient or nicest? Unfortunately, behavior performance can even be unhealthy. I want kids who naturally and normally obey from a place of security not from a place of performance.
Finally, when I say making memories, I mean going out of our way to make memories. I have a t-shirt that says, "Life is short. Take the trip, buy the shoes, eat the cake." Well let me tell you, as a mom who sends her kid to high school tomorrow, their time with us is short. I don't want to look back and say we had perfect attendance, made all A's, and never got a hole in our jeans. I want to say that we raised great people and made great memories along the way.
2. Don't become an escape artist
I am the queen of escaping. I can even make escaping look pretty, Baptist-approved, and profitable. What is escaping you ask? Escaping in this case is anything you run to in order to numb the exhaustion or pain you feel from parenting and playing the comparison game. For an increasing number of women it is alcohol but it doesn't have to be that shady. Our places of escaping can be as pretty as reading, scrapbooking, or time spent on Facebook. It can be an app like CandyCrush or a photography business that makes you feel appreciated but once you get your junk together you figure out you don't need it anymore and the only purpose it fills is to remove you from those you love the most.
What I have learned about escaping is that it places a small and temporary band-aid on a deep wound created by comparison, shame, or exhaustion. We can't just walk away from our escapes. We have to conquer the reason for them so that we don't need them anymore. That will likely require more than I can cover here but the first step is to recognize the pattern so you can look for help.
What this is not is a statement for a type of parenting. I am not suggesting that someone stay home or go back to work. Don't read that here. I still work part-time. I am just doing it for the right reasons and enjoying my time at home more than ever instead of longing for my next escape.
3. Avoid those groups where you might face the yard stick of comparison
There are a lot of great places where young moms can find encouragement and connection. There are also an equal number of places where they can find discouragement and comparison. I wish I could tell you that it is as easy as joining this group but not that one, but it isn't. Groups of women are not best evaluated by their names, religious affiliations, or political stance. Their desirability is more of a reflection of the emotional health of the individual women who make them.
How we relate to others is a reflection of how we feel about ourselves. Therefore, you want to surround yourself with women who are comfortable enough with their place in life to be able to love and nurture you in yours, instead of evaluating you in it. My best advice (borrowed from Brené Brown) is to surround yourself with people with whom you can belong, instead of places were you have to prove yourself or fit in.
One of my best days was when I mentally walked away from the yardsticks that I let people evaluate me by and from the relationships that could not survive without them. I now surround myself with people who love me for who I am (not how I measure up), help me make great memories (one of my closest friends is nicknamed "good times"), and who help me grow as a person through their example and meaningful conversation.
This ended up being a longer post than I had originally planned so I will wrap it up with this gem of validation that was given to me early on. We lived in Waco when Jack was a baby and there was wise, God-fearing women at our church named Pollyanna. She told me once that she did not love having toddlers but enjoyed the older years much more. Miss Polly was a spiritual giant to me so hearing her say that it is okay to not love every moment of parenting was incredibly validating. It is normal for parenting to be hard. It is normal for it to make us come close to insanity in the process (Polly didn't quite say that but it is still true). We can take steps though to help us enjoy this stage of life more and I hope these 3 nuggets of advice help you to do just that.