Thursday, March 21, 2013

Advice for the New Toddler Mommy - Ashley from Our Happily Ever Afters

Today in this series, I'm bringing you Ashley from Our Happily Ever Afters
Ashley has such a sweet, beautiful family - little Evy is 4 and Liam is 2, with Lynley on the way in May.  I have followed Ashley's blog since Evy was a tiny baby (I can't believe she's 4 now!), and I admire Ashley's faith so much!

As I was thinking about what to write for this guest post, I realized it could go a MILLION directions. How do you even encapsulate in words what it means to be a parent, specifically a parent to a toddler? Honestly, the first word that comes to my mind is AMAZING. I like that word because it can be used to describe the myriad of emotions you feel while parenting a little person that is truly coming into their own self.

I have two toddlers. Well, I'm not sure if my daughter, Evy (who is 4) counts as a toddler, but I'm definitely including her in this category for right now. :) Evy was my easy, compliant infant who actually breezed past the age of 2 with nothing "terrible" to report. The age of 3 became more challenging, but we've really seen her assert herself the most now at age 4. So I kind of feel like with her, it has been a delayed "toddlerhood," in the sense of navigating some difficult (but very typical) toddler moments. We adopted our son Liam from South Korea when he was 14 months old, and he is now 2.5 years old. This has DEFINITELY shaped who I am as a parent and how I view these years. Liam would be considered more strong-willed, and we know that he's been this way from birth in talking with his foster family. He just has strong little opinions (again, very typical) and that's not a bad thing!! He is absolutely the sweetest baby boy, and there are so many layers to who he is that we're trying to still figure out. I feel like adopted or not, you're ALWAYS trying to figure out how your baby is wired. God makes every single little person so differently and it's fascinating to see that play out. Evy's moods and "hard stuff" happen in episodes, and Liam's personality is more of an ongoing thing to navigate. I DO NOT mean he's more challenging, but we're just used to dealing with smaller moments day to day with him, while Evy has more sporadic meltdowns, if that makes sense. I've learned so much in having two kids, and I'm thankful for that gift. It's a constant reminder that what works for one baby DOES NOT work for another! They are both such treasures to me and my husband Kurt - we adore them!! I am pregnant with our third child, Lynley, and she will be born sometime in May. I really, really can't believe I'm about to turn 28 and I'll soon have 3 children. I LOVE IT!

I love lists, so I decided to organize my post as one. I AM NOT an expert (I will never claim to truly have a handle on ANYTHING), but I can only write from my experience in loving and trying to shape these little souls.

You must have equal parts of structure AND nurture. I think a lot of parents (myself included) tend to be on a teeter-totter going between high structure (needing a schedule, predictability, and very clear behavioral boundaries and rules) or high nurture (very psychologically focused, touching/hugging, making decisions situationally). The BEST thing in the world is when you can level out and match both of these things equally. Kids love and REQUIRE nurture, but they also thrive within structure, and vice versa. Just like adults!

Don't Over-Analyze and Relax. Once you find a system, mindset, or whatever that works for you - chill out and go with it. There will ALWAYS be someone (probably lots of someones) that disagree or think differently. Always be willing to absorb and think about new ways of doing things, but I kind of feel like there's just WAY too much anxiety in parenting lately (and I'm absolutely guilty of having my moments). Yes, kids are impressionable and we need to be intentional with what we do, but overall, they're just kids. Watching a little too much TV (by the "experts'" standards) or having Goldfish instead of vegan-whatever is NOT WORTH THE ANXIETY.

Phases Will Happen - Ride It Out. Some phases are so much fun I NEVER want them to end. For instance, Evy is absolutely obsessed right now with the movie "Brave" and Princess Merida. She wears her Merida dress every day, but the best part? The Merida wig. It's this mullet-shaped, BRIGHT red wig full of curls and Evy wears it day in and day out. You just HAVE to smile when you see her, and I think it's the most awesome phase ever. On the other end of things, she went through a phase of INTENSE separation anxiety just recently at age 4. There were times when we HAD to push through and be gone from her (meetings, etc.) but there were also times when I brought her with me to things because I knew it would just help her little heart. We just kind of grabbed a surfboard and rode the waves until it passed (which it did after a couple of months). I think just using your instincts to take one day at a time with phases is the best approach, because every day, every situation, and every little Nugget is so different.

