By Anne Wilson
I had a conversation with myself this morning, and it went like this: “My son’s 20-month appointment is coming up. I should probably research what vaccines he’s going to get, but I’m seeing Jayla today and I need to remember not to talk about it because she is very offended about vaccines.
“I wonder if he’s getting enough nutrition. He didn’t eat fruit last week and has declared war on vegetables. Maybe he won’t grow this year. What if he doesn’t grow? Must remember not to ask Betty about it because she’s a vegan and would die if she knew my kid was on a steady diet of chicken and more chicken.
“He didn’t sleep last night. I wonder if he’s teething. Must remember not to mention that to Susanne because she believes in the attachment theory and would shame me forever if she knew I didn’t go rock him back to sleep.”
That sounds like a fun conversation to have with yourself at 6:30 a.m., right?
1980s to Now
When I was a little kid, there was one book for parents to glean wisdom from, and Dr. Spock wrote it. The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care was the resource for every parent to turn to when a child spiked a fever or when a toddler threw a tantrum. Scan any bookstore today in almost every state in our country and you’ll find the opposite. Somewhere near the back lives a scary bookshelf, filled to the brim with parenting advice for every type of parent.
Are you gluten-free? Don’t worry, there’s a book for those who want to raise baby-vegans. Did you grow up an athlete? There’s a book for raising a baby-athlete. Don’t want to vaccinate? Feel passionate about vaccination? There are books for you too, my friends, and they will all scare you. Feel passionate about raising a bilingual baby, even though you only speak English? Oh, there are resources for you! You can learn a new language and teach your baby how to speak three languages in just one year . . . if you work hard and quit your job to dedicate yourself to the task.
In her TED talk this past spring, Jennifer Senior said, “Short of teaching your toddler how to defuse a nuclear bomb, there is pretty much a guide to everything. All of these books are well-intentioned, and I am sure that many of them are great. But taken together, I am sorry; I do not see help when I look at that shelf. I see anxiety.” While I love a good resource just as much as anyone, I would have to agree with Jennifer.
Knowledge Is Power?
Two years ago, I was seven months pregnant with our son, and I was your typical first-time mom. From the moment I found out I was pregnant, I began reading all there was to know about parenting and childbirth. I researched as much as I could, grasping for every book I could find to learn as much I could fit in my brain. I am a strong advocate for lifelong learning, sometimes to my detriment. I hardly watch any television show or movie without having IMDB in my right hand, scrolling through the actors to see what they’re up to now. I cannot help it; the information beckons me.
During my pregnancy, I felt that if I educated myself beyond normal capacity, I could alleviate the fear that naturally comes along with parenting. Knowledge is power, right? Sometimes. Turns out, I was still afraid. The more I read, the more afraid I became. There is no shortage of supply when it comes to resources that scare the daylights out of new parents, and I surely got my hands on all of them. (Side note: if you’re a person prone to anxiety, just step away from WebMD. Forever. Specifically at 2 a.m.)
Advice from Older, Wiser Friends
So I had this brilliant idea near the end of the pregnancy. I felt like there was still something I was missing, this piece of knowledge about parenthood that would make it all come together for me and eradicate my anxiety. My husband and I came up with a short list of friends and parents we loved and wanted to learn from. My husband is a high school teacher, and at the time I was in youth ministry, so we had no shortage of parenting examples. A few couples were in their 70s, some in their 40s, 50s, and 60s, and a handful in their 30s. So we drafted an email and asked our friends to send us what they wish they would’ve known about parenting and what they really believe in when it comes to parenting. We also told them that nothing was too small or too big—include all of it, we said.
I don’t think I need to tell you this, but those emails are better than all of the books. Those emails resemble every generation of parenting—some from empty nesters, some were raising teenagers, and a few were in the throws of toddlerhood. They had stories about their sleepy newborn days, the toddler discipline years, and hormonal teenage fun. While all of them were in a different phase of life, from different places and family styles, they all said one very similar thing: seek Jesus and surrender. Surrender your pride and your need to be right. Surrender your desire to withhold apology and your need to be needed. Surrender and walk in the grace and freedom that can only be found in Christ.
Parenting and Jehoshaphat
I’m barely two years into parenting, and I can tell you this for sure: most days, I feel like Jehoshaphat from the Old Testament. In 2 Chronicles 20, there’s a story about young Jehoshaphat defeating Moab and Ammon. While I wouldn’t compare the parenting journey to war, I resonate with his plea to God.
When he found out an army was attacking him, Scripture says that Jehoshaphat was afraid, so he “resolved to inquire of the Lord” (v. 3). He then called everyone together to seek help from God, and they came from every town in Judah to seek him. Scripture paints us a picture of Jehoshaphat trusting and proclaiming God’s providence that he was maker and ruler. Even though Jehoshaphat was afraid, he stayed focused on God. At the end of his prayer, Jehoshaphat prayed, “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you” (v. 12).
I Didn’t Need Another Book
In the early days of newborn-land, navigating feeding and sleep schedules, I surely needed God. I have climbed the Teton mountains and hiked Yellowstone National Park, and that didn’t even come close to the complexity of learning how to care for a newborn for the very first time.
When I dropped off my son at daycare on my first day back at work, I felt paralyzed with feelings of guilt, anxiety, and fear. I didn’t need a book about theories of daycare vs. stay-at-home parenting. I needed the Holy Spirit.
When my son came down with hand, foot, and mouth disease this past summer while my husband was traveling, I didn’t need a book about how to stay calm when you haven’t slept in three days. I needed Jesus to enter in to my very real and messy life. I needed God to make me grateful and fill me with joy.
Hear me clearly: I am not about throwing out the books. I love books and turn to them often. But more than anything else, my journey into parenthood has humbled me and softened me. I am more aware than ever of my sinfully large view of myself, and I’m constantly leaning into the presence of Jesus and asking him to show up in the big and small parts of my day. I ask him to keep me patient when I feel like I’m losing my temper and to make me humble when I can feel myself filling up with pride or arrogance.
And like young Jehoshaphat, I am often ending my prayers with, “Lord, I do not know what to do, but my eyes are on you.”
Anne Wilson is a freelance writer in Indianapolis, Indiana.