Thursday, July 7, 2016

The Biggest Lesson I Learned My First Year of Mamahood

The first lesson I learned after my Rosie entered this world: medical doctors are not as smart as I thought. 

Twenty-four hours after this tiny, feeble, mysterious, crying, fragile, pooping creature was placed in my arms, my O.B. tells me to take it home.

I’m sorry Dr., but is it not obvious to you? I have NO clue what’s going on here! 
I’m the girl who killed her goldfish after one week.
I’m the girl who burns every batch of cookies in the oven.
I’m the girl who drives off with her coffee mug sitting on the hood of her car multiple times a week.
And you are now entrusting ME with a human’s survival?
I thought you were a doctor!

I wanted to be so confident.
I wanted this mama instinct that people talk about.
I wanted to be able to post on Facebook along with every other mom out there, “Yay! We are so in love. Going home!”
But I didn’t have any of those feelings. 
I didn’t want to go home. I wanted the nurses.
And, in fact, if I’m really honest, I wasn’t head-over-heals in love.
I was head-spinning terrified. (The love was there, just a little masked by fear.)

Thankfully I have experienced friends who prepared me for this moment.
Jessica told me, “Jenna, get ready. When the hospital sends you home, you are going to expect them to give you a manual called, How to Raise a Child. But they don’t.”

So as I’ve wobbly walked, stumbled, tripped and crashed during this first year of motherhood, I’ve mentally been creating my own manual. 
This isn’t a how-to keep a child living and thriving manual. Because honestly, I still don’t know. 
In fact, let me make sure my 13-month old isn’t drinking toilet cleaner or sucking on a razor or about to fall down our basement steps (all of this has almost happened, btw).
Hang on …
Gosh. Really mom?

Okay, I’m back. She’s alive.  

This is more of a how-to manual just for moms. I call this manual: Tips on How to Keep Yourself from Losing Your Mind the First Year of Being a Mom. Sub-title: And When You Do Lose Your Mind, It’s Okay; Just Go Find It, And Put It Back Where it Belongs Until You Lose It Again.
Okay, so maybe that’s a working title.  

Here are my Tips to you first-time mamas:

It’s Not You, It’s Me - In the beginning, every time my child cried, I thought I was in trouble. What did I do wrong? Oh no! She’s mad at me! I failed her! Is she breaking up with me? But then my cousin Jack, father of three, handed me this pot of gold, “Babies cry. Don’t take it personally. That’s just how they communicate.” Oooohhhh. Okay. So her crying doesn’t mean I’m a failure, that I’ve hurt her, that I’m a terrible mother? Naw. I think if she could talk, she would say, “Mom, it’s cool. I’m just hungry. Just a little tired and got this gas thing going on. It’s not you. It’s me.” Long. Exhale.

Parenting Books and the Bible - You Mean, There’s A Difference? - Man, I spent hours reading books about feeding, training and loving my child, believing every word written was inspired by God. So when I applied the formula and didn’t get exact results, I was shocked. What? Why isn’t she sleeping perfectly? Why isn’t she eating every bite of organic green beans I boiled and pureed myself like a good little mom? Why isn’t she rolling over? Why isn’t she …? Maybe it’s because I was confusing advice for truth. Those published experts out there are wonderful helpers. But they are just that - helpers. They aren’t her Creator. My Rosie isn’t a formula to plug in and a problem to solve; she’s a wonderfully-made, unique, eternal soul to get to know and help grow. So I guess I wish I would have spent more time this past year reading her Creator’s truth than the expert’s advice. (Though Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child changed my life.)

Rest Redefined - Motherhood is the hardest for me on Saturdays. Saturday used to mean waking up late, breakfast date with Brett (hubs), movies on the couch, eating what I wanted to, whenever I wanted to.  It was a recharge day where I physically and mentally rested. This day doesn’t exist in my current season of life. Babies don’t take those kind of breaks. So I’ve been asking God to help me see rest in a new way. I take a deep breath as we are playing in the grass and she points to a bird, closing my eyes and thanking God for a beautiful day and a peaceful baby. In that moment I find a little rest. When we’re in the car, I savor the empty arms. Rest. When she’s eating a banana, I hold my mug of coffee and take long, slow sips asking God to give me strength for the day. Rest. God is showing me a new side of rest. Yes, He loves a physical Sabbath, but more than anything, He calls us to a spiritual Sabbath - a place where our hearts, no matter the circumstances, can find rest in Him. 

What Would My 60-Year-Old Self Tell My 30-Year-Old Self? - This question I also got from my wise friend Jessica. And asking it would immediately change my perspective. I think my 60-year-old self would say things like, "Just hold her a little longer"; "Just let the house be messy and play a little more"; "Savor this; she's gone before you know it." I would ask it in the sweet moments, ask it in the hard moments. This question had a way of instantly putting my frustrations at ease.

