I love talking all things parenting. I realize I’m no expert – we’ve been at this for only eight years. BUT, I’m no novice when it comes to babies, toddlers, and little kids. So I’d love to share with you some things I’ve felt and learned over the past few years by age range.
I broke up the baby’s first year into three stages. The first year of your baby’s life will more than likely be the longest year of your life, but at the same time, the fastest year of your life. Parenthood ushers in this new phenomenon of time: The seasons where time feels like it’s dragging, it’s actually going by the fastest. It’s the worst part of parenting: Everything speeds past you in a whirlwind. All you can do is be grounded to the moment and do your best to embrace it all! Sandra Stanley says, “The days are long but the years are short.” Gosh, I couldn’t agree with that statement more.
So the three stages of the first year…
0-3 Months: The Dark Ages
I never enjoy any of my babies as newborns. Judge me all you want, but I can’t be the only one. Sure, they are super cute and tiny (the only one of mine that was tiny was Brooke. The boys were GINORMOUS), but they are also angry house guests. They are very unlikable, mainly because you are unlikable, mainly because you are exhausted, hungry, and in pain. Yay you. If you feel overwhelmed and exhausted, you are doing everything right. Realize you’ve only ever been in charge of yourself. Now you have to keep a little human alive who can’t do anything for him/herself and who cannot communicate. So again, yay you. I don’t suggest reading a lot of books and articles. You can begin to feel even more inferior and overwhelmed than you already do. Find some moms who have done this a few times and ask them ALL THE QUESTIONS. We want to be asked – we love this stuff – it’s why we did it so many times (for the most part – insert smirky emoji here). You cannot do this alone. Hire someone to do the cleaning and yardwork and do not turn down any free meals/gift cards. If someone wants to come over and hold the baby while you sleep, the answer is YES. If someone wants to hold the baby so you can fold laundry, the answer is YES.
As far as your marriage is concerned, it will be weird initially, especially if this is your first. It’s only been the two of you. Now there’s this new person who is taking all of your attention, love, energy, and time. That’s usually what we refer to as an affair, and it can kinda feel like one IF you aren’t communicating properly. And how can you – cause your T I R E D. So. Try to make the small, insignificant moments, significant. Bryant and I would have dessert and TV dates during the 2AM feeding. We’d enjoy dinner at midnight. Our entire house became a nursery so that we could be comfortable in order to make her comfortable. Just know, you will come thought to the other side. But it’s hard. You’ll get caught up on a lot of shows, movies, and books. That’s exactly what you should be doing. And hang on to your loved ones and other moms for dear life.
One quick word to those who just had their second child: I had a terrible time connecting with Ryder (at first, relax) because I was mourning all the time I assumed I was going to miss out on with Brooke. I felt so badly for her – believing somehow she would be gipped. THIS IS SO NORMAL. I am going to tell you what so many people told me: Giving your child siblings (if you so choose) is such a wonderful experience for your firstborn. He/she will learn so many great life lessons and you will be forced to be incredibly intentional with your time with your kids. Deep breaths. Again, reach out to moms who have done this before. You’ll feel better.
3-6 months: The Not So Dark Ages
So you start to come out of the fog around four months and then your baby will start to be a lot more fun by six months. You are beginning to develop schedules and rhythms and attempting to re-enter society. I want to tell you something here that has the potential to change your life: Your baby CAN sleep through the night by 3-4 months. The only books I would encourage you to buy are sleep training books. OMG you are welcome.
You are in between maternity and regular clothes and you just feel weird. That’s okay. Your body will get back to normal – it all just take time. So deep breaths. Buy some comfy spandex and cute, loose tops and throw that hair in a messy bun and get back out there, girl. Your first trip into public alone will be scary. It’s okay. Just do it and get it over with and you will eventually gain more and more confidence.
And go on a date with your spouse WITHOUT the baby. It’s time. Love you.
