Practice Makes Better

[A disclaimer: consider this post more as an encouragement to moms who are struggling with their first or second young child, rather than a chastisement of those who are making different decisions from what I might make.  

My primary point is that parenting doesn't have to be a series of horrible experiences... horrible pregnancy, horrible labor, horrible time nursing, horrible time transitioning to table food, terrible twos, horrible threes, horrible time dealing with "spirited" elementary grade children, horrible time with schooling choices, horrible hormones as they move into puberty, etc... Parenting can actually be quite enjoyable... just keep at it.  None of us will achieve perfection, but practice certainly makes better.]

In life we often hear (and say), "just keep at it, you'll get better." Walking, reading, talking, learning, studying, test-taking, a job skill, hobby, communication, marriage, riding a bike, sex, friendship, rollerskating, housekeeping, teaching, etc...

... but it seems that many people stop having kids, or stop working hard at parenting, before they even have a chance to get good at it. And they don't even see the disconnect.

There's a reason why modern moms seem to gripe and struggle through every phase... because, for the most part, they're just guinea-pigging their way through parenting.

Everything is ALWAYS new. 

Especially if they have one of each gender. Potty training is different with each... tantrums are different... play is different... learning styles are often different... toys are different... clothes are different... hormones are different, etc.

Everything is at the maximum level of stress and newness. All of life is questions, and by the time they have figured out some of the answers, they don't need them anymore.

If everything is always new, of course it's stressful. It's like starting a new job at every stage, or moving to a different country every few years (ask me about that one; I've been there done that), :) with each child.  It's constant adjustment, all the time, and only rare opportunities to actually use the skills you acquired in the last stage.

In "modern" cultures like ours, it is quite common to hear women gripe about pregnancy, gripe about nursing, gripe about 2 and 3 year olds, gripe about disobedient/difficult children, gripe through adolescence, and even make comments like "having more would do me in". And I would agree with that sentiment-- if they had to re-learn all the skills over again, with each child. But for the most part, that's not the way it works.

Once you nurse a baby or two, you generally know how it goes. You've dealt with most of the breastfeeding issues and problems that will arise. And if one crops up that you haven't seen before, you take it in stride because you've faced difficulties before.

By the time you have a few children, you've likely learned how to teach your child to sleep well, because it's a necessity for family life/sanity.

One you potty train a couple, you know to watch for the signs of readiness, you know how to help them, and you have your own method worked out.

If you've diligently dealt with tantrums with your first child, when your second or third child starts acting out and having tantrums, you know to handle it right away and nip it in the bud, to help them to move through that phase more easily.

After dealing with the stress of a few semi-major emergencies or sicknesses, a mom is better equipped to discern what merits a trip to the doctor, and what just needs some of mama's first aid or TLC.

Once a woman has taught a few kids the basics of math and reading, it no longer seems so monumental or daunting.

And once even one of your kids gets to 6-7, you begin to have real helpers in your home. It's no longer "all" only on you... they begin to exponentially grow in the area of being able to play independently, moderate their own attitudes, largely handle their own toileting and bathing... and in fact, they often help with little ones (in little ways--grabbing a diaper/wipes... and big ways-- helping you see things, "mom he's about to knock over that glass of water", and "no, no, baby we don't touch that. Come play blocks with me.").

A transition happens.

Things progress, you get better, and things get easier. Things that used to seem so horribly tough/time-consuming/effort-requiring become second nature. You get better.

Instead, it seems that many families today stop before they ever begin to reap the rewards of all the learning they've acquired through the ups & downs of those first few kiddos.

Just my opinion, but it's something I've observed and thought about for a long time.

I am certainly not saying that everything gets easier, or that having a large family doesn't have a different set of challenges at times, but I am saying that things that once seemed difficult become second nature.  Things that used to overwhelm are done without a thought.  Practice makes better.


[Another little disclaimer-- lest you think I'm advising or saying we or everyone else has to have 52 kids: the *heart* is where God is most concerned... but our heart is often revealed through our actions -- they reveal where our treasures are.

And currently, most American Christians (as a whole, more wealthy than perhaps any other Christians EVER in the history of Christiandom) are the first to use finances as a reason for limiting this particular gift from God. Generally speaking, we treasure money, success, time, health, "me-time", furthering our own education, fitness, jobs, being able to have "our own ministry", and probably other things too, MORE than we treasure these little people that He made our bodies to naturally and regularly produce once we opt for marriage and are regularly intimate with our spouse.

