I am two years away from being 40. I have now been a mother for 17 years, and I am still having children! I feel like I am a calmer, happier mother now than when I first became a mother at 20. I have grown in my walk with the Lord, and I am also more confident, having many years of child rearing under my belt. When I think back to when I became a mom at 20 years old, I chuckle a bit at my inexperience. I had always loved kids, and I grew up wanting to be a wife and mother. I babysat for extra cash when I was a teen, and I always said I wanted ten kids when I got married! And then I started having kids. And those first three threw me for a loop. Raising children is definitely harder than babysitting children. As I reflect on my early years, there are some things that I wish I could go back and tell my 20 year old self. I wish I would've taken to heart the advice I am about to give.
Here are some things I would have told my young, inexperienced 20 year old self.....
1. You don't need to prove anything.
So you are young. You are inexperienced. So what? You don't have to prove how capable you are to everyone else. This is YOUR life. YOUR husband. YOUR kids. YOUR home. You don't need to prove how you can be "Superwoman". Your house doesn't need to look perfect, with perfectly dressed and groomed children, and gourmet meals every night. When you have three kids three years old and younger, life is going to be TOUGH for awhile. Stop killing yourself by worrying what everyone else thinks.
2. Your kids are going to embarrass you. They are going to say the wrong things at the wrong time, and blurt things out that you don't want anyone to hear. Learn to laugh. You are going to need to learn to laugh. A lot.
3. Don't sweat the small stuff. So you burnt supper. Again. Oh well. Laugh and pitch it in the garbage, and order pizza. The house looks like a tornado came through. Put a movie on and line the kids up on the couch, and pick up what you can during the five minutes that they actually WATCH the movie. Yes. I said a movie. It's ok for your kids to watch a movie every so often. Don't beat yourself up over that. During the young years, you do what you need to do to survive.
4. You might go days without a shower. I know, it sounds gross, and it probably is. But baby wipes will be your best friend for a few years. You will use baby wipes to clean- the house AND yourself. They are great for sponge baths. I know this, because I have used them many times for just that purpose. As the baby is screaming. And the two oldest are fighting. And supper is burning. But the husband was coming home, and you wanted to take the time to freshen up a little, and change your clothes and wipe down a little. So. Baby wipes to the rescue. It's ok. You won't stink forever. Just a few years.
5. Your husband is your ally, not your enemy. Sometimes it doesn't seem fair. He is off working, around other adults the whole day. He actually gets to carry on adult conversation, while you are singing the ABC's for the hundredth time and putting out a million fires throughout the day. At church, you are chasing littles while he is gabbing away. You make sure the kids are dressed and fed. You make sure the house is clean. And at the end of the day, the kids prefer Dad over Mom because he is the fun parent that gets them rowdy five minutes before bed! I get it. I really do. But now as I look back over my early years, I see a lot of stupid things that I did. I picked fights out of exhaustion. I made mountains out of molehills, when I should've just shut my mouth. We do a lot of stupid things when we are exhausted. But try to learn this early. Your husband is your ally. Ask him for help if you are overwhelmed, but don't guilt him into helping. My husband has always helped out when I needed it- but it was much better when I asked him nicely instead of demanding it. Most husbands WANT to help, but they don't want to feel like they have no choice in the matter, or they are being forced to help. They want to help because they are needed, and they love you. Not because you are screaming that it's their duty to help you. Ally. Not enemy.
6. Life is hard when they are little, but it will get easier, and you will long for them to be little again. Life was so hard when I had three that were three and younger. I still don't remember much about those days, because I was so exhausted. Now that my three oldest are 17, 16, and 14, though, sometimes I grow wistful when I think about those early years. Toddlers are great. They think that Mom hung the moon. As they get older, well, suddenly Mom isn't so great. Teens are great- don't get me wrong! I love having someone to run errands, and having built in babysitters. But whereas before, I spent all my time getting them dressed, bathed, etc, now I spend time talking, sharing life lessons, and preparing them for impending adulthood. I put forth a ton of *physical* energy when they were small, but now I put forth a ton of *emotional* energy. It's different, but both are exhausting. Try to embrace every stage that your children are in. The days are long, but the years are short. It will fly by before you know it.