6-12 Months: The Into Everything Age
Shew. It’s a party when your baby gets mobile. And by party, I mean workout…for YOU. But it’s also so fun to watch him/her learn and discover. Buy the gates and baby fences and everything else you need to keep him/her contained. Trust. I broke down and got a baby leash with Ryder. Oh gosh, I judged other moms so hard before and then repented in sackcloth and ashes after. Baby leashes are a must.
Also, that first birthday is not for your baby. It is for you and your spouse. You kept him/her alive for a whole year. This is very impressive! And do a big, crazy birthday only if you want. I went ALL OUT for the first two kids. Then I realized how exhausting and expensive it was and just did balloons, cake and ice-cream for the last two. Ask me which birthdays we all enjoyed more. I bet you can guess.
Andy Stanley says this first year is all about CONNECTING. It’s all about assuring your baby that you will always meet his/her needs and be there for him/her. It’s such a precious reminder of what Jesus does for us when we are weak and incapable of caring for ourselves. He scoops us up and holds us close and reminds us that He will never leave us. He reminds us that He can meet all of our needs, if we will allow Him to. We have to surrender and see Him as our only hope. This is why Jesus speaks so impressively of child-like faith – it’s faith without abandon.
Years 2-4: Do I Laugh or Cry Ages
Legit tho. Kids are so funny during these years – but they can be little demons. Like, you may want to give them away at times. But you will come out of years 2-4 with the BEST stories. I wish I would have journaled more – so make sure to do that. And never apologize for the photos or the posts. Those of us who are moving out of these ages MISS this. It’s wild to admit, but so true.
But this is when you are establishing who’s boss of the house: You or the K I D. Your child is old enough to begin to understand cause and effect. Teaching them to understand “no” early is so crucial. You will second guess EVERYTHING and some days be entirely frustrated. But Jesus gives you the instincts you need to survive AND thrive and you will make it. I so enjoyed Jame’s Dobson’s Dare to Discipline. It was incredibly practical for me during this season.
Andy says that ages 1-5 are all about DISCIPLINE. I say to my kids: “Obedience means safety. Love means trust.” I want them to understand that guardrails keep us in line and from destroying our lives. I’ve always let my kids ask why or disagree RESPECTFULLY (okay, this is a small lie cause I try to allow that, but some days it’s just “cause mommy said so…no more questions.”). Kids have voices and need to know how to use them. But they also have to learn how to listen to and obey healthy authority. The sobering thing is that once he/she turns five, you are pretty much done with the grueling work. So be consistent. Tap out when you need to. Take deep breaths. Seek wisdom. Work with together with your spouse.
But please remember that kids will model what they see, not what they hear. So if you are not modeling respecting authority, neither will they. If you model that they only have to obey when they agree, that’s what they will do. Sobering (I think we all know I am not talking about obeying in dangerous situations that violate our belief and/or our values).
Years 5-6: My Heart is Outside My Body Ages
Omg when they start going to school and social events, it is the scariest time of your life. You realize how little control you have to actually keep them safe. But it is so amazing to watch them develop personalities and independence. You will have to learn when to fight their battles and when to let them fight their own. You will start to figure out what makes them tick and how to get them to open up. I really do enjoy these years.
Andy says that ages 6-12 is TRAINING. They are beginning to realize that there are consequences for their decisions and you have to let go and let them face those. I will tell you, this will be the hardest thing you’ve ever done. But your kids will be so much better for it.
Year 7-8: The Attitude Years
Idk if I have an 8 year old or a 16 year old sometimes. Geez. Ride the wives. Hang on tight. And have a blast making memories and letting him/her grow. He/She is a mini you. Don’t fight it, embrace it. Realize what drives you bonkers in him/her is more than likely what drives you bonkers about yourself. So as you are giving your kid grace, maybe spare some for yourself.
One thing we try to do regularly is to speak over our kids what we see in them. We never want them to question how special they are, so we just tell them. We list all the intangibles and tangibles that we love specifically in each child. We study our kids so we know how to relate to each one.
