Our oldest daughter turned eleven yesterday. Eleven. I have been a tad emotional and sentimental hugging on my not-so-little girl. I promised myself I would never be one of those moms who tell younger moms to “enjoy these days because they go so fast” because that advice can be irritating and completely unhelpful to a frazzled young mother who is trying desperately just to make it to bedtime. Instead I have been thinking about what could be helpful to newish mothers reading my blog. I love gleaning from the experience of moms that gave gone before me so I asked myself: if I could go back and tell my younger self the pieces of advice, the parenting nuggets that would be most helpful over the next eleven years, what would those be?
Well here’s eleven of them.
1.One day – just like that – she will stop coming into your room at the crack of dawn.
The door creeping open, the pitter patter of little feet, and the big eyes peering over the mattress willing you to wake up. Yes, you tried everything to get her to sleep later but nothing worked. And the mornings are so long which make the days so long.
But one day – out of nowhere – she will stop and either go straight downstairs to turn on the tv or play with her dolls in her room. And something you thought you would be so happy about will actually hurt your heart a little.
This is not to make you sad. But know that with so many hard things about motherhood, “this too shall pass.” The hard things will resolve and you will move on to some other issue at hand.
Also, it won’t be too far down the road before the little girl who constantly longs for you and wants every bit of your attention will be asking you to sit at a different table at the pizza place so she can hang with her 5th grade friend. Just saying…so read #2 carefully.
2. Make the most of your influence.
You are the biggest influence in her life – for a season. So maximize your impact in those early years. Stamp on her heart what your family really values (for us that’s loving and serving Jesus) and model it for her. Use the time when you’re with her most to develop habits of good character, obedience and respect for elders. Your efforts will bear fruit later on in childhood.
Oh and don’t get caught up in creating perfect little robot child with praise-worthy manners. Be concerned more with issues of her heart. After all, manners are a reflection what’s in the heart so start there.
You shall love the Lord your God with all your hear and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk about them when you sit in your house, acond when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. Deut. 6: 5-7
3. It’s not quality, but quantity.
Don’t get me wrong, the “special” days – the American Girl doll lunches, the vacations, and the elaborate birthday parties – are worth it and memorable, but think about keeping them special by not saturating her life with them.
Moreover, you may feel pressure from Instagram and mom peers to fill every chunk of free time with something special. A museum visit or an Pinterest activity or a birthday party. Even a get together with friends. There are so many good and fun things to do but they can often leave you racing from one thing to the next and exhausted at the end of the day. So those much needed gaps of unplanned time to notice issues of the heart that need addressing, to talk with her, to hear her questions, to just let her be. To think and play which is so vital for her development.
The truth is: what will really allow you to mold her into the thoughtful, precious girl that she will become is the quantity of time you are together. Some years this will come naturally; other years you will have to fight for the time. Perhaps that means saying no to more things to lighten your schedule. Maybe it’s not carpooling so you can have that time on the drive home from school to hear her unload about her day. Maybe it’s staying in her room a little longer after bedtime as heart opens up more in the dark. Or it could be something strategically mundane like blow drying her hair through high school. Whatever it is, fight for that time because it’s fewer and far between the older she gets.
4. Don’t sign her up for three year old soccer.
Just kidding. (Sort of.) When she first gets the opportunity to join a soccer or t-ball team or some other organized activity it seems like such a GREAT idea. But so does dance. And gymnastics. And art class. Like I said above, there are so many good things out there – and it will be so hard to say no to them – but hold off as long as you can because once you hop on the organized activities train, it’s hard to get off. The emails keep coming and the shoes and jerseys keep getting more expensive.
Save money (and some sanity) and enjoy the unplanned free time you have as much as you can with her. Even if it’s just an extra year. Her time will come, trust me. Before you know it you are transformed from a stroller mom to a carpool mom and you will be looking wistfully upon the mom pushing her little one down the block while you are schlepping your crew to some dance studio in rush hour traffic.
