When our first child was five days old, I was discharged from the hospital. A nurse carried our brand new daughter to the door, where Andy was waiting to drive me home.  The nurse turned to me and gently placed our baby in my arms, before smiling and wishing us well. And I thought, “She is going to let me walk out the door with this baby. She is going to let me, a mother with absolutely no experience, take a baby home. Surely I need some sort of qualification before I’m allowed to be in charge of such a precious child?” The nurse said goodbye.  Andy and I passed through the door. And no one stopped us. 

It suddenly struck me: I was a mother with full responsibility for a child. Andy and I were about to begin our parenting adventure and we realised we didn’t know much about babies at all. Oh, we’d read a few books, shared ideas with some other parents-to-be, but theory is totally different to reality. And we knew we’d have to be quick learners if we were all to survive.

Everything went reasonably well…  for a few hours... until the first bath. We were excited. Our baby was going to have her first bath at home. We gathered the baby bath and the stand, a soft fluffy towel and a soft face washer, the baby soap, the baby shampoo, the baby bubbles and the baby powder, the rubber duck, a clean soft pink singlet, a tiny pink baby Bonds suit, a hand-knitted cardigan and a nappy,  a baby brush, the camera… and finally, the baby. 

While I carefully peeled off Felicity’s clothing, Andy just as carefully filled the bath with water warmed to the perfect temperature. Then I nervously slid our baby into the bath, being sure to rest her head on my forearm, her nose clear of the water, just as I’d been shown at the hospital.

Now I am not sure what went wrong. Did we think Felicity had stopped breathing? All I remember is Andy and I jumping about in a panic, and me crying, “Karen, next door is a nurse! Quick, she’ll know what to do.”

We hurriedly wrapped our baby in the towel and ran out outside and thumped on our neighbour’s front door. We waited. No answer. Some more panicking and some more thumping. And then we looked down at Felicity.

“Andy, she looks perfectly fine. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with her at all.” We looked at our clean, pink, breathing child. Sheepishly we retraced our steps, hoping no one had seen us. Later, as we dressed our newborn baby, I thought,” There’s nothing wrong with Felicity. The problem is her inexperienced parents. How will she ever survive life with us?”

Felicity likes to describe herself as our guinea pig child. She was the one we experimented on as we tried to gain some parenting skills.

I was talking to Felicity on the phone the other day. I retold the baby bath story which happened nearly 25 years ago and my eldest daughter giggled. “You’ll have to write about that, Mum!” she encouraged.

“It must have been hard being the guinea pig child,” I said. “All those mistakes Dad and I made while we were bringing you up. The other kids have it so much easier. These days we are a lot calmer and more confident and we know what we’re doing.”

“It wasn’t all that bad, Mum,” Felicity reassured me. “I had a great childhood.”

“So you don’t have bad memories of a dragon mother who couldn't cope?”

Felicity laughed. “No.”

I have been thinking about the mother I was then and the mother I am now. I have changed so much over the years.

 I used to worry about every little thing. I was always rushing down to the doctors with a slightly sick child who always seemed to recover in the waiting room; I’d fuss until my children had perfectly clean faces and perfectly brushed hair; they couldn’t leave the house unless they were wearing pristine matching clothes; I’d be anxious if they didn’t eat and spent so much time trying to make them swallow food they didn’t want; I worried about dirt and mess and an untidy house; when someone accidentally knocked a dinner plate to the floor, I reacted as if it was the end of the world; I became anxious about such things as toilet training and sleeping through the night… the list is endless.

Today I have gone the other way:

“If she’s had enough to eat, take her plate away,” I’ll say.

“But Mum, she’s hardly touched her dinner,” one of the older children will reply.

“Gemma-Rose is wearing odd socks,” someone will observe.

“At least she has socks on. It doesn’t matter about the colour,” I’ll answer.

“Oops! I’ve knocked the peanut butter jar out of the fridge,” someone will confess.

“Go and get the broom and clean up the mess,” I’ll reply, without even getting up to inspect the damage.

I have to admit I’m not perfect. Some days I get overtired and the temptation, to make a fuss about things that aren't really important, threatens to reappear. I had one of those days not so long ago. The girls were cooking a cake and they got the instructions in a muddle which resulted in all the ingredients going to waste.