We are parenting with the end in mind: We want our kids to want to be around us when they leave the house. Our kids spiritual, emotional, physical, and relational development hinges on whether or not they have a good relationship with us. If we don’t earn their respect and love, then they won’t pursue relationships with us when they don’t have to anymore. So we pray that over them.
Finally, Bryant and I have found that in order to have a good relationship with our kids, we HAVE to have a good relationship with each other. So make sure you take care of yourself (it is possible not to lose yourself – we can address that in another blog) and you get time away with your spouse…just the two of you. I cannot stress how important that practice is. Yes, it costs time and money. But the dividends it will provide to your relationships with your spouse and your children are off the charts.
And always ALWAYS remember: God gave YOU your children. They are just a gift. They are really God’s. But He knew YOU are the best mom for your kids. Be confident in this. He has equipped you – follow those instincts. I promise you, you’ve got this.
(Also, for those wondering…Ages 13-18 are The Coaching Years and ages 18 and up are the Friendship Years).
Ephesians 6 lists the shield of faith as one of the pieces of armor to use in defense against the attacks of Satan. Why? I love what Beth Moore says, “When we are convinced that God is believable and we respond to Him in faith, practically nothing can get through to us. But when our faith diminishes, our shield begins to drop, and we are immediately vulnerable to the enemy. Satan will stop at nothing to get us to lower our shield of faith so he can wound and burn us. He stacks up tangible evidence in opposition to God’s assurances. He delights in doubts and lies. He studies our weaknesses and then aims where we’re vulnerable. His priority job description is to keep us from believing God.” And believe you me, he knows our weaknesses. My counselor calls them triggers…you know, those things that seem to come out of nowhere and cause us to become emotionally unraveled. But wouldn’t it be awesome if, as soon as we sensed a trigger go off inside of us, we grabbed our shield of faith and started preaching the Gospel to ourselves? What if we immediately began rooting and establishing ourselves in the love of God so that our emotions couldn’t take us every which way?
Psalm 25:15 says: “My eyes are ever on the LORD, for only He will release my feet from the snare.” Triggers are lies of the enemy to believe that we have unmet needs, unresolved issues, and unhealed hurts that are only going to be met by getting our own way. And so, we respond to these triggers by self-medicating. We get angry, abusive, lustful, hungry, depressed, anxious, manipulative, wounded, and selfish, you name it. We turn to ourselves or others as our saviors. And we get trapped in the snare of the deadly cycle. We have to choose to take our eyes off of those things that we think we are owed, want, or even believe we need. We need to center our attention on our loving God. You see, this verse comes after “No one whose hope is in You will ever be put to shame…” and “Good and upright is the LORD, therefore He instructs sinners in His ways. He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them His way. All the ways of the LORD are loving and faithful.” If we don’t really believe that those verses are true, we will never, and I mean never, refocus our wandering eyes onto God. We will never preach the Gospel to ourselves. We will never root and establish ourselves in His love. We will never experience freedom from fear.
Andy Stanley says, “Every good thing that comes your way comes from your Heavenly Father – which is all the more reason to take your unmet needs, your heartfelt needs, and even your embarrassing wants and wishes to him. Will you go to God with these or just keep trying to wring them out of those closest to you?”Going to God and not harboring or wringing takes strength and discipline. The strength part is taken care of according to Ephesians 6:10, which follows the verses on the shield of faith: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power” (italics mine). I don’t need to be strong in and of myself in order to face my fears. Think of the worst case scenario for the situation you are trying to control in order to avoid abandonment. Pretty bad, isn’t it? Okay, now realize that right now that seems impossible for you to face – because (and I hate to be Captain Obvious) you don’t have to face it right now. Perhaps this is why One oh so much wiser than the rest of us said to not worry about tomorrow…today is enough. We have more than enough strength and grace (2 Corinthians 12:9) to deal with today. However, we are never going to make it if we don’t decide to discipline our minds on the love of God. Train your mind to trust that God is Sovereign. Even though you may think you are in control, you are not. Those things you dread could happen regardless of whether or not you submit to God’s sovereignty and love…so why not just rest in His omniscience and omnipotence? Trust is simple…when you begin to worry or to grow angry or jealous or greedy, remind yourself that God, Who knows everything and Who will ultimately work His will for your good and His glory, loves you and will do what He (as God of the universe) deems necessary. Let me remind you again, this will happen regardless of whether you “allow” Him to or not. Rest in His love for you.
