I was obsessed with babies from a very young age. Newborns specifically. To me, holding an infant in your arms, was the best. I couldn’t wait to grow up and have babies! Lots of babies.
I volunteered in the church nursery from the age of 9 or 10. I knew all the babies in our church and they knew me. If there was a new baby to be held, I always asked to hold. I was extremely mature for my age and the parents liked me. By the time I was about 11/12 I was taking babysitting jobs for those children in their homes. Anywhere from 1 child, to a home with 6 boys. Back then you got paid $1 to $2 an hour for babysitting! I loved it and took every job I could.
When I was 12, I would walk back and forth on our front porch talking to God about how bad I wanted to be a mom. I prayed, “Lord, why can’t you just make me pregnant like you did the virgin Mary?”
I didn’t want to wait, I wanted a baby, bad.
Well immaculate conception was not in the cards for me but I did start young! I met my husband when I was 14, he was 17. One year later, at 15, we were engaged and when I was 17 and he was 20 we got married. No I wasn’t pregnant, but you better believe that was my first priority once I was married. So my cycle started a few days after our wedding and by the next month I had a positive pregnancy test. My first born arrived 9 months and 9 days after our wedding date. Finally, I was a mom, at 18.
Now I realize most 18 year olds aren’t ready to be moms, but I was. I had prepared for this mentally and emotionally for nearly 10 years. And I had the skills to care for a baby. Side note: Needless to say I also did a lot of growing up while I was raising my own children. But some 30 year olds aren’t even as mature as I was at 18. So I do condone young marriage and parenthood depending on the individuals and circumstances. Age doesn’t define readiness. Everyone is different and no situation is perfect.
What a joy it was to hold a newborn in my arms that was all mine. I couldn’t be happier. After that, the babies just kept coming! I knew I wanted at least 4. So, between 18 and 30 years of age, I gave birth to all seven of my children. I was either pregnant or breastfeeding for almost 12 solid years. I had babies in diapers for 15 years.
During that time a lot happened. Among which, I went to nursing school and became an RN and of course went directly into the maternal child area of practice. I started out as a postpartum nurse and within a year trained and transferred over to NICU nursing. My dream job! (If I had to work) I got to work with the tiniest of newborns! So after my last child was out of diapers, I still changed diapers and fed babies for another 10 years beyond that! I retired in 2013 from nursing (and 25 years of diapers) when we moved back to California. I finally got to be a stay at home mom for the youngest 3 of my kids even though they were mostly grown.
So, many would say I have experience with raising children. My kids turned out great, by most accounts and opinions. Not perfect but respectable, good humans with varying levels of success and some with children of their own. I became a grandma at 40 and love it! One of the many benefits to starting young!
Now that my kids are grown I sometimes hear about things from when they were little. Impressions left, hurts inflicted, mistakes made. I realize it’s the dramatic moments we tend to remember. The normal, mundane and ordinary often seems like the lesser of a childhood and the things that stand out to a child were the scary, hurtful, and big moments. (Good and bad). So sometimes kids grow up with a somewhat distorted perception of their childhood. But in reality that is how they remember it so changing their mind is nearly impossible.
My grown kids even argue among each other about what did and didn’t happen and what is true or truly exaggerated. Who had it the worst and the best will never be agreed on by all of them. I almost feel like I’ve learned more from their perceptions of things then I did raising them. Because no matter how good (or bad) of a job you do, perception is everything to your children. And the things you say and do in their childhood is what shapes and molds their memories, opinions of you as a parent and feelings toward you in general, as well as their emotional and mental well being.
That’s when you truly see the mistakes you made, little and big, even when you thought you were doing an okay job. And it’s different for each individual child and personality. The unfortunate part is, once they are grown, it is done and you can’t go back and have a do over. I’ve realized that it’s nearly impossible to know some of the things you may be doing that leave a negative impression with one of your children but there are some general things I’ve learned. Sometimes you just do the best you can and hope it will be enough.
So this is my advice for those out there who are still in the midst of raising up your children, or just starting out having babies.
Love is the number one most important thing you must give your child. Not necessarily what love means to you but what it means to them. We all receive love and affection differently, so try to learn what matters to each child. Is it quality time, affection, individual time, words of praise and encouragement, fairness, interest in what they love? There are many ways to give and receive love.
You may think that working long hours to provide everything for them they could want is how you show you love them or buying them gifts and toys and things they want should show them. They should be grateful for all your hard work and everything you do for them and give them, right? Wrong. In reality, most kids don’t care about that long term. There may be certain times that a special item they wanted really badly, when received, could be a good memory etched into their collection of childhood memories. For the most part, though, they won’t remember all those things you bought or all the time you spent working to support them, cleaning up their messes, doing their laundry, cooking them meals, making holidays extra special or whatever we do as parents to just responsibly care for and raise our children.