After I’d thrown my little wobbly and had my say about “reading instructions properly… and how many eggs did you waste…" and so on, I stopped and apologised and immediately began to feel rather bad. What’s a few eggs? They don’t matter nearly as much as my girls’ feelings. Gemma-Rose looked like she was going to cry and I felt like the worse mother in the world. How could I have forgotten the lessons that have taken so long to learn? But all the girls said was, “Don’t worry about it, Mum. It’s all over. We’ve already forgotten about it.”

Sometimes I wish I could go back and fix up all my past mistakes and erase all the not-so-good memories from my children’s minds. I don’t want that easily overwhelmed, emotional dragon mother to live on inside them.

I wonder if Felicity ever thinks: “Gemma-Rose, you’re so lucky. You got the good mother, the calm mother, the gentle mother. She may not be perfect but she’s a whole lot better than the mother  I got. She was hopeless. I wish I was the last-born child and not the first-born guinea pig child.”

Why does it take me so long to learn anything? I have this suspicion that, by the time I have perfected this role of mother, my last child will have finished growing up. She will no longer need a perfect mother. She’ll be ready to slap her P plates to her car and drive off out into the big world to live an independent life.

I think again about that seemingly miraculous moment when I, an inexperienced mother, was allowed to take a precious baby home from the hospital. I didn’t have to present a certificate to the discharge desk, proving I was worthy of the role of mother.

Similarly, God didn’t ask me to prove myself before He blessed us with so many beautiful souls. He sent them to us anyway. How could He have done this? It took me a long time to work things out but eventually I came to realise that God doesn’t expect Andy and I to bring up our children on our own. No. He is always here to give us His strength and His grace. And He doesn’t expect us to be perfect. We only have to do our best. That’s all God expects. He does the rest.

Isn’t that a consoling thought?

Felicity phones for another chat.

"I wrote your baby bath story," I tell my daughter. "It's a post about your very inadequate mother."

"You are a good mother," insists Felicity. "When I was a child I wanted to grow up to be just like you."

"You did?" I am so surprised. "I didn't know that," I say.

A warm feeling is spreading all through me. Yes, God does indeed fill in all the gaps in our parenting.

"I love you, Felicity!"

And my first-born child replies, "And I love you so very much too, Mum!"

Post a Comment

  1. Sue, I can so relate! It's amazing to me that our first children turn out as well as they do. I recall following "the book," checking for every milestone. By the time the second and third - and maybe fourth and fifth come around, one doesn't worry about those trifle things anymore. We know that all things do pass - and are replaced by other challenging stages - that will also pass with time! All I know is that it goes by entirely too fast!

    1. Dana,

      The birth and babyhood of my first child was so very special. I could hardly believe I was a mother and how I'd been blessed with this exquisitely beautiful baby. But despite those feelings, I think I enjoyed my later children more than my first, as by then I was more relaxed and confident.

      You said, "all things do pass". Yes, we don't realise this with our first children. And I agree totally with you: everything goes by much too fast. Funny, how when my first daughter was a baby, I couldn't see past those exhausting days of little sleep and no time to myself. And now those days are long gone and I'm on the home stretch as far as parenting my children goes.

      So good to hear from you, Dana. Thank you for stopping by!

  2. I love this post! I have a lot of memories about our first time experiences with Monica, our oldest daughter....some good, some not so good. She's a great kid! I'm amazed we haven't ruined her. I've done a lot of growing as a mother. I'm so very glad God is gentle with us moms.:)

    1. Grace,

      Thank you for sharing my post. Yes, children teach us so much. I am sure I still have a lot more growing to do! You said, " I'm so very glad God is gentle with us moms". I like that! To be a gentle with our children like God is gentle with us...

      God bless!

  3. You're the best Sue. This made me smile. I throw a wobbly (love that!) all too often too, but I can admit to being far in the other direction on things like matching socks and pristine clothes and brushed hair. I've learned to let go of those things. I've discovered that the more I let go of worries over what everyone else thinks about me, the better mother I am.

