Someone asked me in passing the other day what advice I’d found most helpful in being a mum, and I didn’t really have an answer. I’ve been thinking about what it might be – what of all the advice I’ve had would I pass on? I was thinking about everything I’d read before having Boaz – what had stayed with me as vital? To be honest, although lots of it was helpful, like ‘sleep when the baby sleeps’, or has helped me understand child development, I’m not sure any of it is what I’ve found to be most important in motherhood. So, I’ve been doing some thinking, and I’ve realised that, not only was none of it vital, none of it was what I really wish the books had said. So, for what it’s worth, this is what I wish the baby books had actually said.
1. ‘Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus’, Paul, Romans 8:1 – Everyone has an opinion on how you should parent: how your children should sleep, what they should eat, what parameters you should set and how to enforce these. Sometimes these opinions are given helpfully, and other times they’re just plain judgemental. One book I read even had a chapter entitled ‘Accidental Parenting’ for, essentially, any kind of parenting that wasn’t how she would do it. The truth is this – you will screw up as a mum. Sometimes you’ll know straight away, sometimes years down the line, and sometimes never at all. And though we take our calling as mothers seriously, we rest secure in the fact that we are saved by grace and not by works – not even the work of motherhood. Our mistakes as mothers do not condemn us: we are not somehow exempt from the work of Jesus on the cross. The lady at the check out might condemn me because my boys are swinging from the trolley; the purist wholefoods mum might condemn me for my trip to McDonalds; the ever patient parent might condemn me for shouting at my children to hurry up – but Christ does not condemn me. My condemnable acts are not simply ignored; the condemnation has been given and the price paid, but not by me. Jesus takes my sin upon himself and is condemned in my place so that I am free from it all. And that helps me sleep just a little easier at night (at least, for the short period of the night where all three of my boys are asleep!)
2. ‘Stamp eternity on my eyeballs’, Jonathan Edwards – It’s so easy to fall into worrying about whether I’m giving the boys enough opportunities: have they had enough chances to play sports; master an instrument; learn skills; pursue their interests? Are they able to read, write, use the toilet, use a spoon, express themselves, socialise…the list is never ending and my eldest is only five!! Yes these things matter, of course they do. But they are not the end goal. They matter, but they are not essential. If this life was all there was, then they would have greater significance, but this life is fleeting in the scope of eternity. We are given life now and we need to treat it as a gift and a blessing, but it’s just a foreshadow of the greatest gift and blessing – eternity with God. That’s what matters. In the midst of the stream of worrying about ‘can they…?’ ‘are they…?’ ‘should they…?’ I need to keep it in the perspective of eternity.
3. ‘Preach the Gospel to yourself everyday’, Jerry Bridges – I’m not sure if Jerry Bridges was the first person to say this, but he’s where I first heard it said. This seems so obvious, and yet, I first heard it when I was 27. 27! Know the Gospel, and tell yourself everyday. Remind yourself how loathsome you are, yet how loved you are. How wretched you are, but how beautiful you have been made. How useless you are to achieve any kind of goodness, but how you are clothed in the perfect righteousness of Christ. As a mum I need to hear this, because nothing has shown me my loathsomeness, wretchedness and uselessness like motherhood. And nothing obliterates it and frees me like the Gospel.
4. Embrace theology – It breaks my heart when I hear people talking about the irrelevance of theology, as though it’s somehow for those who are academic or have time to kill with abstract musings. Theology is, essentially, the study of God: getting to know who He is and what He has done for us. It’s about coming to know the heart of the Father who gave everything to save me. I want to point my children to the God who loves them and rescues them, who wants the best for them, who guides them and has a purpose for them. The better I know my God, the better I can point them to Him. But more than that, God wants me to know Him for myself, not simply to point my children to Him. He wants me to know Him as a God who loves me and rescues me, who wants the best for me, who guides me and has a purpose for me. I’m not saying you have to study in Biblical Hebrew and Greek (feel free, but I’d rather eat my own head), or that it has to be complex and you have to spend hours trawling through heavy dusty books. But it is about not settling for the insipid lacklustre theology that is so pervasive today and which doesn’t truly increase our knowledge of and relationship with God.
5. It’s OK if time drags and the moments aren’t precious – Something people like to say to mums of babies a lot, at least in my experience, goes something like this “Enjoy this time, it’s so precious and it flies by so fast”. I’d always nod and smile and agree, whilst inside screaming something obscene. But now I can see how precious and fleeting those moments were. I hated breastfeeding, but now sometimes I remember moments of peaceful suckling and dozing. My point is this – you don’t have to find the moments precious at the time to have precious memories. It’s OK for days to feel like they’re dragging, because, hopefully, you’ll come to remember the beautiful moments (and they are there, even if they’re sometimes hard to see now) and forget the rest. That’s why people say how fleeting and precious babyhood is – because we have fleeting precious memories that we cherish now – after the event!