The Only “Expert” Parenting Advice I Give To New Moms

I will never forget that first bedtime after we brought our first baby home. My husband was downstairs cleaning up and I was finally in my own bed holding this precious child who only thirty hours before had been hidden in my body. There she was on the outside. Her perfect little fingers held in a fist, her sweet nose breathing air and her beautiful eyes looking into mine. I had never known love could feel so much like fear. It was as if my womb had poured out the most vulnerable part of me. There alone with her, without the nurses to help me, her eight and a half pounds in my arms seemed like nothing compared to the weight I felt in my chest. As the feelings of love and pride and an intense need to protect her filled me, along with fear like I’d never known, I knew in a primal way that I was her mother. Her absolutely in-love, absolutely terrified mother.

A few days later my friend, Caron, brought me a meal and sat with my daughter in her arms. She had three children of her own so was in my ‘mother expert’ category. I was eager to hear anything she had to share. Her advice was completely unexpected.
“Lara, you are the expert here. No one else has ever had this baby. No one else is her mother. No one will know her the way you do. You are the expert on your baby.”
She then went on to answer my questions about nursing and sleep and gave me information that was helpful. But first, she had handed me this gem of mothering wisdom.

I think it was with the same wisdom that, as I sat in the pediatrician’s office with frightened first mom eyes, an older doctor near retirement asked me the first question. He took my girl onto his lap, smiled at me, and said, “Tell me about her. What’s she like?” Because I was the expert on my baby. And at the end of that visit he gave me his final bit of advice. “Just one more thing I need to tell you. When people ask if she’s sleeping through the night, just tell them that she’s sleeping great.” He smiled again and was out the door.

This wise doctor knew that our world is full of well-meaning people eager to be helpful experts.

Just a couple of weeks ago I was approached by an expert on vaccinations. He’s a really nice older guy, but out of the blue he asked me if I vaccinated my kids and proceeded to tell me why I shouldn’t have done so. I so love not being a young mom. It didn’t even in the remotest way make me feel any angst. I was glad that he had said something so that I could share my own story of growing in my trust of God through all of the difficult decisions I’ve had to make as a mother. But, there was a time when that question would have sent me into the throws of insecurity.

Today, if you are a mother reading this and feeling that tremendous weight, may I share with you the same and only advice I freely give to new moms? You, dear mother, are the expert. This son or daughter grew in your womb or your heart. You have labored and you have known and you have loved. That is all you need to do. Stay there. Your labor is to know your child and to love your child. Whether they are brand new, a messy toddler or a messy teen, you have the same job description and you are the perfect woman for the task at hand. You’ve got this because you are a mother and you are an expert.

And, unfortunately, while you’re working hard at knowing and loving, you are going to have to get used to being judged. That’s just the sad reality. When you walk into the grocery store there will be experts in every aisle. When you are celebrating holidays with extended family, there will be experts passing you the mashed potatoes. At the playground, in mom’s groups, at church, in yoga class. You will find experts everywhere. They will be experts at getting babies to sleep through the night and at co-sleeping or crying it out. They will be experts about what are the healthiest foods for brain development and how to discipline (or not) and if vaccines are safe and if food coloring causes autism and if boys should have toy guns and of how much technology use there should be in your house. They will know whether you should go to work or stay home. They will be experts about whether you should send your kids to public, private school or homeschool. There will even be complete stranger experts that feel free to share with you while waiting in line at the post office their expert opinion about whether or not you have too many children or maybe you need another one because being an only child is hard.
Moms, don’t let them kill your confidence. Please. You are the expert. Know and love your kids and trust yourself.

There will be times when you need knowledge to grow your knowing and your love. You are the expert but the best experts know that they don’t know everything. They understand how vast their field of study is and they become experts at seeking out help when they need it.

You will need other people as you expertly parent your child.

But, sweet mom, seek out the people who will give you what you need while building you up, not tearing you down with their expert opinions. Look for the people, whether parents or not, that are seeking to do the same thing you are doing, knowing and loving.

One of the most supportive women in my life, as I’ve entered the (once again insecurity producing) teen years with my kids is my friend, Jessie. She’s a fifth grade teacher and on her vacations, when she could be kid-free, will often take a day to spend with my oldest daughter. She just takes her out and knows and loves her. And once a week, after working all day at an exhausting job, she drives down our long dirt road to pick my teens up and take them to our church youth group. She brings dessert and, so that they won’t be left out of the fun, leaves it with the younger crowd here. She loves us so well. And, when I’m at the end of my mothering rope, she’s one of the first people I seek out. She doesn’t play expert with me. She just knows us and she loves us. She reminds me that we are known and loved by God. And, she prays for us.