And truth: aside from a few exceptions, from what I’ve seen the natural and truly gifted athletes will rise to the top no matter if they start at thee or six years of age.
5. As my grandmother said, children will “rule the roost” if you let them.
Children smell weakness and mom guilt from a mile away and will manipulate that to their advantage. So stay strong. You don’t have to be an authoritarian, just the authority.
Up until the mid twentieth century parenting was not viewed as complicated like it is today (and there weren’t 10,000 parenting books!) so don’t let it flummox you either. You can do this mothering thing. A few key principles: avoid empty threats, bribes, and vague demands with your children. Instead offer clear, concise directions and always mean what you say.
Also, you will find that 85% off everyday behavioral issues stem from being tired. Children need a lot of sleep. Fight for their naps and downtime. You need that time as well!
6. Remember there is a difference between childishness and foolishness.
React accordingly. You and your husband can be the authority but still love on them, kiss them, hug them, and nurture them. Have grace with your children. You will be surprised how much they will have it for you.
7. Children are much more capable than we give them credit for.
And can actually be quite helpful in taking housekeeping to dos off your plate.You just have to take the time to train them properly. They don’t come out of the womb knowing how to make their bed properly and rinsing the toothpaste out of the sink in the morning. Work is a good thing. Teach them that young.
8. You will not regret letting her “be little” for as long as possible
Keeping her a child and protecting her innocence for longer than most will be one of your proudest motherhood moments. Dressing her like a little girl, limiting t.v. and pop culture exposure, and putting a priority on play and imagination and time outdoors (instead of succumbing to cultural pressure to be be “academic” at a very young age), will be a precious thing to watch. (And, no, it will not make her “less prepared” for the real word.)
9. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to create a beautiful, orderly, and safe home where she and the rest of your family can thrive.
Homemaking is a learned art form, and a noble one at that, and it is entirely possible to make a happy one on a smaller budget.
Create a home for her and your family that she longs to return to at the end of the day. Make it beautiful in whatever budget you have. The world is a harsh place and so home and family – including siblings- should be a respite from it. A calm and life-giving space free from frequent yelling and strife and mindless clutter. A place where everyone is loved and respected and can share their opinions and thoughts, dreams, and fears, without being judged or criticized.
10. Fewer, meaningful traditions will serve your family better.
Don’t start traditions you don’t intend or will realistically be able to keep. Case in point: on the night she looses her first tooth she will wistfully say,” “I can’t wait to see the magical fairy dust the tooth fairy leaves.”
Instead of racing to Michaels at 8 pm to track down Fairy Dust (i.e. cake glitter) and other whimsical accessories (that she clearly learned about from friends), take a deep breath and be proud of the $2 bill you slip under the pillow with a note in your fanciest cursive writing. Otherwise you be expected to do the same magical song and dance for her next tooth and the next. And your next daughter and the one after that. The Tooth Fairy will quickly become very fatigued and wish she hadn’t set such high standards on something so void of meaning!
So put your energy into traditions that you really care about. Holiday traditions, of course, but also more mundane things that will become part of the rhythm of your family life. On birthdays and sick days she will love how special you make her feel and the 30 minutes before bedtime. And on the night before school every year (even in middle school!) she will eagerly anticipate your school bus cake.
11. The older you get, the more you will realize you need to pray.
Because the older she gets you realize how little control you have of her life. And you also realize you cannot do this mom thing without the one who created her.
You’ll find yourself searching for that little card you got in that young mom’s Bible study years ago about all the ways to pray for your child. For her friends, for her safety, for her to be caught in their wrongs, for her future husband, for her health. You’ll tiptoe in her room after she falls asleep and pray all these things over her. You will plead with the Lord that your (many) mom fails won’t impede her understanding of His mercy and goodness and love.
And pray also that your mothering mistakes won’t prevent her from seeing what a noble and wonderful calling being a mother truly is. A gift really. The greatest gift of your life.
Happy 11th birthday, my sweet girl.