No, we're not to sit around judging others, and yet we do need to soberly peek into our own hearts and make a sober estimation of what we find there. If our hearts are seeking God's best, valuing His gifts as gifts, and yet legitimately and perhaps sadly feel that we have reason to prayerfully limit our end of things regarding how many children to have, then that is a very different beginning place and ending place than the classic reasons given, "I don't have the patience for more!" (Um, isn't that a fruit of the SPIRIT?), "They're too expensive", "Our marriage couldn't handle more than these two!" (Perhaps there is a need for godly input from a Titus 2 woman?), "I'm ready to have my life back!" (So it's all about you?"), "We have three boys and haven't had a girl; we're done!" (What if Jacob or Jesse had stopped with such logical and sensible reasoning?")


Certainly no one need answer to me, but we all need answer to God. We need to look NOT to culture but to His Word, His plans, His pattern for humanity... to find what our attitudes ought to be. Not that we will ever all BE all that we ought to be... but we all ought to be striving to be more and more like Jesus, more and more like the Father, more and more with His attitude, His love, His patience, His strength in weakness, His steadfast kindness, His welcoming of whoever will come.

That doesn't have to look like uber-fertility... but if we look to basic biology and His comments concerning family, it becomes pretty clear what the design was (and is). To adjust that design may be acceptable, but whether it ought to be normative, which is absolutely the expectation in today's church culture, is another issue entirely. ]

All images courtesy of:


Sis said...

I like your perspective, my husband doesn't want any more kids so I think we're done, but we have considered adopting. I don't know if it will happen. Thanks for the encouragement.

Tara said...

Interesting perspective. I hadn't thought of it like that, but you are so right. It does get easier and we are able to reap the benefits of what we've learned/experienced the more kids we have. If nothing else, we acquire the knowledge that all stages are temporary and they really are little for such a short time! :)

Beth M. said...

I agree! My third child is 8 months, and I feel like I am just over the hill - parenting three little ones is HARD work, but some bits of it are starting to get easier. I definitely enjoyed the newborn stage a lot more this time around - breastfeeding was easier, I got a lot more sleep (in spite of no naps with two older ones to watch during the day), and it was all just a lot less stressful. Now if I can just master potty training the first two, I'll really feel like I have a handle on this whole parenting thing...

Anna said...

Thank you for your blog, and congrats on #6! We have 4 boys (7,5,3 and 1), so we get lots of comments, welcome and unwelcome:) I agree that sometimes people limit their number of kids based on worldly ideas and assumptions. I never thought we'd go beyond 3 ( a number that had stuck in my head from childhood), but once we had the third, I knew that we'd have a fourth, and he'd be a boy! Now my hubby wants to possibly have a #5, but I'm more hesitant, since we're homeschooling and I feel totally swamped already, plus our oldest has emotional/sensory/psychological issues. What advice would you give?

Jess said...

Thanks for the encouragement. After trying for 2 1/2 years, we are due with our second in a few months. It is tempting to think about being done as I'm getting 'older' and couldn't imagine going through infertility again. But I can also see such a lack of faith in that thinking! Guess I have some praying to do.

Anonymous said...

I am THAT woman. That woman that just has 1 child (so far), but I am that hoping for more kids. Many more!

I, too, have noticed that people gripe about mothering alot. My kiddo is only 6 months (tomorrow!), but I haven't found much to complain about. My pregnancy wasn't the most fun that I've ever had in my life, but it wasn't any big deal.

Nursing was incredibly difficult and didn't go well at all, but I think it will be different next time - because I'll have more experience. I totally agree - when everything is new all the time, it's really overwhelming (or can be), so I'm looking forward to the next kid because it won't all be new!

Beth Celestin said...

Love this post. Although I'm hesitant to get pregnant again because of my pregnancy history (nausea/vomiting, dehydration, hospitalizations), I feel like I'm just getting started as a Mom! I'm already praying that the Lord gives me the strength I need when He decides to bless us with another little one. My children have been one of the greatest tools that the Lord has used to mold me to look more like Him. I don't want to miss out on any of the growing He has for me! It's exciting!

I hope your pregnancy is going well. Maybe you've written about this before, but I'd love to hear your thoughts/tips on things you do during pregnancy to ease nausea, to get the rest you need, to keep the household running smoothly, etc.


Tiffany K said...

Thank you for these thoughts. I was most encouraged by your noting that stress often comes from continually moving from one new stage to the next. That's exactly where I am with my two little ones. Now that I have identified the source, perhaps I can step back, gain perspective, and enjoy the ride a bit more. I appreciate your blog and love of motherhood.

Anonymous said...

Amen! The oldest is 7 and the 4th is 5 months. And yes, I am tired, and yes, there is a time EVERY day I want it to be completely quiet. But, by golly, we are blessed!!

I am enjoying watching our family learn to work together and help one another, and understand why we can't have some things at the drop of a hat.

I can get worried about some illness or tragedy that "might" come our way or I can remember that God will supply all our needs and he has never left us alone. He is our Source of Life!