I know that sadly not every mother has a Jessie in their life. You might feel like you and the experts at the park are all you have. But, don’t give up. Pray for the gift of these kinds of friends. And then, go to the playgroup and the store and church and seek them out. Look for the woman who has been humbled by life, the one who has the security of knowing she doesn’t know.

If a woman tries to help by giving you a book about her favorite parenting method, run for the hills. But if she tells you her own stories of failure then pull her close. You need that kind of woman.

Don’t listen to the expert that tells you how to feed your baby, listen to the woman who offers to make you tea and hold your baby.

And, if you need to share truthfully how the sleeping at night thing is going, maybe look past the woman with the tried-and-true method and talk to the neighbor who has offered three times to watch your baby while you take a nap or go for a walk. And after admitting how tired you are, take her up on it and hand her your baby.

There are people out there who get it, Moms. They’re the ones that have been through the fire and have been humbled and transformed by it.

Don’t let the expert in the grocery store that glares at your toddler ruin your day. Just be thankful that you will never be that person. You’ve been there now. You are an expert. When you see a mother in the store with an out of control child and even if you see a million things she’s probably doing wrong, you aren’t going to judge. You’re going to break inside for them both because you know how hard it can be. You’re going to choose the checkout line that they’re in instead of avoiding it and you’ll hope that you can make eye contact. And then your smile and kind look will communicate, “Mothering is such a rough job, isn’t it? I’ve been there.” And with your voice you’ll say something along the lines of, “What a beautiful/smart/handsome child you have. I can tell s/he is really special.” And for the thirty-seven seconds you have, you will do the best you can to know and love this mother and this child.

In that moment that woman doesn’t need expert methodology. She needs to experience grace, just like you and just like me. Grace gives her the kind of peace inside that allows her to labor without fear. It frees her to do her job of knowing and loving without being blinded and hindered in that by guilt and insecurity.

Press on into the grace of being imperfect, lacking in many ways, doing the best you can even when it feels like not nearly enough and knowing that it is actually totally enough. The moment you are broken open and overwhelmed with the knowing and the love you have for your child, you are a mothering expert.

Much grace and peace to you in the journey, sweet mommas~

Lara

PS After I published this post I was driving to town and my thoughts went back to all the times *I’ve* played expert with other people. Before the fires of parenting burned some of that away I was much more free with my advice. For those of you who still remember those days (and maybe have books I gave you still on your shelves), I’m sorry. Truly. So thankful that there’s plentiful grace for the ‘experts’, too. 

Emptying My Pockets

Emptying My Pockets

I had already started unloading the overflowing cart when I realized I had chosen the cigarette aisle in Walmart. Behind me stood a young guy in a tank top and baggy shorts, a little rough around the edges, with nothing in his hands.

“Do you want to cut ahead of us? Please, go ahead… we have a ton of stuff.”

He looked unsure for a minute and then grateful. “No… I mean… really? Well, thanks. Thanks so much. I just want to get cigarettes.”

He squeezed by our cart and kids.

And then, as the clerk turned to get change from the register for the man in front of both of us, I saw him pocket a couple of ‘5 Hour Energies.’

He turned to me again, “Really… thanks so much. That was really nice of you.”

“Uhm.. yeah, well, no problem.”

The clerk got the cigarettes he wanted and I saw him count out his loose change to pay for them.

And, I wondered, what is my purpose right here, right now?

He took his cigarettes and whatever else he had stuffed in his pockets and left.

I kept the inner dialogue going as I paid and wheeled our purchases out to the van.

‘He obviously didn’t have a lot of money. And, what’s a couple of 5 Hour Energies to Walmart? But, would it have been more loving to say something? Maybe getting in trouble for shoplifting something small now could break the path he’s on and keep him from doing something worse in the future. What is the Christian responsibility when seeing someone sin against another, even if it’s a store?’

I said to the kids, “I saw something that wasn’t right in there today. I’m wondering if I should have done something.”

My nine year old quips up, “You mean about that guy stuffing things in his pockets?”

Let me just intersect here- children miss nothing.

The almost eleven year old said, “Yeah, I saw him, too. We should have told somebody.”

I kept thinking as I maneuvered our big van out of the parking lot and started the drive home.

“Lord, what would you have done if you were standing there and saw someone breaking the law? How could I have been more like you?”

And, I knew what I should have done.

