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College, Marriage, Babies… But Not In That Order?

cscollegeMy husband and I have been married for almost 6 years. We have 4 small children. And last week, we both graduated from college.

We both took 3 years of college classes, and in 2008, decided not to wait any longer to get married. Since my husband had a full-time job and we were able to support ourselves, there really was no reason for us to put off marriage until after we were finished with college. In that same vein, there was no reason for us to wait to have babies. He made a modest income which was enough for us to live on even with me as a stay-at-home mom. My husband would finish college slowly and I would be content with my associate’s degree.

After 3 years, the regret of spending so much on my education and not finishing my bachelor’s degree began to sink in. I do not believe that everyone needs a college degree, nor do I think that college is very good preparation for the real world! But because I had invested so much time and effort already, I decided to complete my undergraduate degree part-time through a state university that offered a large portion of its classes online. Meanwhile, my husband kept plugging along at his degree while working 50+ hours a week, helping around the house, and being a husband and daddy. (It takes a LONG time to finish a degree when you only have time to take 2 or 3 classes a semester!)

Was it hard work? Absolutely. Many evenings we just wanted to crash, but had exams to study for. Numerous times I found myself nursing an overtired baby while writing a paper with an 11:59 pm deadline. I brought my books to the hospital when baby #3 was born during my second week of classes that semester. I started my last semester of college with a 2-week-old who ended up being a very colicky baby. My husband came home from work every day, helped with dinner, played with the kids, put them to bed, and hit the books. We made financial sacrifices to finish, and were married 5 years before buying our first house. So many times we wanted to quit and wondered if it was worth the effort. But we didn’t, and after all the sweat and sacrifices, we are finally done.

20140517-IMG_3716I am under no illusions that this can be done by everyone in every situation. Someone who takes classes that require being “all in”, such as a medical degree or law school, may not be able to work while going to school. Marriage and children may not be prudent for a short time. But if you have a job that pays enough to rent an apartment and put food on the table while you are in school, and you are prepared to take the plunge into marriage before you are finished with college, don’t hesitate because of what you think you are “supposed” to do, what everyone else does. You don’t have to wait 2 years to have a baby because your husband is in school; it is possible to finish while having a family. Part-time, night classes; there are options. And perhaps you will find, like many of our peers have found, that the modest-income job you had when you started your family has become a lucrative career path in a field that does not require a degree at all.

I am sharing our story simply to encourage. Our society has led us to believe that there is only one path; college, marriage, then babies (and maybe a few years in between each of those). Anything else is simply irresponsible. We give more importance to our education and our careers than to our vocation, even though we are ultimately sanctified through our vocation. I am telling you that there is another way; if you are called to the vocation of marriage, and especially if you have met your future spouse at a young age, an alternate path may be God’s plan for you. It requires prayer and discernment, like every path, but it can be done successfully. 

If we had waited to get married, we could have finished years earlier; if we had waited to have children, finishing our studies would have been easier. But sometimes earlier and easier isn’t our path. Yes, it took a lot longer and was a lot more work than we ever anticipated. But those sweet, grace-filled babies that we wouldn’t have if we had done it any other way? They are worth all those late nights and tired mornings a thousand times over.

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You’re a Good Momma: An Open Letter from A Veteran Mom to First Time Moms

 

 

 

 

Dear New Momma,

When I first titled this post, I wanted to use another word – something other than…veteran. Pft. It implies so much more than it actually is. I prefer the term seasoned or experienced. As I checked out synonyms on Thesaurus.com I saw a lot of words that better described my experience of motherhood over the past 17 years and counting. I read: been around the block, knows one’s stuff, adept, been around, disciplined, not born yesterday, of the old school, battle-scarred, pro, proficient, skilled, weathered…WAIT. Go back! Battle scarred.

BATTLE-SCARRED!!!

