I was asked recently to provide words of wisdom for a new parent. I found myself writing way too much, but I suppose that's what comes with having high schoolers in the house. You find yourself looking back wistfully and looking forward confidently. It makes you grateful for the gray-haired women who went before you, and gently steered you along the path.
Expert bloggers will chastise me for having too long of a post. Gray-haired women know that it's impossible to limit a life's legacy to 100 words. Much of this advice came from other gray-haired women, but some is my own. Enjoy.
No one believes me when I tell them that I am a very lazy parent, because they know how much work it is to raise 4 girls and they see that my girls are well-mannered children who are growing in their faith, but I truly am lazy. What I do is find ways that couple what is good for the child with their natural bent.
The first way that I work with a child's natural bent is by breastfeeding on demand. The 4-month series at La Leche League is priceless and well worth going to classes while you're still pregnant. Don't expect this natural thing to go perfectly, but line up support when the baby is only a few days old. You'll thank yourself later when you don't hurt.
There is no greater calling in life than to give peace in this chaotic world. Men and women alike reach for the pacifier instead of the breast without fully understanding how precious it is to pause throughout the day and bring peace to each other. Lower your expectations about the rest of the day's to-do list and pencil in "add peace." It's worth it.
Carry your babies frequently. Strengthen yourself so that you can hold them in your arms instead of relying on strollers or slings. Allow your children to view the world at eye level. Allow them to move.
Another way that I work with a child's bent is elimination communication. I heard about it when my 2nd daughter was about 3 months old, and I was disappointed since I thought that was too old to begin. (I have since learned that I was wrong. You can be effective as long as your baby is too young to have learned how to help you change their diaper.) I tried it with my 3rd daughter at three weeks old and was shocked when she potty-trained herself in less than 48 hours. I had the stunning realization that my daughter WANTED to be potty-trained. It was much the same with my 4th daughter. Both of them were potty-trained from a few weeks old to about 10 months old when the world became much too interesting for them. (A lot of hard-school ECers will offer tips on how to make it past 10 months old, but I'm honestly too lazy to do that. I'm working with what they want, remember?)
Another way that I work with them is the 2-3-4 sleep routine. I am not pushing the child to a schedule, but I am anticipating what their needs will more than likely be. The child isn't being forced to sleep at a certain time, but I do notice when they naturally wake up in the morning once they start to fall into a routine, which is somewhere between 6 weeks and 6 months. (I know that's a huge gap, but there's a wide range of normal for babies' sleep.) About 2 hours after they awaken themselves, I anticipate that they'll need to sleep again, so I mentally clear out the schedule for about that time and create a mood for sleep 2 hours later. And so forth...
Don't expect too much from yourself.
The first 3 weeks of a baby's life are really hard. It gets a smidge easier by 6 weeks, a smidge easier than that at 3 months, and a smidge easier than that at 6 months.
You'll find there are fascinating time periods where babies learn something new every day. Those mental growth spurts are fascinating and thrilling to watch, so make the time to marvel. They'll also throw you for a loop during that time period, because they'll suddenly be able to do things they hadn't been able to do.
It's easier to house-proof the child than it is to child-proof the house. Teach them to avoid dangers rather than removing dangers, so that they will be safe in any environment and not just in your home.
Find a safe spot on the car for your toddlers to touch to help them wait while you unlock the car or load the groceries without worrying about them running into danger or pinching their fingers in a slamming or sliding door.
Talk to your babies, in proper English and a normal time of voice, even before they can talk to you. That way, they will learn proper English and you won't go bug-nuts from having extra words at the end of the day. When your baby speaks to you in baby talk or sign, repeat it as a question in proper English and then answer the question. That means they are introduced to the word three times instead of one and it gives room for growth. ("Buth." "You want the bus? Sure, I love playing with the bus.")
Some of the best parents that I know read Shepherding a Child's Heart once every year.
Tell your children about your childhood.
Speak with respect to your children, your spouse, your in-laws, and your parents.
Put times in your day to relax and bond as a family. The time right after dinner is when we read aloud as a family, mostly using books from Honey for a Child's Heart.
Set aside a half hour for a child's bedtime. This is true for babies to teens. Life was miserable when I expected my older children to put themselves to bed. Now that I've gone back to parenting them to bed, we are at peace. We turn the lights out, talk about their favorite parts of the day, generally settle down wound-up kids, and pray together. I hear what's on their hearts. (In only a few years, they won't be in my home anymore, so this is sacred time.)
It is less work to own fewer things.
Give yourself a deadline for when all the work is done for the day. What works for us is 90 minutes before the kids' bedtime, but that might not be your number. (Realistically, if we say that we're done with work 90 minutes before the kids go to bed, we'll finish 60 minutes before bed.) After that time, everything waits for tomorrow. It isn't worth losing sleep or relationships to cross a few more items off of your to-do list. Burned-out parents don't parent well, so get enough sleep and relax daily. (The deadline we chose gives me 1 hour or more for family time, 20 minutes to prepare them for bed, 30 minutes to parent them to sleep, 1 hour for time with my spouse, and 30 minutes to get to bed.)
Give your children all the time that they need to grow up. Let them wean themselves throughout their life. Let them decide when they are too old for childish toys.
Continue to grow as a woman. Continue to grow as a child of God. Live as an individual, instead of in comparison to others. Apologize often. Forgive fully. Laugh.