I legally fit the title of “student” until completing graduate school this past December. From ages 4 to 25, I participated in various forms of schooling. After defending my thesis a mere four weeks before my son’s due date, my husband and I celebrated me finally being finished. It felt so good. No more papers, no more homework, no more agonizing over complicated discussion questions from professors who spoke a language I only pretended to understand. No more. Done. Done.
And then I had a baby.
Even while writing my thesis, I’d spent hours reading about pregnancy, and specifically the labor and delivery experience (more on that in a future post). But somewhere between breastfeeding woes and B’s constant spitting up, I realized I’d neglected simple childcare research. I began to pore over books, email chains, and blogs with heavy eyelids and anxious thoughts, trying to figure out why my child did something I didn’t expect, or didn’t do something I expected, that every other mother said their child was or was not doing, or that all the books said my child was or was not supposed to do. Instruction-filled pages commanded me to do this or not do that or enforce this or allow that. No matter what I read, reality in my home and with my child involved a different set of variables in a less than controlled environment.
So, I second-guessed everything.
The early days of nursing seemed to bring new and challenging questions at each feeding, merely hours a part. I recorded every diaper change, every feeding, every length of every feeding, whether or not he spit up, what the spit-up looked like, and other random things until well after he was 2 months old. Anytime he began fussing at bedtime, the questions began. Was he tired enough? Was he overly tired? Was his stomach hurting? Was he teething? Or was I simply being Mom #793,847,575 who was making the excuse that my child was teething when in reality he was probably just fussy?
As a first time mother, stress and anxiety only increased over decision making as I tried to learn why he suddenly struggled against nursing, why he started waking up in the middle of the night again for the first time in 2 months, why he hadn’t had a dirty diaper in days, why he didn’t eat bananas and then loved bananas, and the list only continues to grow.
At some point I began to identify the anxiety in my life as stemming from my lack of fulfilling all the expectations I’d placed in my mind from the books I read. Thankfully, around that same point, I received the timeliest piece of advice from a friend and mother of two. I knew this particular friend breastfed her two children until past their first birthday, and I needed advice for night wakings/feedings. After talking through different details specific to B, she spoke frankly and directly (as she usually does).
“Listen – you know your baby better than anyone. God has equipped you to study him and figure out what he needs. So do that.”
I felt like a new person. It was as if someone had finally given me permission to be a mother! Rather than worry about enforcing expectations from all these books I read, I could simply study my child and learn his specific needs, while begging God for discernment and wisdom each and every day.
Don’t get me wrong. Books are helpful. I love books. I still try lots of ideas and theories that I read in books. There are some that hold golden nuggets of information that have been life-savers in my home (more on that in a future post!). But my warning for you is this: don’t let someone else’s knowledge completely dictate expectations for your family. My goal now is to continue reading in order to gain new insights into parenting ideas, while reminding myself that what I read is simply a working knowledge that l will continue adapting as I study and learn the unique family God has given me.
So am I done with my schooling? Hardly. I’m more of a student now than I ever was. Learning my family is my role now, and it’s the most important one I’ve ever been given. Like graduate school, it requires long, demanding hours, intense mental preparation and exercise, and constant focus and memory. As long as we are alive, I doubt I will ever be finished with this role of studying. And that is a good thing.
Why? Because in the midst of my weaknesses, what I have yet to learn keeps me focused on the strength of my Savior, the one who is equipping me. He provides avenues of knowledge through books, and wisdom through other mothers, while keeping me dependent on Him from feeding to feeding and diaper change to diaper change.
That kind of studying yields a deep, deep joy that fails to compare to the completion of any Master’s degree. It’s probably the most difficult studying I’ll ever do, but the difficulty is accompanied by incomparably rich, joy-filled experiences.
Yes, I am a student.