Those 100 level courses in college were quite the drag. Common sense curriculum droned on in monotone and made us cringe at the wasted time for material we should have mastered in high school. Moving on to those upper level classes meant getting to the good stuff, the meat of what mattered in our chosen field.
I'm 28 and I think I've just passed my 1st class in parenting. My son is three and we're at a sweet spot in our family dynamic that often feels too good to be true. I'm savoring every moment before that dynamic gets a radical makeover when the twins arrive.
I'm here to offer my SparkNotes version of Parenting 101, the quick version of lessons I learned in the 1st three years of parenting. New or soon-to-be mommas might appreciate this crash study (and miraculously skip years of cluelessness unlike me) and seasoned mommas might continue reading as means to feel a sense of pride for having passed Parenting 101 light years ago.
1. Expect the Worst: The worst will happen. Curious children are going to try their boundaries, explore their landscape, and experiment with all things within reach. When my son ripped a clump of hair from my sweet niece I was so horrified I couldn't move in the church pew. I went numb from my eyeballs to my toes. All I could think was, that's not my son, that's not my son, that's not my son. But it was my son. He did it. The actions of children are not a direct correlation to our whole nature as parents or their whole nature as mini-persons. However, they do need a swift and assured response when things go awry. We need not act shocked or disgusted. Expecting the worst is my way of saying consider the possibility that your sweet darling might do something in public in front of your ex-boss which makes you feel like melting into oblivion. In that moment you can confidently respond rather than react rashly, to remember there is often reason behind the misbehavior (and you will figure it out even if not right away) and that your parenting isn't summed up in that one moment.
2. Talk, talk, talk: The 1st night of my son's life I stared, gazed, and thanked God endlessly for granting me something so stunning. And while I guess I moved beyond parenting as one long gaze into my son's eyes, it did take me quite a while to realize that everything I was feeding (in the figurative sense) Thomas was planting seeds and would come to fruition. Did I really need to explain to him the process for organizing the pantry as suggested by baby books? Yes!! Loving little ones who can't yet speak can sometimes be.... mind-numbing. I've laughed out loud several times at the awkward experience of talking intelligently to a baby whose idea of feedback appears to be: drooling, kicking, and spitting milk back up on your shirt. I've been amazed though at how all my talking, eventually, came back around and now I listen to my son who wants to talk, talk, talk too. And wow! The joy in having conversations with our talking little peoples. It's the best! I talk to Thomas in preparation of new experiences or of my expectations, and doing so always pays off in big ways. As a family, we do a lot of our talking in the kitchen or at the dining table and I love the communion of sharing our day's highs and lows (although we don't call them that). I see that our practice of talking to rather than at each other makes each of us feel a sense of belonging.
3. Be One Step Ahead (when possible): Anticipating children's needs is a tricky skill to master. It takes a lot of practice in intimately knowing both ourselves and the littles. And I'm not the one to take advice from. I can be quite the spaz. I once had Thomas blow his nose into a diaper in between aisles at Kohl's because I didn't have on me a single napkin, Kleenex, or wet wipe. I'm the antithesis of the Together Mom. But being one step ahead is, just like the rest of parenting, unique for each of us. Thomas and I are beasts about food intake. If meals don't arrive on time we are some unhappy creatures. Knowing that helps me curb would-be cranky behavior. I learn what one step ahead looks like every day too because it's always changing. Showing I'm excited to go see Jesus with Thomas on Sunday is me one step ahead. Stepping away from my busy-ness to sit down and play with trains or "abengers" before he asks is me one step ahead. Including Thomas in all the things that are easy for him to help with (dumping sugar in the bowl, putting place mats on the table, and carrying one end of the laundry basket) is me one step ahead.
4. Listen: About six months ago, I experienced the biggest breakthrough yet in parenting. It was when I learned to listen to my son. I knew I loved him so very much, but one of the biggest ways that he needed to know that I loved him was in me listening. After a string of grit-your-teeth parenting experiences which made me feel like a big pile of crap, I searched Dr. Sears's website for some golden answer. Dr. Sears, why won't my son listen to me? Being a bit familiar with that site, there were likely very practical solutions to my problem (an unruly child), but one line was a frying pan right to the head. Are you listening to your child? Often I would respond to him with things like: "just a minute", "hold on", "Mommy's busy right now" and on and on. I felt what I was doing was often more important than what he wanted me to see, hear, or do. In turn, when I needed him to listen he didn't care to do so. And rightfully so. I've been working at mindful listening now for months. I feel like this one practice alone saved me from what was becoming a miserable, reactive state of parenting. Parenting amid a host of disruptions should be lived out as an active kind of prayer, one which says to our littles: you are worthy and I am fully here. I fail a lot. Luckily, I get lots and lots of chances to show him that his words are a treasure to me. And added bonus--listening means all these things in great abundance: deep trust in one another, little fascinating insights, a vulnerability that welcomes growth (for me and him), and a ton of laughter!
5. Know thy Self / Connect with Others: Parenting can become complicated quick. So much out there saying... here's the right way! It doesn't need to be a laborious process of weeding through endless advice though because it can be wrapped up in this nugget: Parenting is the practice of getting to know yourself alongside getting to know your child. Prescription to one author, doctor, or know-it-all of parenting is my definition of disaster. I'm the 1st person in line at the library to to pick up another book on parenting (as well as any other subject you can imagine) but reading articulate and well-laid plans for feeding, sleeping, potty-training, or any other sort of child-rearing obstacle just adds to my possible tools for use rather than my resolute plan of attack. Knowing our boundaries, our talents, and our core values are much more important than following the shining light of an expert or your fabulous mommy friend who scored great success in swearing off (fill in the blank). And while I want to stress we should use a mix of common sense, trial and error, and talking with your spouse for solutions, reaching out to resources is healthy too. Mommy mentors are a wonderful blessing. The advice of others who have gone before us is often very practical and applicable. In turn, we can find a deep connection with other women or men who are eager to remind us of our sanity, the humor in the situation, or that this too shall pass. These relationships are second to us knowing and doing all the dirty work that's required in being our full selves, but they are absolutely wonderful! You are no island. And you sure as heck shouldn't be changing poopy diapers on that island without anyone else to laugh with about the abominable stench.
* I took this course with Professor Thomas. I found him to be a difficult professor. He gave me tons of homework and he wouldn't tell me what was on the test. Sometimes, he made me feel so little because he acted like the curriculum was stuff I should already know. But he was pretty cool. He cancels class sometimes and every time I see him on campus he is really friendly.
** Also, you really might want to get notes from someone else. I had to retake this class an embarrassing number of times.