It's a new frontier and I can't for the life of me find a map to figure out where I'm going. My cousin and her three children came up a few weeks ago to spend a bit of quality time with me when her husband was out of town. While the typical toy bomb immediately exploded as soon as three mobile-capable children sprinted through my doors, my cousin and I were able to ignore the debris for the most part and have three days of continuous heart-to-hearts.
Her children are six, four and two, and as I watched them for the three days, I couldn't help but hope that Eli turned out a bit like them. But I also noticed that while I was able to sit on a blanket in the back yard tossing a ball back and forth (sorta) with Eli, my cousin was up, down, up, down, up, down (please continue these two words three trillion times more) redirecting her children from throwing rocks in our pond, navigating toy-stealing fights, and reminding her six year old that she can't sprint into my house with mud-soaked feet. It looked like a lotta hard work from Eli and I's comfortable, stationary, vantage point.
Later in the day I asked her questions as to how she decided what to do and why certain situations resulted in different actions on her part. I asked her to walk me through her thought process, and so she did. And her answers blew me away with how thoughtful, careful and consistent they were. While I won't get into the details here of her discipline-philosophy, I'll just say that I wished I was taking notes because her answers were so good and her methods made sense to me.
After my cousin left, I couldn't help but replay our conversations over and over in my head, I found myself talking with other people about how awesome her children were - not to be confused with perfect - and how I was so impressed not only with how they behaved, but how their mother raised them with grace, forgiveness and purpose. But I also came away so heavy and burdened. Feeling like I could never parent like her. Like I didn't even know where to begin. Like the mountain to become a purposeful parent was too tall and scary, and I just wanted to stay in my deep, deep valley below.
One thing my cousin said kept ringing in my ears, "It takes a lot of work to be an intentional parent."
And she is right. It is not for the faint of heart. It's easy to let things slide, to want to stay in the safe valley below, to let the current pull you this way and that. But I don't want to be wishy washy with the most important thing I've ever been given to take care of. I cannot be lukewarm in raising a soul. I've talked about raising hearts a lot here, that it doesn't really matter in the end if you breastfeed or formula feed, if you sleep train or co-sleep, if you cloth diaper or use disposables, or if you use organic or processed foods. Those things will fade and die as the new fad comes in, and will not affect who your child becomes. But the things we say and the way we spend our time and interact with our children will show them what we value, and will be printed on their soul forever.
And that terrifies me. Maybe not from one time or two times or even a few more times, but over a life time, what will Eli learn from me? What will he say that his mommy valued? I can answer what I hope Eli gets from me if you asked me point blank. But the true test will be when Eli is 15 or 18 or even 32. It is easy to say the right answers when put on the spot, but the reality is that parenting well is not easy at all and cannot be completed in one answer. But it is built over many years of consistency, thoughtfulness and intentionality.
I don't know where to start, but that's why last week I asked my cousin if she would help me. I found someone that I would like to model in parenthood, and so I asked her to train me. Just like training for a new job, parenthood takes practice, and yes, training. I don't have all the answers, and honestly, neither does she. But she's just enough ahead of me that she can help me navigate the here and now, because while she's been through my stage already, it's not so far away that she can't remember what it was like.
While I still feel burdened by all that I need to navigate and I'm nervous for the road ahead, I'm comforted by the fact that I have a partner in this whole thing. That's not to say my other mom-friends have not or will not be helpful, but I think it's different when you ask someone to intentionally invest in you. To tell them that you like what you've seen in them and want to model it - so will they help you? It doesn't allow for either of you to become passive in your relationship. You have purpose together and you encourage each other to parent well, every day - being proactive in your development as a parent, rather than reactive. It changes things from being a one off question that you ask, to being an ongoing conversation where you're held accountable in raising your children well. It doesn't mean you have to do everything like them - and you probably won't. No one's perfect, and they won't do everything right, but great thing is that you'll learn form their accomplishments as well as their mistakes.
I've heard it called a "mommy mentor," just a "mentor," or even the Christian term, "discipleship." Whatever word you want to use, I'd encourage you to find one. This parenthood thing is not something to take lightly and it is hard. But I can tell you that already, I've found so much encouragement just by finding someone who I feel is doing a pretty good job. It gives me hope that though I will never fully get this parenting thing right, I can at least get a little bit right - the part that matters. Because being an intentional parent is hard. But finding someone to support you can make it just a little bit easier.