Today our fourth turns four. Wow!
I had not signed up for birthing a fourth baby, and I wasn’t sure I could mother another. That’s an understatement- it felt like a death sentence. The finish line to recovering my life had just been pushed back another 18 years. How would I do this?
Judah Jones was a surprise to our family; he still is. And yet, he was also the first child where I became really confident as a mom. Not because I knew everything, but because I knew I could walk through anything, starting right from his first moment of life where he came rushing into the world next to a toilet.
My white-knuckle grip on Perfect Parenting had been slowly weakened by my first three children, and Judah would bring the final blow, leaving me with open hands and an open mind and a willingness to journey with my child into the Not Knowing. Plus, he was a cute baby! So that helped.
Ironically, Judah was the child who brought me out of ‘surviving’ and into ‘thriving’ as a mother.
This is when I learned to rest and take care of myself, starting with the gourmet box of chocolates I bought myself to congratulate my hard work in delivery.
I jokingly tell people that if I could write a parenting book, it would contain just one page with one sentence: keep them alive until five. Then we have a good laugh and I expound: my experience has been that, until around age 5, kids are almost entirely irrational, illogical, and difficult. Cute, but difficult.My main priority as a parent of a 0-5 year old is to keep them safe. From themselves and me! My primary goal isn’t to train a toddler to exemplify model behavior, but to model good behavior myself and build trust. Build trust so that, when he’s 5, 6, 7, 8 and asking hard questions or making scary decisions or declaring open rebellion (all true stories) we have a relationship from which I can teach and train and discipline. And develop even deeper trust. So far, this seems to be working. Stay tuned over the next 10-15 years.
I wish I had known this with my first three. With my first three, I was trying to get them to fit the mold. To sleep the right way at the right times, to eat the right things at the right times, to be completely obedient by nine months, and to basically be predictable. I know, I know. But I still thought I could do it despite mounting evidence of the opposite.
If you have or know children, you know they are anything but predictable. A favorite food one day becomes an utter disgust the next day. A toy that brings endless entertainment one day becomes the subject of disinterest the next. Their moods shift without warning, as do their sleeping schedules, and parents are left baffled. If I had a penny for every time I uttered “what…just…happened?!”
I’m happy to say that my frustration factor has decreased drastically since Judah showed up on the scene. This does NOT mean that he is easy or that I don’t get frustration. Daily. Remember, I ship him off to preschool 4 days a week for a reason.
*Preschool Drop Off*
But I approached Toddler Judah differently. What I would have deemed as disobedience in the past, I now understand to be innocent curiosity. Because, after all, this is his job. To test things, taste things, see what they’re made of, see what he’s made of, see where the boundaries are.
Sleepless nights were no longer met with stress and the paralyzing fear of eternal sleep deprivation, but viewed simply as a long night in a short season where I get to nurture my son. It will end and, mystery of mysteries, I will look back on these times with fondness. Also, I’m not destroying my child’s sleep habits. I’m pretty sure there aren’t many teenagers who come crying into parents’ bedrooms at night needing help going to the bathroom or needing to co-sleep. Actually, I’ve found that my kids stop needing us in the night by age 6. Oh, and they sleep like rocks.
*More evidence of an evolving parent: my anti-co-sleeping stance has turned into actually putting a futon in my bedroom for the kids! And it’s awesome.*
Judah has given me so many gifts. He’s given me a chance at a fresh start in parenting. A chance to slow down, panic less, be present more, stress less, and play more.
*The time Judah accompanied me to Vegas and cried the entire flight and was only consoled by sucking on the knuckle ring of my reluctant/desperate seat mate as the other members of his doo wop group laughed and took videos! Pride-crushing on all fronts.*
He is the one who bumped me up from being the mom of a ‘norma’l range of children to a “wow, are they all yours?” and “don’t you know how that happens” and “better you than me” and the opportunity to work through all the discomfort such questions presented to my pride. He has helped me understand the absurdity of my expectation of having a toddler who is consistently clean, clothed, quiet, kind, compliant.
And he has led me to something better- the joyful unpredictability of a developing and adventuring child who feels free and safe enough to explore.
Perhaps the greatest gift he’s given me is a new gentleness with myself. The way I’m parenting Judah is also becoming the way I care for myself. Less pressure and more possibilities. Less guilt and more grace. Less fear over the what if’s and more peace in the what is.
Judah Jones, I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but I can tell you this with certainty: these past 1,460 days have been filled with more laughter, joy, dancing, hugs, snacks, humility and growth because you have been in them. I’m so glad I get a front row seat to your journey. It’s a good one!