Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Parenting in Community

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      I am not an outgoing person by nature. Some of my earliest childhood memories involve hiding behind my dad’s legs. As a teenager, I was paralyzed with insecurities. When I was newly married, I only went to social functions if my husband – a textbook case of ENTJ extroversion – came along with me.

     Then, a year and a half after our wedding, I delivered a six-pound, fifteen-ounce human being into the world. Of course, my life would never be the same.

     Something major changed in me that day (and it wasn’t just my waistline size, either). I had spent just about my entire life feeling like I didn’t belong. I was on the pom-pon squad in high school, but didn’t fit the confident, bubbly and flirty personality of the cheerleader stereotype. I was an editor of my college newspaper, but didn’t know half of the pop culture references in the music and movie reviews I was publishing. When my husband moved to his hometown to youth pastor the country church he grew up in, I felt more like the communal daughter-in-law than an actual member of the body.

     And then I got pregnant.

     Like it or not, I was now the center of attention. (It had been years since that church had seen a baby.) I clenched my teeth and dragged my embarrassed self to my own baby shower … and had a wonderful time being prayed over by the women in my congregation. Every Sunday morning, I received more belly rubs and unsolicited advice than I thought possible … and felt truly loved.

     After Nate’s birth, women came over to deliver meals and many of them stayed to visit. For the first time, I was part of that wonderful rite of female relationships, when two mothers share their birth stories together. It didn’t matter that a few of these women hadn’t delivered babies in five decades or more. The fact that I was now a mother meant I shared something universal with every other woman who had ever had a child of her own.

     We left our small country church when Nate was only six months old in order complete our missionary training at Sanford Bible College. Both Phillip and I knew going into it that I would have to get a job. I had such a strong heart for at-home mothering that the prospect of finding employment was unnerving, to say the least. Fortunately, I was hired to work at the local daycare center, where I could bring Nate with me, nurse him, put him down for his naps, and do everything I would be doing with him at home anyway.

     The other benefit of working at the daycare – besides getting to be with my son full-time -  was spending my afternoons with other moms. There were three of us who worked there at the center, and each of brought our own kids along with us. It was like getting paid to have a play date every day of the week. These other moms shared their stories, gave their advice, modeled healthy parenting, and became great friends to me.

     Proverbs 27:17 tells us that “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” No mother should try to raise her children in isolation. I can say with absolute certainty that I wouldn’t be the same kind of mom I am today were it not for these friendships I made with other women when my son was still a baby.

Seeking Out Community

     Unfortunately, in our busy day and age, finding a community of other mothers to share experiences with can take a lot of work. Here are some basic ideas to help you foster deeper relationships with other moms.

     Join a Bible study. Notice that I didn’t tell you to join a women’s group. A ladies Bible study or a mixed Bible study can both be great ways to meet other moms who have encouragement and advice to share with you. (And chances are you’ll meet other moms who need the encouragement and advice that you have to share with them!) Our family was so close to our small group that when we brought our third son home from the hospital, we invited everyone from our Bible study over to our house for Papa John’s pizza the very next day. It was a wonderful experience welcoming Thomas into our family surrounded by some of our closest friends (and no one expected the house to be clean either!).

     Get nosy (politely). I have never yet met a mother who refuses to tell me how old her child is. Often, asking these kinds of basic questions about another woman’s family is a great way to start a conversation. One weekday in Wal-Mart, I was standing behind a mother and her kids. Since the two girls were obviously past their preschool years, I asked their mom if schools were closed that day, and ended up meeting a fellow homeschooler who remains a very dear friend to this day.

     Ask for help. I needed a C-section when my oldest son Nate was born. After laboring 24 hours and then getting spliced open, my body didn’t feel like recovering very easily. It was humbling to ask other women in my church for help, but they were more than happy to oblige. In addition to benefiting from their practical assistance, I was also blessed by their fellowship. Many of my relationships in my church blossomed even more deeply as women came over and washed dishes of swept floors.

     Seek out advice. Sometimes motherhood is scary. When Nate turned two and discovered it was fun to play with his little brother’s “anatomical bath toy,” I was on the phone within seconds with a veteran mother (who assured me Nate’s behavior was normal and helped me to laugh it off). Sometimes just talking through an issue with another mom is enough to give us clearer perspective or deeper peace. Other times, we can rely on the experiences of other moms, learn from their successes and failures, and become even wiser parents for our own children.

     Today, I am thankful for the friends God has put in my life, women who assure me that I am not alone as a mom. My prayer is that God would likewise surround you with wise and encouraging mentors, sisters, and friends who can walk with you hand in hand on this glorious journey called motherhood.

(This post was included in The Christian Home Magazine Issue 90. Check it out to read what other Christian bloggers have to say.)

What about you? What kind of support or encouragement have you received from the fellow moms in your life? (Feel free to leave your comment below.)

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