30 Things We’ve Learned in our First Year as Parents

November 1, 2014 will be our one-year anniversary as parents. A couple days ago Darwin and I sat down and compiled the following list of some of the things we’ve learned thus far:

  1. In order to get them to stop slamming doors, simply sit down with them once and say very calmly, “The next person who slams a door will lose their bedroom door. We will literally take down your door and hang up a curtain, because you can’t slam a curtain. Well, I guess you can, but it wouldn’t make any noise,” and they will never slam a door again. (We used to have several slammed doors per day, but now it’s been roughly seven months and counting without a single slammed door.)
  2. Parenting books really do help.
  3. In raising children, if our hope and purpose is placed in the children themselves, we will continually feel frustrated and in despair as they make mistakes, sin, and fail to meet expectations – rather our purpose in being parents must be rooted in the love of and obedience to God, who is perfect and does not change.
  4. The kids should not be allowed to cook by themselves (or they prepare 17 tortillas per person for breakfast).
  5. It is wise to have a “turkey talk” with them about the changes their body will soon experience, God’s vision of purity, and sex before they hear misinformation from a classmate or some other source. Give them accurate and honest information on an age-appropriate level so that they are responsible before God to make informed decisions.
  6. That African proverb that says “It takes a whole village to raise a child” really is true. The raising of any child is a team effort, and teachers, coaches, neighbors, aunts and uncles, nurses, day-care workers, etc, probably underestimate the true impact they have (or could potentially have) on the children in their lives. With that being said, those who aren’t necessarily “parents” may in fact be part of the parenting team of one or more children.
  7. The kids enjoy seeing us be affectionate with one another (holding hands in public, hugs in the kitchen, etc) and seem to feel very secure knowing that Mom and Dad genuinely love and care for one another.
  8. Children “know” many things and may even be able to finish our sentences and quote Bible verses, but it is not knowledge that counts, but rather practice. Saying a beautiful prayer over dinner about the need to be truthful does not necessarily lead to truth-telling once a sticky situation arises. Hypocrisy is always lurking, so the focus must always be on putting into earnest practice the good that we know rather than merely talking about it, as if knowledge alone suffices. (We know this is a rampant sin among adults as well, and this year we’ve learned that it begins in childhood and even when detected early on requires much prayer, constant guidance, and discipline to correct.)
  9. Asking their opinion when it is possible (which route they think we should take to get home, what order we should do our activities in, an opinion regarding a certain family decision, etc) helps them in the development of their self-confidence and decision-making ability, and they feel very important and valued in being asked what they think.
  10. If we do not carve out time each day for just the two of us to spend time together, all of our time quickly gets swept away with the children. (We learned this after it seemed like every night we were all in the living room playing and spending time together until 9:00 or 10:00pm before we would head to our room late, exhausted. Now we have a house norm that the kids must be in their rooms at 8:00pm and lights out at 9:00pm, which gives us alone time each evening to talk and connect.)
  11. Being a parent is a 24/7 job, and even when we are not physically with the kids we are likely praying for them, reading a book on how to parent them better, talking or thinking about them, planning activities for them, or doing something for them.
  12. Children should never be allowed to use Clorox bleach under any circumstances. (We made this grave mistake in the first several months as parents, allowing them to use bleach for cleaning purposes, but we ended up with towels and sheets with big bleach stains and many ruined clothes.)
  13. Loving all of them equally and treating each one differently are not mutually exclusive terms; rather we must learn what each one needs and wants and be able to respond accordingly so that our love for them can be genuinely shown. The way that we show our love for our 14-year-old daughter and our 7-year-old son are very different even though we treasure them both equally.
  14. Natural intelligence does not necessarily have a strong correlation with academic achievement.
  15. In a family with more than one child, it is vitally important to create time for each child to receive individual attention. We call these “dates” in our family, and they are held in high esteem by everyone. (I grew up an only child, so my memories of childhood were like one long “date” with both of my parents that I frequently wished would end!)
  16. Having a schedule that is fairly fixed each day is a tremendous help in cultivating a familial rhythm and sense of order. (Having a daily schedule may seem rather obvious, but we stumbled through our first several months, groping at chaos as we were trying to figure out how to manage a busy household, attend to everyone’s needs, establish special family traditions, make sure everyone was wearing clean clothes, etc.)
  17. When one child, especially one of the older ones, is struggling with a particular sin (lying, etc), all are put in danger of falling into the same. It is very important that the older ones set good examples, because they will be copied whether they want to be or not.
  18. The incessant and potentially annoying question “Why?” actually does have a purpose: the child is trying to understand the world around him and form his own opinions of how things work that will eventually govern him as an adult. We should be thanking God that he’s asking us “Why?” instead of answering all his questions with what he sees in the media and in his friends’ lives! Taking the time to answer all the “why’s” clearly and honestly is a huge investment we can make into their future decision-making.
  19. Children recognize and appreciate honesty in adults.
  20. Children don’t mind not having access to a television. (We’ve never had one in our home, and the children haven’t complained once about it.)
  21. The best way to help the children relax is to take them to an open-air area, such as the river or park.
  22. We should not seek to keep them little and cute; we should help them to take appropriate risks, be their constant cheerleaders, allow them to speak for themselves, assume the consequences for their actions, and take on new challenges and skills in their lives so that they become the men and women God would have them to be.
  23. Kids have a lot of great ideas if we will take the time to listen.
  24. Fulfilling promises as much as possible is crucial.
  25. A pet (such as a chick or a dog) helps the children to relax.
  26. If we implement a new family rule, norm, change of the daily schedule, or disciplinary procedure (or, even better, if we get everyone’s input and everyone agrees upon what is just and do-able together) and take the time to lovingly explain why, it is actually very easy for them to accept changes, even if the children don’t necessarily understand “what’s in it for them.”
  27. One child should never be compared to another.
  28. It is extremely fun to parent a very bright child, but it also requires much more from us.
  29. You should always speak well of your spouse to your children – the kids catch on and can feel a strong sense of family unity, plus they, too, begin to speak well of those who aren’t present.
  30. Creative, imaginative play is so crucial to their overall development (and quite fun to participate in with them).

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