This is the right word to describe me. I have taken a beating over the years in my experience as a mother. We all have – and one thing us “older” mommas want to prevent you newer ones from is making the same mistakes we did. Except this time I am giving advice about something I have never experienced. One thing I did not endure online is something I witness frequently in the blogging world, and the Internet in general. Mommy Wars. Back in my day online, message boards did not exist in the same manner they do now. Sure, there was chatter about parenting and whatnot, but the constant measure against those IRL {in real life} or on message boards simply did not exist with the same intensity that it does now. And from that, it has created for some of you, this unachievable standard for parenting. I wish I could tell you to relax, chill, don’t worry what others are doing because it will create unnecessary worry and stress in your life. I wish I could tell you that it’s not normal to compare ourselves to others…but it isn’t. I was the same way once upon a time, but the difference is the communication style online back in 1996 was not set up for me to compare myself to countless others on birth boards, forums, chat rooms, etc. I also didn’t have a strong sense of what the Faith meant then either, so I wasn’t comparing my faith walk alongside my parenting style in the same context. I was anxious simply because I was a new mom. I wanted to nurse {but failed miserably} because I felt it was the right feeding choice for my daughter. I wasn’t blessed with being able to talk to other moms my age who breastfed who could be my motivation {mostly because I was a very young first time mom}…so I gave up. I felt internalized guilt y nada más. I moved on. Formula worked just fine and life went on as planned. Back to college to finish college and earn my degree. It was also pretty common for babies then to be fed solids much younger than today’s current recommendations. My oldest had cereal at one month, fruits at two months, veggies at three months, straight juice at six months and cow’s milk at eight months. This was all pretty normal. I completely vax’d, top to bottom because doctors were to be trusted without question. Why not? And don’t get me started on the car seat standards then compared to now. Apples to oranges, folks. Then I had another kid in 2001, 2005, 2007, 2010 and 2012. If you asked me now if I would parent the way I did in 1996 with my current little one, recalling that by this point, I would soon be introducing straight juice and that our little guy would now already have eaten cereal, fruit, and veggies, I would recoil at the thought. My parenting has morphed and changed over the years…formula gave way to breastfeeding again, I started to read up on vaccinations and asked questions to my own childhood pediatrician with a discriminating eye this time around.

I have come SO far in 17 years of parenting {I count pregnancy as my first parenting role}

With all the support in modern day message boards, forums, and groups comes the double edged sword of {wrongly} comparing ourselves to others. Wrong in the sense that new mommas may use others’ “highlight” reel to compare to their list of deficiencies {you didn’t get out of your jammies today, laundry wasn’t washed, dinner? what dinner?}. Deficiencies which do not define you as parents. I have to say it may well have been a blessing in disguise that I never knew about the root of all Mommy Wars or, parenting styles. Much like the Church teaches Dogma and Doctrine, we can embrace parenting in the same way, recognizing basic human needs that must be met {“dogma” and “doctrine”} and also realizing that how those needs are met is what makes our parenting choices uniquely ours.

In order to live we must

  • have food,
  • have shelter,
  • and be loved and know love through our parents or guardians and especially understand the scandalously particular love God has for each of us.

I am always wary of taking any belief system to extremes*, particularly parenting. After having a chat with our pediatrician recently I came to realize that it’s not a parenting method that we should buy into, checking off boxes and setting us up for impossible-to-live-up-to standards. We both agreed that parenting comes in different forms and varieties for each kiddo and even different styles throughout the day. Parenting is quite fluid and how tos won’t be found within the pages of any one particular book.

My advice to you young mommas?

  1. There is no perfect answer on how to parent. Read books and learn, anyway. Talk with friends and acquaintances, anyway. Input and guidance from those sources won’t be a substitute for your parenting style, your family style, your children’s temperaments, your marriage or your good judgement. Expect to do a lot of test driving in your parenting days and the sooner you stop caring what method is best or how these other women appear to be doing it perfectly, the sooner you will rightfully regain your confidence to parent the way God intends.
  2. Be confident in your ability to parent your child the way God wants you to, new momma. Do your best to not look to others to validate your choices. Do not look at their highlight reels on Facebook and wish you could be as organized, productive, happy, involved, etc. as “so and so” is. Anyone can look busy on paper. Anyone.
  3. Don’t let veteran moms make you feel inadequate because you don’t quite have it all together. Seasoned moms, myself included, still have no idea what they’re doing on any given day, any given time. Remember, many of us still have our oldest at home and they are still paving the way for the littles. We have days {many of them!} where we just want to get them through the day without resorting to alcohol before noon – I kid…somewhat. The witching hour does not care how many children you have.
  4. Pray without ceasing. Sounds kinda obvious, but there will be many days where you will need God’s good graces to sustain you through the day. Surrender it to Him before your feet hit the floor each day.
  5. Be kind to yourself when you fail. If you totally bombed today, that’s ok. God forgives you, now forgive yourself, resolve to do your best, and when you fail {because you will fail}, get up and keep going.

*I should clarify that extremes that are bothersome to me are the ones whereby someone has chosen that their brand of belief system {parenting style, feeding choice, cloth diaper vs. sposies, organic vs. processed, etc.} should be applied to everyone. If you feel extremes work for you and are a healthy way to parent in your home, go for it! But the expectation that your interpretation of any extreme parenting style should be applied to everyone else, including you, is unfair and an unhealthy view of that parenting style.