If I were there again, (and brave enough), I would have looked that young man in the eyes and loved him. I would have said, “You know, you don’t need to do that. If you knew how loved you were, you would never feel like you have to steal and deceive to take care of yourself. If you take those things out of your pockets and give them to the clerk, I’ll pay for them myself. And, you can walk away free.”

He would have had choices then.

He might have looked back at me and been angry. I was pointing out something he felt justified, for whatever reason, in doing. He might have lashed back at being exposed as a law-breaker. He might have thought of all the ways life is unfair and he’s forced to do what he does. He might have called me a profanity and walked out the door.

Or, he might have felt ashamed. He might have pulled the stolen goods out of his pockets and left them and left the store. He might have walked away feeling depressed that this is what his life has come to; stealing caffeine and paying for cigarettes with nickels. He might have thought of all the ways he doesn’t measure up and of the people who are disappointed in him. Or, maybe, there isn’t even anybody who cares enough to be disappointed. Maybe he’ll decide he should try to do better but the next time he needs to steal he’ll feel the shame all over again.

But then, maybe something else would have happened. Maybe he would have accepted the gift. Maybe he would have taken the stuff out of his pockets and put them on the counter where they would be exposed, and let me pay for them. Maybe he would have admitted that he didn’t have what it took to pay the price and that he was breaking the law. Maybe he would have let me pay and he would have walked away feeling cared for and knowing that his life is valuable after all.  Maybe he wouldn’t feel like a thief any longer, but instead, he would have walked away free.

And, I realized, as I was driving home and thinking about what I could have done, that Christ has already done it. This is my story, too.

Saturday, I was stewing over something for a few hours. After I decided to stay home with the baby and not to go to the fireworks with the rest of the family, my husband mentioned something about me having a default tendency to retreat back to the house in the evening. Like I was no fun or something. I simmered for a while. How could he think I’m no fun? Did he forget that I have had seven babies in thirteen years and maybe I’m feeling a little tired at the end of the day? Couldn’t he be a little more grateful that I do the dishes after dinner? Does he really think that I enjoy missing out on the fun things everyone else is doing? I am totally fun. I just have had a lot to do in the house after dinner for the last decade or so.

He figured out I was mad when I started making little passing comments like, “Hmmm, the baby just woke up. Should I go outside and play Frisbee or feed him?” Or, “While you guys are outside playing, I’ll just be in here making dinner, you know, because I love it so much.” I was totally mature about it. And a really great role model for my kids. Just super.

Thankfully, like he has a way of doing, God started pressing in on me, turning me back to the truth, revealing the reason I really was upset. Looking back over our marriage, I don’t remember many incidents of being really angry with my husband for anything he’s done. I married a pretty good guy and I don’t expect him to be perfect. The times I’ve gotten mad are the times when he’s pointed out faults in me. Because he should totally think I’m perfect.

And, I realized, I’m mad because I’m afraid. I’m like the guy in Walmart trying to look innocent when he knows his pockets are bulging with stuff he hasn’t paid for; I’m counting my nickels and coming up short.

About twelve years ago, a friend looked me in the eye and said, “I would just really like to see you grow less fearful.”

I was holding my firstborn at the time, and as she spoke those words, my defenses went up. I didn’t feel afraid. I just wanted to do everything right. And, for another ten years, I searched for the perfect way to do everything. (Though, I didn’t say it like that.) I was looking for the ‘best way’ to raise my children (homeschool for sure!), to eat (all natural, farm raised, no sugar, milk the cow yourself!), to dress (maybe we should be wearing long skirts?), to entertainment (no television, no way! Movies are for special nights at Grandma’s), to toys (please no plastic, but natural wood with beeswax finish would be great, thanks…) and the list could go on…

One thing about trying to find the ‘best way’ is that you have to decide that other ways are… not so good. And, (speaking from experience here), if in your heart you equate things like a diet free of Cheezits with what it means to live as a faithful Christian, it might be hard to rest easy in a local church.

For years I wanted to leave our church. Years and years and years.

‘There just aren’t enough homeschoolers or like-minded families.’ ‘People there seem so… well, nice but compromising.’ ‘We might share a faith in Jesus, but we have different worldviews. I mean, I could just never send my kids to public school. A lot of people there even go trick or treating.

Every Sunday I would sit in the back of the church with my husband and my row of little ones. I would listen to my pastor share the message of truth and freedom and while consistently hearing the gospel, I would hope other people were listening.

I had no idea how much I needed to hear it myself.

Thankfully, something changed.

God was so kind to reach into my self-protective, fearful, perfectionistic and idealistic world and break it into pieces. I couldn’t hold it together. I failed at living the ‘best way’. He pealed it all back and said, “You are completely insufficient.”