Thanks for your blog! I've been reading for over 5 years now! You are such an encouragement!


Jess said...

:) That is wholly and completely a decision for you and your husband to make.... I feel inadequate to give advice in situations where (1) I am not there in person to "see" life on the ground, as it truly is for you, and thus give insightful and helpful advice in the ways that are needful... and (2) I will not be part of the in-person Body of Christ there able to care for you, support you, and love you as you may need depending on which decision you make.

That said, my general approach in our own marriage has been to pour out my heart to my husband, trying to honestly assess my own emotional state of being, physical health, and the state of our children, learning to trust him more with each passing year as he cares so well for me, and together, learning to trust God completely as He never ever fails us. There have been times when I felt completely open 100% to children, and times when I felt completely spent and in need of R & R before we had another child. And there have been times of being all in between those two mindsets as well. And God has given us children (some living, some "miscarried" to Heaven) at different of those stages as well.

All that to say, in our own marriage, I have come to a place of trusting the guiding of the Spirit and the leadership of my husband in this area...

Children are a blessing, and there is also a cost. I've heard of lots (tons! skads!!) of women who wish they'd have had more... and in this current culture (I'm not even talking about the cultural attitude of disposability of children here-- I'm talking about the culture of families who are geographically and relationally disconnected from their own extended families & find themselves in unbiblically independent and disconnected "church bodies", who have no community to help support and uphold them through difficult times), there is also a "cost" to sort out. Only you and your husband can accurately, prayerfully do that, seeing all that you "see" there on the ground where you live and breathe.

Trust God and cast yourself on Him... AND be a good steward of all that God has given you-- your current family, your body, your marriage, and so on. TRUST fully and steward well.

Having a wildly bountiful and lush garden could be a huge blessing... but if I have a debilitating physical illness that makes it near on impossible for me to work in the yard, or if I'm tending multiple sick children right when the harvest comes, etc.... then, having a wildly bountiful and lush garden, and stewarding it well, could be much more difficult. I hope that analogy makes sense. Children are a blessing that requires ongoing work & effort & you are wise to "count the cost" and honestly ask what the Lord has for you...

Children are a blessing, and only you and your husband can count the "cost" of each decision (to have more children could mean a temporal cost... to not have them could mean an temporal and/or eternal cost...). In my own heart, I have always tried to keep the attitude of openness, knowing that God truly COULD give us children at any time... and trying to keep my ultimate heart attitude as one of willingness to accept any children He gives... even if we have temporary times of prayerful pauses between children.

May God give you wisdom and bless your family according to His will. He is so faithful.

kharking said...

As I move through my 3rd pregnancy in three years, I'm learning the truth of some of what you are saying. I'm not learning from scratch each time which makes it so much easier to contemplate the arrival and new months of this latest little one. There will always be something new to deal with as the older ones grow but, as you said, the learning curve doesn't have to be as steep. On the other hand, I no longer have any hope that certain stages of pregnancy itself will be anything but dreadfully challenging for me. That in itself makes me hesitate even though I know that the birthing and parenting the third probably won't be the same strain that the first was.

Anonymous said...

Beth, you made me smile - I'm in the same place right now. My third is almost eight month old, and I'm just figuring out how to potty train the older two. It started working when my two years old decided he wanted to do it by himself and my oldest one didn't want to be outdone by his younger brother! So don't desperate... one day it will work!!

Jess said...

Beth C:
I should've responded before now... RE: pregnancy/nausea/vomiting.

I've only vomited once (that I can recall) while pregnant, and that was on an airplane-- with air sickness/nausea. So I'm probably not the person to ask. I actually really enjoy being pregnant. Now, I *do* (at least with these last 4 pregnancies, I have) experience nausea... the feeling like I'm *going* to throw up, but I never do. Which, in some ways, people say can be worse, because you never quite get relief, even temporarily, from that sense of feeling like you're about to spew. But I'll take nausea over nausea & vomiting.

I do wear sea bands... which helps. And when nauseous, I do try to eat small things continually through the day and not let my stomach stay empty.

Nonetheless, I'm really not the person to ask. I enjoy pregnancy a great deal, and while I still have things like side-splitting ligament pain and occasional heartburn/acid reflux issues, I really (on the whole) feel great while pregnant. I've had a number of friends who have awful, miserable, no good, very bad pregnancies, and so I definitely understand that being a real and genuine challenge.

Sorry I can't be of more help.

Jess said...

Oh- Beth- by the way...

RE: exhaustion, keeping the house running smoothly while pregnant, etc...

I definitely DO have thoughts on that, and have written myself a note to take my next "free" moments writing to opt to write about that topic. So be looking for it.