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Parenting: What Matters Most

by Katy Newton Naas

I will always remember the day I gave birth to my oldest son.

He decided to make his appearance a couple weeks early, which doesn’t surprise me now that I know him; Aven has always done things his own way. It didn’t matter how many books I’d read on childbirth – nothing could have prepared me for the twelve hours he took to make his entrance into this world. But nothing could have prepared me for the way I’d feel the first time I held in my arms, either. It was the purest, most magical love I’d ever experienced.

Those two days in the hospital following his birth were wonderful and difficult and everything in between. I was so relieved when they released us – I was ready to go home and be a family. We arrived at our house shortly after noon and enjoyed our time with my parents, sister, brother-in-law, and nephew. The house was full and sweet little Aven spent lots of time in the arms of many people who loved him.

It was after everyone left that I began to fall apart.

I rocked Aven to sleep and laid him carefully in his crib for the first time. I tiptoed out of the room and pulled the door almost closed behind me, putting my ear against it to make sure he hadn’t stirred.

And then the panic set in. Now what? I had planned to head to my own bedroom – right across the hall – and get ready for bed. But I was suddenly terrified to get too far away from him. Would I hear him if he cried? Would I know how to soothe him?

It’s difficult to admit even to myself the thoughts that entered my mind next, much less put it out there in writing for other people to read. But in the spirit of honesty, I am going to share the good, the bad, and the ugly. I was terrified, and my thoughts turned dark. For a few moments, I felt regret.  I’ve made a terrible mistake. I’m not cut out to be a mom. What on earth made me think I was ready for this? What have I done?

And so I did what many other women do when they feel helpless – I called my mom. “Mom, what if I don’t hear him when he wakes up?”

She laughed and assured me, “You will. Don’t worry.”

I felt slightly better by the time we hung up the phone, but I crept back into his room to check on him anyway – just to make sure he hadn’t stopped breathing in the two minutes since I’d left him. The soft glow of the streetlight coming through the window was just enough so that I could see his sweet little stomach going up and down, up and down, his little lips pursed and moving in a sucking motion. And a feeling of peace washed over me and I heard this small voice in the back of my mind – a voice I didn’t recognize at the time but that I now know was from above – that said, “Just love him.” I leaned over the crib and whispered, “I will probably make a ton of mistakes. But I promise you this: I will love you.”

Our great-great-grandmothers raised families of twelve kids and somehow managed to cook, clean, wash clothes and diapers by hand, and help take care of the farm. They didn’t complain – probably because they didn’t have the time or the energy.

Today, our crazy schedules pull us in a million different directions. We, however, live in the age of convenience, the age of comfort. We have luxuries that our ancestors never dreamed of. But with all that ease come so many new challenges that make us doubt our parenting at every step.

In this digital age, information is available at our fingertips. Which is great…most of the time. When my youngest broke out in fever and a rash, I was able to google his symptoms and find some home remedies that actually worked. When my oldest wanted to learn to tie his shoes, I found a cute video on YouTube that helped me teach him.

But something about being behind a screen gives some people the confidence to be mean. We type things that we would never dream of saying in person. And this spills over into parenting advice. There are those out there who become “experts,” who like to tell the world why their methods are the only way and shame others who do things differently. And moms who make mistakes are put on display on social media so that others can tell them what horrible people they are, how they are unfit to be mothers and worse things that don’t even deserve to be repeated.

As someone who has always loved to read and write, I’ve always realized the power of words. In the Bible, Paul compares our tongues to a small spark capable of setting our entire bodies on fire. He calls it a “restless evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:8). And it is. That old expression, “Sticks and stones can break my bones but words will never hurt me,” is an absolute lie.

For the last six years, I’ve often turned to the internet for parenting advice. And though I’ve found some good stuff out there, I’ve found a lot that only confused me and sometimes left me feeling like a terrible mother.

For example, when my oldest was ten months old and still woke up every hour wanting to nurse, leaving me exhausted at work, I researched articles on what to do. Let him cry it out, some experts recommended. He will learn to self-soothe.

And so I did it. And after just one night of letting him cry – while I lay in my own bed and cried, too – he began to sleep through the night. But just when I was feeling  relieved and pretty proud of myself, I came across another article. The cry-it-out method is ineffective and cruel, others argued. You meet their needs and forget your own. Oh my gosh, what had I done? The little boy counted on me to meet his need, and I just let him lay there and cry? What kind of mother was I?