Romans 5:8: “But God demonstrated His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Ephesians 2:4-5: “But because of His great love for us, God, Who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved.”
1 John 4:9-10: “This is love – not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as the atoning sacrifice for our sins.”
I mean, what can I even say after reading those verses? Did you stop and really meditate on what these verses are really, I mean really, saying? God proves His own love…HIS LOVE…His very own love…for US. How did He prove it? When I was in the middle of the worst sin I will ever commit, the one sin I will be afraid He will never forgive, the one sin I will forever be ashamed of…He died for me. Because He wants to be with me.
Not only that, but because of His GREAT love for me, He made me ALIVE. That’s right. He took away my old life filled to the brim with sins (past, present and future sins) and gave me Christ’s life. That means that when God looks at me, He doesn’t see Nicole. He sees Jesus. He doesn’t see the years I battled with depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts. He doesn’t see the years I almost destroyed my marriage and family. He sees Jesus’ perfection. He doesn’t see the sins I am going to commit in the future and be so ashamed of. Nope. He sees Christ. I mean, what?! And…I love this. He initiated all of this love first and foremost. It’s His love that defines our relationship. It’s not a mutual love. Nuh-uh. It’s only Him. And that’s great news. Cause I am going to fail and my love is going to go MIA. But He’s still going to be there. Cause it’s His love. Not mine.
It’s a funny thing…as I begin to bask in His love for me, my fear of abandonment begins to disappear.
That’s why God’s Word says that perfect love casts out all fear. But I cannot do any of this without faith. I have to believe that God loves me and hang on to that belief, especially when I experience pain from my own decisions and/or somebody else’s.
Hebrews 11:6 says it’s impossible to please God without faith. We have to believe that He truly does exist and rewards those who seek after Him. What’s the reward? What we have already studied: A life without fear. If you read on in Hebrews 11, you will see person after person who did extraordinary things in the face of real danger because they believed God loved them and had a plan and a purpose for their lives. They found their identities not in things found on this earth, but in Jesus Christ. Hebrews 11:13-16 explains, “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised, they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country – a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.” I love that. They could have returned at any point to the people and things that they thought could fulfill them here on this earth. But they knew better. They rooted and established themselves in the love of God and by faith accepted the plans and purposes He had for their lives. Therefore, they were able to live without fear. But living by faith is not easy. It is a moment by moment decision.
This cycle (Read: The Catalyst Emotion) even bleeds over into our relationships with God…we feel as though that is how He interacts with us. While we do good, He accepts us and loves us and wants to be with us. When we mess up, He disapproves and so no longer accepts us and would rather we not be around. And so we run. We become the Prodigal and push God far, far away so that we are not abandoned by Him, but instead reject Him to remain in control.
However, we can also become the legalist…constantly attempting to prove to God that we are acceptable…we are worthy…He shouldn’t abandon us. We are fostering a relationship birthed completely out of fear of God abandoning us and consequently fueled by us attempting to manipulate God into “liking” us.
You see, our fear of abandonment grows out of our knowledge that we are not able to measure up to anything for anyone. We know ourselves. We know we are going to let people down because we let ourselves down. We are so aware of our own struggles we truly believe that if anyone really knew us inside out, he/she wouldn’t love us…especially not the God of the Universe. And so we strive to give off some sort of air of perfection…whether in our homes, our jobs, our finances, our schooling, our religion, or our extracurricular activities. If we can find a way to accept ourselves, then surely someone else will be able to accept us. And yet, the cycle continues.
