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).