7. Stop stressing about the house so much. My house is much more dirty now than it was when I was 20. I used to keep the house perfect. And I drove myself and everyone else nuts about it. It used to cause me much anxiety. I couldn't even enjoy being in it, because I was constantly following the kids and my husband around, barking orders at them. No one likes a mom who barks orders constantly, all day, every day. Don't get me wrong. I do sometimes feel that overwhelming feeling of panic come over me when I spot crumbs everywhere, dishes out, clutter, and papers everywhere. But I have learned to take a deep breath, and start assigning chores to the kids. See, my personality is one of order. I would love to live in a perfectly organized home. One that was shining from top to bottom from being scrubbed, and one that smelled like freshness and clean laundry. But I have seven kids. I homeschool five of those. We are here every single day. It's not happening. And most of the time, I am ok with that. Have people over, even if it's not perfect. I remember freaking out about my house and having to clean it perfectly, just for a teen girl who was coming over to babysit! Are you kidding me? What was I thinking? I still have big cleaning days every Saturday at my house, but if you come over, I am not scrubbing the entire place. You will just have to deal with some dirt and clutter. It's a house, not a museum.
8. It might seem like a thankless job, but you will get rewards for all your effort. I am just now reaping the rewards of being with my kids all the time. I don't have to worry about them being in the world, carousing around, and being rebellious. My 17 year old brings me home little treats every week. He knows the way to my heart. He will bring me a slice of cheesecake, just because. My daughter helps me so much with the baby. Having a baby at 38 is so much easier than having one at 20! I can actually shower and not hear a phantom baby crying the whole time. My life is easier now, with teens, then when they were tiny- because I invested so much into them when they were small. Hang in there. You will get some rewards.
9. Show some grace with your kids, and yourself. I expected too much from my younger kids. Remember that you aren't raising little robots. You are raising someone with feelings, and emotions, and a soul. Throw away the child training books and seek out an older, wiser woman who has some years of child rearing under her belt. Ask her how you should be training, and the way you should be training. Love on your kids. Be consistent, but discipline with love. So many times I was too harsh. I disciplined when I should've just held and loved on my toddler. A baby can't be spoiled. Hold your newborn. A lot. Let the chores slide, because you won't have much time when they are small. I see so many new time moms discipline their children excessively, and it makes me cringe. They expect too much, too young. Show more grace than sternness in those early years. You are shaping little humans, who will become big humans, not soldiers. Don't treat them like soldiers. God shows grace with us when we fall. You can do the same for your children.
10. Every season is different. Try to hang on and enjoy the ride. Enjoy the time right after they are born. Don't stress about the house, or freak out about the kids being dirty. You will never get those first few weeks of newborn bliss back again. Soak up that baby smell, and don't leave your bed for at least the first week. I tried to do too much, too soon. I remember showing up at church the day I got out of the hospital with my fifth. That was stupid. I also had a horrible recovery with her. And I battled depression. I did too much, too soon. After my seventh, I had finally learned this. I waited a few weeks to go back to church. I stayed in bed a lot. I let the house slide. And I have had the best recovery with her. It only took me 17 years of having children, but I finally figured out how to have a good recovery after a baby. The newborn season is tough. But it goes fast. The toddler season is tough. But it goes fast. The elementary years are tough. But they go fast. And the teen years are tough, but they fly by. Each season has its perks and downsides. Just try to hang on and enjoy them.
And the final thing I would tell my 20 year old self is this- You are enough. Some days you will want to crawl into bed and pull the covers over your head and not emerge until it's time for your kids to graduate, but it's ok. You are enough. Don't stay awake at night, wondering if you are doing enough, or being enough, or loving enough. Chances are, you are. God gave you YOUR children. He knows that you are the mother they need. Don't compare yourself to Karen down the street. She has her strengths, and might seem like she is perfect, but she's not. She has her struggles. She has her weaknesses. We all do. And at the end of the day, when you tuck the last child in bed, and sit down for the last time with a sigh and a cup of tea, only to get up again to kiss another child for the hundredth time before they fall asleep- you are enough. Stop feeling so defeated. We all have bad days. Just brush yourself off, get up, and do it all over again. God made you for this, and you are enough. Would I have listened to my own advice? Maybe. Or maybe I would've had to learn the hard way, as I have learned the hard way. But don't be me. Listen to my 38 year old advice; the advice that I wish I would've known when I was 20. Life is still hard, maybe harder in ways, but I have learned to embrace the chaos and the hard days. I have learned to love more, and stress less. I still fail, sometimes daily. But I stress less. I fall asleep faster, instead of laying awake staring at the ceiling, wondering if I am doing enough. Because I have learned that I am enough. I can't do more than my best. And I am ok with that.