    1. Pam,

      I'm sure most of us throw 'wobblies' at least every now and then, whether we like to admit it or not! Yes, letting go of things that aren't important makes for a more relaxed mother. But it can be very difficult not to worry about what others think about us. I'm getting better at this, the older I get. It's been a slow process! Anyway, I've learnt that just because my children look good with matching socks, and live in a clean and organised house doesn't mean I am a good mother. Those aren't the things my children will remember when they are grown up. Hopefully, they will remember how much we loved them despite not bringing them up perfectly.

      Thank you for your comment!

  4. Sue, I tagged you for a simple fun meme about choosing your favorite religious books!

    1. Thank you, Colleen! I will take a look.

  5. You will perfect your parenting skills... just in time to become a grandmother! All that experience won't go to waste.

    Graham took one look at the baby photo and said "Oh, I know that face. It'd the same expression you wake up with everyday!"

    Thanks for telling my story :D

    1. Ah! But will it be right to use my experience when I become a grandmother, Felicity? You might want to try out your own ideas and make your own mistakes without any interference from me. I will bake cookies, knit cardigans and read books to my grandchildren and enjoy all the fun stuff. I might do the ironing and hang out the washing occasionally if you want me to. However, you will have to move a little closer to home for me to do all that!

      It's always interesting to see if everyone can be identified from their baby photos. Obviously you can!

      It was my pleasure to remember and write this story. Thank you for all the phone calls and encouragement and all your love.

  6. Oh this is such a lovely story/post. I can relate (as most moms probably can)....and I have that kind of connection w/ my oldest girl so far, in that we can talk about things, ...or I can rant and be as inadequate as I feel, and she will still say something about wanting to be like me, or me being a good mom. And it will feel so good. I worry about it w/ my youngest though. I feel like I have lost patience rather than gained it. Oh, sure I am less "uptight" now than I used to be, like you talked about....but...I need to work on my patience (w/out praying for it lol) :P

    1. Hi Mandy,

      At times, we all struggle with patience, I'm sure! I think our children's personalities have a lot to do with how patient we are. I have found that some of my children are so easy to parent while others cause me much more frustration and worry. The extra special moments happen when we really connect with those children that make us feel failures as mothers. I have always felt like I've let Felicity down. But the other night she told me how much she admires me and how, as a child, she always wanted to be just like me. That was such a wonderful moment.

      I am amazed also at how forgiving children are. I feel so bad when I lose patience but my children do forget quickly, despite my fears they won't. Perhaps it's because they know I love them deeply and that's what's really important. What do you think?

      Mandy, thank you so much for stopping and commenting and making me think about this topic some more!

  7. ah and your reply to Pam comforted me as well :) I hope that the kids can at least say they enjoyed spending time with Mom all these years of basic unschooling, in a generally messy unorganized home. That that is what they will remember, and not the times I got uptight and yelled and fussed. Ugh. And not pushing them to work work work, but rather to learn and enjoy and love. sigh....I have a loooong way to go...I hope I can get there at least before my soon to be 12 yr old oldest is 18 :)

    1. Mandy,

      You unschool too! I am sure our children will always remember the close times we have as unschoolers. They'll think, "Mum, didn't mind the house being untidy. She was more interested in spending time with us." Yes, our children are so important. They'll remember they came first.

      You said, "but rather to learn and enjoy and love". I love that! Isn't that exactly what we're trying to do? To respect and love each other, learn together and to enjoy being with each other!

      I am at the tail end of my parenting and homeschooling. My youngest is already 8. Big sigh! Yes, I haven't much time to get things right. That's why I just do what I feel is right and I don't worry about other people's expectations. I just enjoy and love, as you said. With that I don't think we can go wrong.

  8. All I can say is "Beautiful!" You have such a way of expressing the feelings so many of us feel but cannot always find the words for. You are such a talented writer [I can't wait to read your NaNo novel :)]

    Blessings to you, Kari

    1. Kari.

      I really enjoy sharing with you and knowing we often feel the same way about things. Thank you for your kind words. You will understand the joy of writing: that need to put thoughts and feelings into written words, being a writer yourself. My NaNo novel? I will have to stop writing blog posts and get down to some serious editing of my first draft! I'm also really looking forward to reading your novel. My novel is only a children's story. Yours sounds so much more complicated and interesting!