They're Going to Watch (and Love) Things You Don't Enjoy. I think it's best to just accept that while Barney isn't your fave, sometimes you just need a go-to show that makes them smile and calms them down. Liam went through a phase of being obsessed with The Polar Express movie and I honestly hate that movie - ha! But he loved the "choo-choo's" and it brought him so much happiness that it was our go-to for a good while. Seeing him light up when the music would start definitely trumped my annoyance with all the weirdness in that movie. :) It was just comforting and familiar to him. I'm not saying to use a TV show every single time they need calming, etc. but no normal-thinking adult is going to actually enjoy an episode of Barney, Dora, etc. You're not meant to. They're designed for kids. Sometimes you just grin and bear it and watch what they love because it's not about you anymore. However.....

Teach Them to Watch (and Love) Things You Love. I'm one of those people that if there's a show that absolutely gives me chronic anxiety and annoys me over a cliff (Phineas and Ferb, anyone?), I do draw the line and we don't watch it. Because I'm the parent and I can do that. I've been surprised at how kids don't actually need a ton of explanation for some things. I just say, "That show doesn't have very kind attitudes and they don't use a quiet and respectful tone of voice. So we're watching something else." Period. Do you know what my kids love? Musicals. You know why? Because I love musicals. I will put one on and while they don't understand the plot line, they absolutely love the music and dancing. My kids' favorite things to watch are Fiddler on the Roof and Yankee Doodle Dandy. I just started putting them on and singing along with them because they make ME happy, and my kids just got used to it and started to love them too. My mom did this with us growing up, and I credit her with giving us a love for things a little more deep and mind-shaping than your average kids' show. My point is, it's give and take. Understand when they just need to be kids and enjoy Doc McStuffins, but don't sell them short either. They're absolutely capable of sharing your love of Rogers and Hammerstein. :)

Absorb Everything You Can.
I've written a little about this before on my blog, but I tend to be a person that understands the weight of a moment as it's happening. I'm thankful for this trait, because it helps me to really be present. I think this is universal advice from every mother everywhere, but we all just need to soak in the fact that our babies are growing literally in front of our eyes. Almost EVERY day I "freeze" a moment in my mind and think, "When Evy's at college I'm going to put this moment around me like a blanket." and "At Liam's rehearsal dinner, I'm going to bring this memory with me so I'm not so sad." For me, once my kids are grown, i KNOW what will bring me the most comfort is knowing I absorbed all I humanly could, and I just soaked in every second with them. Like today, when I realized they were "hiding" from me and of course I played along:

When I "tripped" over them while "looking for a book on the shelf," they HOWLED and fell over with laughter - and I thought to myself, "Bottle this up in your memory RIGHT NOW!!!" Their huge laughs and smiles and the glee of "tricking me" made my heart so full I thought it was going to explode. Absorb it ALL.

Jesus Is Everything. My heart is that my kids learn, observe, desire, and experience a RELATIONSHIP with Jesus. Do we believe that taking them to a Biblically-sound, evangelical church every single week is important? Absolutely. Do we have Bible story time and help them memorize Bible verses? YES. But I would consider it a tragedy if we only gave my kids CHURCH and not CHRIST Himself. Jesus wants to heal their every heart, be their best friend, their Source, their EVERYTHING. And I'm finding that if I'm actively trying to point THEM to Jesus, I am being pointed and drawn to Him myself. We aren't here on earth for all of the trivial reasons we act like we're here for. We are here to glorify the Lord and tell others about Him, and to experience Him while we're alive here on earth. Jesus doesn't want a family walking into church every week like robots with the perfect Kelly's Kids attire. He doesn't want parents that go through the motions of sitting in a pew and therefore pass on to their kids that sitting in a pew is what it's about. He wants families who are totally committed followers and will do whatever it takes to follow Him with their whole lives. So my final advice, above anything - give them Jesus. Show them Jesus. Do whatever it takes to get YOURSELF where you need to be with Jesus, because He wants to be your everything. He is the only one who can equip you to parent your children at ANY age - let Him!
You can see Ashley's blog here!  Thanks for the fantastic advice, Ashley!