When I was expecting our first baby, I got a free subscription to a couple of those baby/parent magazines. Nearly every issue had lists of essentials: Things to Buy Before Baby Comes. They included the obvious, like diapers and wipes, but there were also lists of gear, the best gear for the job. There were clothing lists: 10 onesies, 7 pairs of socks, 14 bibs, 5 blankets, etc.
By the time my fifth child was imminent, I just chucked the magazines into the trash can as soon as they came in the mail. It wasn’t all pish-posh, but most of the advice and current parenting trends just didn’t seem relevant at all to the lady who already had 14 bibs and rarely used them. I didn’t need pacifier sanitizing wash or enormous exercise saucers that would fill all the space in my living room where we usually walk. Please, don’t even get me started on the advice for parents when the child is angry/pitching a fit/making needs known. And those gorgeous pictures of model babies wearing designer clothes…hello! Who spends 70 dollars on a jumper for a 10 month old?
If I were to make a list for the baby mag, it would look more like this:
- Sense of Humor. You will need it every single day. Just last week, my 2 year old dropped a small deposit out of her undies onto the floor of the library. She is supposed to be potty trained, but still in that stage where squatting down to look at shelves of books tends to complicate things. You simply cannot make up the stuff that happens with small children around. You might as well laugh. I often feel like I live in The Family Circus. Hey, it is funny!
- Grace for the times that aren’t funny. When I feel like shaking and scolding, it is good to remember how graciously I have been dealt with in my failures and idiosyncrasies. Instead of saying, “You LOST YOUR SHOES AGAIN?” I might remember how often the whole crew looks for my lost cell phone. “Okay, sonny, they can’t walk off by themselves. Where did you last wear them?” Did you know grace doesn’t roll eyes at her children, either?
- Persistence. Parenting is another word for repeating. You know the verses in Isaiah 28:10 where he is talking about teaching knowledge, “For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept, Line upon line, line upon line, Here a little, there a little.” It really is that way. Sometimes it feels like the things I am trying to teach my children are dotted lines, and the children are not connecting the dots. They just never are going to get it. But they do! They grow, they learn, and eventually they get it! It just blesses my soul when my child takes the smaller piece of cake and lets a sibling have the one with more icing surface area.
- A pen and paper. This comes in really handy when you are having one of those dotted line struggles where you feel like you will never connect. Keep a private journal of the joys as well as of the issues you are facing. One day you will be heartened when you look back at what you wrote and realize that you have indeed passed that milepost. My mom kept a baby book for each of us, even though she also had a cow to milk and hens to feed and innumerable duties on the farm, not to mention raising 4 kids born in 5 years. We always cherished those books, laughing about our first words, comparing our records to see who walked first, and who hated eating peas, etc. Pen and paper doesn’t have to be fancy, but it has an amazing way of making a child feel celebrated. “Mom noticed me!” A friend of mine makes quick notes on her calendar when something noteworthy happens with the children. You might think you will never forget that hilarious thing the 3 year old said, but it could be gone by supper time if you don’t jot it down.
- Flexibility, sometimes a complete U-turn. Also known as humility, this is an essential that is sometimes so hard to come by. You can get so invested in winning every battle, being the authority, having the answers, that you forget all about the little person you are dealing with. We have always had a strict bedtime policy. Once you are in bed, you don’t get out unless you are about to wet the bed, or maybe if the house is on fire. 🙂 It took a bit of training for the toddlers, but they caught on. This last toddler, however, still has not gotten the memo, even though we have been working on this since spring. She comes crying, wanting a drink, a vitamin, a different blanket, a story. It is too dark, too light, she fell out of her toddler bed. For the first few months, we steadfastly clung to our usual training routine, and much as I dislike saying this, it didn’t work. It didn’t work ten times a night. I began praying for enlightenment. Finally we decided that she simply wasn’t tired enough to fall asleep at the usual bedtime, so we let her stay up an extra hour or two. She sits on the couch and looks at books, then we have a little cuddle and off she goes! The little offspring of the bedtime absolutists has taught them a bit about flexibility. I would like to assure you earnest young parents out there that needing to change your mind on an issue is not a sign of weakness. We all need to grow, not just the children.
- Wisdom. Pray for it. God has promised to give it…liberally! Don’t knuckle under when the problems seem too daunting. I think back to a contrary streak one of my sons went through. To be honest, there were days when I just wanted to give him away, let someone else raise him for a while. I felt so totally unprepared for this task. One day I was dumping out my questions to God, and He clearly showed me that I needed to first get rid of my own bad attitude. “This is your job. You were given this child because you are supposed to be his parent. Embrace it, even when it is hard. I will give you the wisdom you need.” Things went quite a bit better when I got my own sinful attitude cleansed. Wisdom, I might add, is not a fail proof system that you use to ensure good outcomes. Wisdom is a relationship with the One who knows all the facts and guides the person who seeks to walk His ways.
While not essential in the strictest sense, this list is Frivolous Things Every Parent May Need.
- Chocolate. Really good chocolate, hidden for quiet moments alone in the bedroom. Just don’t hide it so hard that you can’t remember where you put it when you really need it!
- Lysol wipes. Children is another word for messes. It is supposed to be that way. The wipes just make a lot of cleanup so much easier. And they smell nice.
- Audiobooks. Books are gateways out of our little worlds and worries. They help us to soar serenely above the mundane. 🙂 Any parent knows that after you read The Curious Little Kitten, The Biggest Bear, and Fox in Socks for the 40th time, you don’t have an abundance of time to read your own level. (Unless, of course, you barricade yourself in the bathroom and ignore all sounds of disaster outside the door.) This is where audiobooks are so helpful. You can listen to them while you cook, while you drive to the dentist, while you fold laundry. Bonus points go to the audios that capture your children’s attention, too. We are currently on the umpteenth listening of God’s Smuggler.
- Band aids. Lots of them. They make everything better.
- Friends. It is nice if some of your friends also have drool on their shoulders and cheerios on the floor of their mini vans. I have been so blessed with beautiful friends who have my back. We do not walk alone, thank God!
I am sure I missed some essentials, especially frivolous essentials. I would love to hear what yours are.
Edit: how in the world did friends get put on the frivolous list? Just so you know, it is in the wrong place up there.