It isn’t until we come to fully accept God’s unconditional, unwavering love for us that we will be able to love Him and love others without fear. I wrote this in my journal the other day: “God does not see me the way I see myself. He loves me greatly!” I had just read Ephesians 3:17: “So that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filed to the measure of all the fullness of God.” I continued in my journal, “I have to be rooted and established in the love of God in order to grasp the extent of His love.” Did you catch that? I realized that if I didn’t center myself on the fact that God loves me, then I wasn’t ever going to fully understand just how much He loves me. Reread that sentence if you need to. I need to. We have to preach the love of God for us, to us.
I looked up the word “rooted”. It means, “The part of a thing attaching it to a greater or more fundamental whole. The basic cause, source, or origin of a thing. The essential substance or nature of something.” Wow. The only way I am going to experience wholeness is by attaching myself to the love of God. If I do not allow His love to wash over me and to fill in all of the empty spaces caused by a lack of love and acceptance somewhere in my past, I will constantly be looking to other people and/or things to complete me, and, as we read earlier, that only causes conflicts and deadly cycles. The passage in John 15 about the vine and the branches is beginning to make more sense now, huh? The word “established” takes the concept of being rooted in God’s love one step further: “Having been in existence for a long time and therefore recognized and generally accepted. Having taken root – growing well.” I love that. Not only do I have to attach myself to the love of God, I have to be “growing well” in it. What does that mean? I need to constantly be preaching the Gospel to myself…especially when I fail. I have no choice but to meditate on God’s love for me.
Emotions are simply reactions – automatic, spontaneous reactions. When something good or bad happens to you, your first reaction is usually an emotion. Feelings in and of themselves are not wrong. The Bible speaks freely of emotions – raw, vivid emotions. The book of Job contains the biography of a man who lost everything, and expressed deep hurt, abandonment, confusion, depression, loneliness, and anger. The Psalms are filled with intense emotions: anger, fear, bitterness, brokenness, guilt, frustration, loneliness. Jesus himself felt anguish, anger, sadness, loss. So the issue is not that you react; the issue is how you respond.
I believe the one emotion that tends to be the catalyst for all other emotions is fear. And not just fear in and of itself…Fear of abandonment. We are all afraid to be alone. God wired us for relationships so the absence of those terrifies us. Consequently, we are always fighting for control of other people. Why? Because then we think we can control our fear.
This is why every single one of us can admit to being a control freak in our relationships. We are attempting to keep the other person from leaving us – abandoning us. Unfortunately, whenever I try to control my loved ones in order to protect myself, I end up in a conflict. When my attempts at control come to nothing, then I become spiritual. Yeah, I go there (so do you). I start “praying” about it, praying that God would enable me to better control the person. When this doesn’t work, which (here’s the bad news) it is guaranteed to fail, then I vainly attempt to control the situation myself yet again. Except, just as in round one, this fails miserably…so, you guessed it, I pray about it some more…thinking that surely God will give in, because, I, after all, am praying (and with quite a bit of faith, mind you, faith that I am right and justified for what I ask).
James 4:1-3 says it this way, “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Do they not come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”
That last line in the verse is a doozy: “You do not receive because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” Fear of abandonment originates from actually experiencing abandonment at some point in our past. We discovered really quickly that people are always looking to others for their love, acceptance, worth and security. Therefore, they only accepted us if we loved and did good to them…The moment we failed and they were hurt, we felt their disapproval and disappointment. They reacted with rejection. Rejection is self-protection against feeling abandoned. This only makes sense, right? I mean, if someone is afraid of being abandoned and I treat them negatively, the message he/she receives is that I do not care about him/her…I am rejecting him/her and consequently, he/she is quick to pull the plug on our relationship as protection against what he/she perceives as the impending abandonment. Now I feel rejected and abandoned. And the deadly cycle continues. We get trapped. And see, God isn’t going to free us from this bondage because we cannot look to people to fulfill us. We cannot allow their love, acceptance, worth and security to be our identity. This is exactly why so many marriages end in divorce and so many parent/child relationships are blown to smithereens. We were never meant to be each other’s saviors.