What they remember is whether you were there for them at the times they needed you or wanted you most. Were you compassionate to their feelings even when you didn’t understand why they felt the way they did. Did you show them respect even though you are the adult and they are the child and not belittle them or their interests. Trust me, you can do it without even realizing it, by telling them video games are stupid or you don’t like their taste in clothes or confirming truth to hurtful words their siblings have used toward them.
Raising children is hard work. Paying attention to all their individual needs and personalities when you are tired and overwhelmed with life, stressed out or fed up with bickering, messes made, disobedience etc etc etc. Sometimes you do have to pick your battles for your own sanity.
Although, it’s how you respond when you’re feeling the most depleted that they seem to remember later. When we lose are tempers, say things that are hurtful, ignore their needs and refuse to defend them when asked. Sometimes it’s just making the best of what life hands you that can become distorted in a child’s memory. We even often repeat similar cycles we didn’t like about our own childhoods.
For example, I hated that my mom was gone most of the time. I needed her to be there for me more but she worked swing shift, the hours that we were home from school, 5 days a week on rotation. She had very practical reasons for working that shift, that allowed her to help support her family financially and raise 7 children and run the household. All good. She did an incredible job of it too. As an adult I completely understand. But as a child I just resented that she worked when we were home. My primary love language is quality time. So yes, I took it personal that she worked a shift that kept her away. I can remember some of the special gifts they gave me growing up, but the best and most meaningful thing she ever did was take me with her alone to a women’s retreat weekend that happened to land on my 12th birthday. I don’t remember a lot of details about the weekend but the fact that she took me and only me to spend an entire weekend with her, that meant the world to me. It wasn’t planned, it was a last minute decision, probably because I made her feel guilty. But there it was, her decision filled my love tank and etched a memory that said she cared about me to my soul.
I also became a working mom out of necessity and when I was home I was sleeping because I worked graveyard shift. I only saw my kids for a couple hours a day and on my days off I was often running errands, doing laundry, running a household, taking kids to practices for various activities or just vegging in front of the TV because I was exhausted.
My kids memories are of a mom who wasn’t around a lot and too tired to meet their needs when I was around.
Obviously there are other important things that factor into raising children. Teaching them to love Jesus is the most important thing to instill in them. discipline, consistency, responsibility, protection, open communication, involvement, teaching them how to be good humans, all of these are important.
But the thing that will speak the most into their perceptions of you and their childhood memories is how well you show them love. I’m sure that is why the Bible tells us …”the greatest of these is love.”
1 Corinthians 14:1 (NLT) tells us, “Let love be your highest goal!”
God love! Not worldly love. 1 Corinthians 13 teaches us about God love. We often think about it in relation to marital love but this is how God loves us and how we are called to love others. All others. Including our children. Do yourself a huge favor parents and study what love really is in the Bible and apply it to your marriage, your parenting, and all your relationships.
I could go into all those other important factors in parenting and maybe I will in later blog posts. Maybe I will make it a series. But for now I will focus on the greatest of these…love. Everything else will come with it! Don’t believe me, Jesus said it in Matthew 22:37-40: Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
The greatest commandment is to “Love.”
All the other laws and prophets hang on love!
With expressing love to your children don’t forget to let them see you expressing love to your spouse. One of the biggest mistakes we made raising our kids was not necessarily letting them see us argue, which wasn’t the best, but it was not letting them see that we had made up. Letting them know we were wrong and that we had forgiven each other and love each other no matter what. Don’t just assume they know it because everything is fine the next day. Your children don’t know the words of humility, kindness, forgiveness and love that you have spoken toward each other in private. We often left our children with the impression that we weren’t very fond of each other for many reasons. It wasn’t intentional, we didn’t know the thoughts they had about the state of our marriage until they were grown. It bothers me to know my children grew up worried our marriage wasn’t good and we could potentially end up divorced. This shaped many of their beliefs about marriage, love, forgiveness and how to treat someone you are in a relationship with. No matter what principles you may be teaching them, remember actions often speak louder than words. Although, reassuring words to enforce all the loving relationships in their life are also very important.
So show love, to Jesus, to yourself, to your spouse, and to your children! It is the greatest of these!
Pray often, love fiercely, be humble, do your best and never stop trying to improve. Your children will be blessed for it and so will you.
There is hope beyond this! To God be all glory!