There came a day when I sat on my bed holding the telephone and knew I needed to call someone. I had failed in a lot of areas and I knew if I didn’t shine the light on one area of my life, I could fall further. I prayed. I asked God, “Who can I reach out to right now?”

Ten years earlier someone had looked me in the eye and told me truth I didn’t want to hear. It was her number I dialed.

Now, this friend and I could not have been more different. She was a public school loving mother with a Diet Coke in her hand (sugar! chemicals!), and she not only celebrated Halloween, she hosted the neighborhood party.

But, the truth was, I knew she had something I didn’t. She had something that allowed her to call me back and give me words of truth and grace, even while knowing in her heart that for years I had judged her to justify myself and to protect myself from facing fear.

God, in his relentlessly kind way, started breaking down walls in this friendship. To be perfectly honest, it was humiliating. I started to see that I wasn’t more mature than a lot of people at our church, I was actually ‘the weaker brother’ (Romans 14). I realized that I needed the gospel as much, and probably more than, the person sitting a row in front of me at church.

But, while I was drinking in the gospel message each Sunday, I still wanted to leave. At one point, I wrote to my patient, truth-bearing friend and told her that I’d really just like to sprout wings and fly out of there. I felt hurt and unappreciated and like I didn’t belong.

I think when you have a heart that is searching for the ‘best way’ and comparing yourself to others, you tend to believe that other people have it as well. When I looked at our church, and the women in leadership there, I thought that they would change me if they could. I believed that they would really be happy if I left my kids more to take part in women’s Bible studies and ladies’ nights out and maybe if I put a couple of the older kids in the public school system. I believed that when my friend said she would love to see me less fearful, that she was saying she wanted to see me living more like her. And, I was a total disappointment in that category.

I honestly believed it would be a relief to my friend, and other people in our church, if we left. I didn’t see us serving in any meaningful way and the only thing of value we’d take with us was our tithe money. Our church was getting really full on Sunday mornings and people would probably be really glad to have all those seats we’d be leaving behind in the back row.

While I was begging my husband to agree to visit other churches, and feeling like no one would care if we left our own, I had no idea that my friend was hoping and praying that we’d stay.

One night, she wrote me a letter.

She shared what she remembered about the time my family had spent at our church, starting with when my husband and I showed up newly married, newly graduated from college and only taking up two seats on Sunday morning. Her perspective was vastly different than what I had imagined. She didn’t talk about what I’d done (or not done…). She talked about who I was, and said that our family was a valuable part of our church. Before she ended the letter she even said, I love you.

Something broke in me when I read her words. Here was someone I had assumed was disappointed in me; someone I thought would be happier if we just moved on. I had been watching her for years and it was obvious that her ‘best way’ was very different than mine. I had assumed that she was judging me and that I had been falling short for years.

It was like a gateway swung open. Like a wall crumbled. She was the person in line behind me at Walmart offering to pay my way because she knew the One that had sufficient funds for us both. She pointed me straight to the truth that hadn’t sunk in before.

There isn’t a ‘best way’, there is The Way. (John 14:6)

Jesus paid my way. I am walking free.

My life is completely changed. And, you know what is funny? Outwardly, not much has changed at all. I still homeschool our kids and cringe at a room full of plastic toys. I am still uniquely me. But, my heart has been transformed by grace. I don’t have to try so hard.

On the cross, Jesus said, “It is finished.”

I don’t need to be afraid because there is nothing left to prove.

The last couple of years I’ve felt something completely fresh and new at our church. I belong there. I don’t serve there, or learn there, or attend there… I belong.

On Sundays, instead of standing in the back thinking of how it would be nice to see more people living like me, my heart feels overwhelmed with the love Christ has shown to us all.

A few days ago I ran into another homeschooling mother. She drives a big van like mine and might not have a television. She mentioned how she’d love to get together and let our kids spend time together. She really desires more time with like-minded families.

I also hope we can spend more time together because I really enjoy her and her children.

But, I noticed something about my heart while she was talking. It doesn’t matter to me that she homeschools her many children. The fact that she makes parenting choices that are like mine and that our lifestyles are similar isn’t what gives me the motivation to spend time with her. None of that matters to me anymore.

I don’t know that I am ‘like-minded’ in the way she meant.

Only one thing matters.

My ‘best way’ has given way.

My pockets have been emptied and the price has been paid by Jesus, who saw me.

I’m walking free…

‘Come, see this man who has told me everything I’ve ever done… and offered me living water. He saw my shame and covered me, my insufficiency and loved me, my chains and broke them. Won’t you come and drink with me?’