And speaking of nursing…wow. The opinions on this topic are strong. I personally nursed both of my boys and loved it, but I realize it doesn’t work for every mom. But on both sides of the argument, there are many unforgiving people. There are those who devote full articles, full blogs even, to why breastfeeding is best and shame mothers who choose not to do it. There are also blogs on the other side of the issue, criticizing mothers for this “barbaric” activity when healthy, effective formula is available.

Should moms stay at home? Or go to work? Many will argue that staying at home is best, making those who can’t afford to stay home feel guilty and those who choose to work because they love their career even guiltier. Others argue that kids benefit from having a working mom that contributes financially to the household, making stay-at-home moms feel as though they’re not doing enough.

Co-sleeping vs. independent sleeping? Spanking vs. time-outs? Having a strict schedule vs. a more lenient, flexible one? Video games or not? Screen time or not? Consistent bedtime or not?

And for every stage of a child’s life, there are strong opinions on the way things should be done. When should they begin to do chores around the house? And should they be paid for those chores, so that they can learn the value of work and money? Or should they be expected to do those things, simply to become contributing members of a household and of society?

Even holidays become sources of arguments. Should you let your children dress up for Halloween? And what about those magical figures like Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, even the Tooth Fairy? How do you approach those subjects?

Being someone who has always put so much stock in words, I used to let these things keep me awake at night. I worried that I was making mistakes that would impact my children negatively, doing irreparable damage that they would carry with them throughout their lives.

It wasn’t until I truly got to know God that I realized how wrong I was.

Through a lot of prayer and reading my Bible, I have learned that the truth is, no mom out there truly has it all together. And while there are some mothers out there who, for whatever reason, don’t make parenting a priority in their lives, the majority of us are doing our best. But my best won’t look like your best, and your best won’t look like that “perfect mom” you compare yourself to on Facebook.

Moms, we’ve got this! Let’s keep our heads up! We have to quit tearing each other down. It’s time to build each other up, encouraging each other in this beautiful yet sometimes grueling job we call motherhood. We have to recognize that what works for some won’t work for others and that a lot of this stuff we argue about won’t really matter in the end. What will matter is that through all our faults, through all our mistakes, we love our kids fiercely.

The Bible doesn’t speak to all that trivial day-to-day parenting stuff. The most valuable advice I’ve found in God’s Word is to teach your children to love Him. Proverbs 22:6 says, “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” Similarly in Deuteronomy 6:5-7, it says, “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” I do a lot of things wrong when it comes to my kids. I lose my patience. I yell. I let them play video games for too long in order to occupy them so that I can get things done. But I believe that if I teach them who God is and how to pray, how to love Him and how to have a real relationship with Him, it will cover over my mistakes.

And as for all my faults and shortcomings, all my uncertainties and questions regarding that other stuff, I turn to Philippians 4:6-7: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” This one hits hard, as it’s a mother’s nature to worry. But we are to give those worries to Him. We are to bring all of our weaknesses and concerns to Him and let Him work in us so that we become stronger. The one thing I’ve learned is that when I try to do it alone, I fail. Every. Single. Time.

And finally, when things get really hard, when I’m feeling like a failure in everything that I do, I remember Psalms 127:3: “Children are a heritage from the LORD, offspring a reward from him.” For whatever reason, God chose me to raise these two beautiful, silly, smart, sweet, rowdy boys. He trusted me with their lives and with their hearts. Though I struggle just to get through the day sometimes, He decided that I was the one for these boys.

And so I will do for both of them what I promised my oldest that first night in his crib all those years ago: I will love them. Not perfectly, by any means, but the best way I know how.

Biography

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Katy Newton Naas currently teaches middle school reading and high school English in southern Illinois, as well as children’s church. She graduated from Southern Illinois University-Carbondale with a bachelor’s degree in English Education and a master’s degree in Reading and Language Studies. She enjoys her life out in the country with her husband, her two sweet and rowdy young sons, and all her other “kids”: four dogs, three cats, and eight ducks.

Katy writes literature for children through young adults. Her first picture book, MISSING MAX, will be available in bookstores March 2017. Two of her novels, GUARDIAN and DRAKE THE DANDY, feature service dogs. A portion of the proceeds from those novels benefit Willing Partners Canine Education, a facility that trains service dogs for children and veterans.


Katy Newton Naas’s YA novel, HEALING RAIN, is nominated for YA Book of the Year at Christian Small Publishers Association. Cast your vote and see all nominees and categories at bookoftheyear.net



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