      God bless!

  9. Reminds me of when I had Amy! :) I had NO CLUE how to do anything!! My mother had to show me how to bathe her! :) Sounds like a normal new mom to me. :) And like Felicity, I am also a first born child. Us eldest always 'cut the path' for the younger siblings! :) My sisters and I are all ten years apart. My parents where kids themselves when they had me.. not to mention they were always 'broke' and had zero child experience. :) Our middle sister came when they were still young, but were better off, AND had experience. Our youngest sister got the cruise ship vacations, the built in pool, and calmer parents. Darn her. LOL

  10. Susan,

    I think you are quite right: all new mothers experience feelings of being inadequate.

    I'm an eldest child too! Like Felicity, I grew up feeling like a guinea pig child. Yes, 'I cut the path' for my younger sisters. Sometimes I used to complain about how much more difficult I had it than they did, and how unfair life was. I guess my parents relaxed more as time went by, just like I have.

    Cruise ship vacations? I wonder if we'll be able to give Gemma-Rose things we couldn't give the others. Actually, I think it will be quite sad for her when she is the only child left at home. There is something very special about growing up surrounded by lots of siblings: all those babies, noise, love and fun.

    God bless!

  11. Maybe this sounds nuts, but being the eldest... YES my parents were far stricter with me than my younger sisters. And true they had less money and less grand things. But sometimes I think I was the most blessed in many ways. My parents were just kids themselves when they had me, and took me all over the place, camping, fishing, more barbecues... more nights doing simple things such as playing games, catching fireflies.. mom & dad were younger and more adventurous... my mom was diagnosed with cancer when my youngest sister was still in grammar school.. Yes they took her to Hawaii and on a cruise ship.. but I think she missed some of the pleasures of the simpler things, and to me, more precious. I'd rather have "family time" than the fancy stuff... (not that I don't LIKE the fancy stuff.. Of course I do!) :) But there are just some things that money can't buy.. like parents still young and healthy and full of energy. She missed that.

    Love, Susan

    1. Susan,

      It sounds like you had a very happy childhood! What great memories you have. Your mother's cancer must have really affected your younger sister's life and feelings of security as she was still living at home at the time. btw, prayers for you mum. How's she doing?

      I often wonder about having a young mother compared to an older one. Like you, I had a very young mum. Everyone used to think my mother was my older sister. Gemma-Rose has the older mum while Felicity had the young mum. But I am trying very hard to keep my energy and sense of fun and adventure for Gemma-Rose's sake.

      Whether we are the youngest or the oldest or somewhere in between, I think we have a unique place in the family: it's our place and part of who we are. You are thankful you are the oldest. I wonder if your youngest sister also thinks she had the best place in the family.

      God bless!

  12. I remember thinking the exact same thing when we were leaving the hospital with my first child. It felt so strange, almost like we were leaving with something that didn't belong to us. I definitelly hesitated wondering how I could just be allowed to take this little human being home with us. But I guess that feeling makes sense, because our children are not "ours", they belong to God, and somehow we must hesitate in awe because we recognize the incredible gift we have been given. God just handed them over to us. And we can't believe it. Somehow we can't believe He trusts us enough to love and care for this, His, child. Feeling uneasy to leave with God's child I think just shows how serious we take our responsibility of this new gift.

    1. Tricia,

      How lovely it was to see your comment waiting to be moderated!

      You said, "Feeling uneasy to leave with God's child I think just shows how serious we take our responsibility of this new gift." I agree! You have got me thinking along another line... God certainly does trust us. But He doesn't leave us alone to do the job of raising our children. He is there to help us. I didn't realise this for a long time. What a great gift is the gift of our children.

      Thank you for stopping and saying hello.

      God bless!

  13. I love this post Sue. This should be on your popular posts. Its so true about inexperienced mothers turning out to be laid back on their last child and that God fills in the gaps.

    1. Anabelle,

      Thank you for sharing this post. What I find really comforting is that most mothers understand. I'm not the only mother to look back and smile at her inexperienced former self. Life was so worrying then. Yes, now we are so laid back. Maybe too laid back sometimes. I forget to clean the house, and buy food and feed the kids, and do all kinds of things these days, but no one seems worried about it!


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