And the biggest lesson I learned this past year? 
(Yea, it’s a short manual. And let’s get real. This isn’t really a manual at all. Anyways…)

If I Want to Be a Reliable Mother, I Have to Be a Reliant Daughter - I was a mess. She wasn’t sleeping. I couldn’t figure out why she was crying. I put her in her crib, ran to my room, threw myself on the bed and started crying louder than she was. God, I can’t do this! And, for real, in that moment, and pretty much everyday since, I still feel that way. As I was curled up in the fetal position on the bed, the thought surfaced in my heart - You can’t be a mother if you are not, first, My daughter. I’m not one of those that has heard an audible voice from God. In fact, I don’t feel like I hear the voice of God very much at all. But there have been pivotal moments in my life where such a lucid, and authoritative thought hits me in the head that I can only point to the Spirit. 
What is it about being a daughter that would make me a good mother?
When I think of who I was as a little girl, I see a girl who felt…
I see a girl who …
Ran straight to my Dad when there was a problem
Knew I was safe in my Dad’s care
Depended on my Dad
Trusted my Dad
Allowed my Dad to be in charge

I was trying so hard to do it all, control it all, figure this new mom thing out that I had lost sight. I had lost sight of who I was. I had forgotten that I was His, first. And because of that Rosie was His, first. I had forgotten that He’s the real parent here.  And because of that, I’ve got nothing to fear.

Since having Rosie, my dad has made an intentional effort to hug me first. Before he holds Rosie, he holds me. Before he asks how she’s doing, he asks how I’m doing. Do you know how much I’ve needed that? As a mom, I’ve needed to feel like a daughter more than ever.

So fellow mama friends, today let's remember we are daughters before we are mothers. When we remember this, remember the stuff that’s really important, that other stuff- the spills, tantrums, failed Spelling test - shrink in severity. (Even though they are still freakin’ annoying.)

“What marvelous love the Father has extended to us! Just look at it — we’re called children of God! That’s who we really are.”           (1 John 3:1, The Message)

Rosie's biggest lesson her first year? Sugar is everything.


  1. This is awesome!! Thank you for being vulnerable and sharing your true experience - social media doesn't usually help us with that. Love you and Rose!!

    -Kelsey Myers

    1. yep. social media is good at highlighting the sweet moments:) thanks for the encouragement. we love you too!

  2. Oh Jenna, so much truth and guts and humor and love have spilled out of you into this post, making me smile and get all the feels. It's been almost 22yrs since my oldest son, Austin was born and yet I went right back to those first moments of fear and anxiety. It's been forever since I've seen you but I adore that I can see that young woman from years ago and now the wife and mother you've become and although the distance between them feels great it appears seamless. Keep up the good work momma, your encouragement to others is contagious. ~Stacy Ward

    1. Stacy! So good to hear from you. Thanks for saying those kind words. You are a mama I look up to.

  3. Sweet Jenna- my goodness how I related and remembered so much of what you shared of your heart and the realities of motherhood! True encouragement always came to me from those who were real and honest about ALL they experienced as moms! It really is such a journey- & I too learned so much through it all. As mine are now all gone from home, I miss these days you're living! Savor every moment - even those crazy hard ones... It all becomes one memory in the end and it is all well

    1. Gina! Without mamas like you being real with me, I wouldn't have the courage to be real with others. Thanks for your wisdom. In fact, I added a "tip" to the blog b/c of your words. It reminded me of a question my friend told me to ask: "During hard times, ask yourself - what would 60-year-old Jenna tell 30-year-old Jenna." Your word, "savor" made me think of it. Love you

  4. You are a beautiful momma! So tender & caring with Rosie. And her tummy has made it a difficult year! I'm so proud of you! Whether you feel it or not, you're a natural! Rosie has your spark & it's such a joy to witness! Love you darlin & loved your words

    1. You are my mama hero! Without you I couldn't have made it. You are the only mom in the world who "gets" me, so thank you for being my soundboard and advice-giver

  5. Jenna
    Heather cried so much that first year, I thought I was ready to return her. But like you I had to reinvent my thinking. She was and continues to be such a delight in my life. I guess I am saying wow can I relate to your blog even after all these years. Hang in there, God has given you a wonderful daughter and you get to grow with her!

    1. i love knowing that! it's so good to see moms who have gone through this end up with a daughter who is so spectacular like heather even after giving you grief that first year. ha! love you paula!

  6. Jenna! This was so beautiful, funny, touching and so correct! Thank you for sharing. May God continue to bless your family.

  7. Just remember, just as Rosie is learning in baby steps, so are you. The most important gift you will ever give your child is a reflection of her Saviour who you are telling her about. Rosie is so blessed.

  8. WOW, Jenna!! This is just SPOT ON in every way! I related so well to your fears, despair, exhaustion and especially your lack of self-confidence! I felt like I was always being put on the defensive regarding Brett's chronic fussiness due to tummy problems/ excessive spitting-up (putting it MILDLY.) I would respond many times that babies cry.... isnt this what babies do?? I struggled so much with "figuring him out". Gracious, I wish I'd used your remarkable self-control and commitment to Rosie's sleep schedule. It has worked WELL, my sweet little D-I-L!! :) You are such an unselfish, devoted, NURTURING MOTHER, and yet, you've balanced that beautifully with commitment to Brett, your family and friends!! :) You ROCK, Jenna! I'm so proud of you! I love you dearly!!

    1. margaret, you are a mom that will forever be an example of selflessness and devotion to your kiddos. i too have had the hardest time trying to "figure it out." thanks for relating to me so much this past first year. thanks for listening and humbly offering advice. and thanks for loving Rosie the way you do. i can't thank God enough that YOU are her grandmother. wow. what a gift!