“It is not a slight thing when they, who are so fresh from God, love us.” –Charles Dickens
Preparing for parenthood was, in a word, overwhelming. Even worse than pregnancy hormones was a terrible, looming sense of ignorance.
What in heavens name had possessed us to have a baby??—I knew nothing about them!! I had no idea why they cried, or how often they ate, or even how to prevent their large bobbly heads from falling off at the neck! As pregnancy progressed, I had nightmares featuring me leaving the baby in the bedroom all day, and then coming back in a panic at night, having only just remembered that she might need to eat—or, you know, something. Whatever it was that babies need.
How had I existed among the human race for 27 years without learning anything about childbearing, birthing, or parenting?!! Here I was, a straight-A student (always prepared for tests in school), but now with the biggest real-life test looming, I was totally unprepared! It struck me as a lamentable oversight.
I did the only thing I knew to do. As a bona fide nerd, I sought education. I downloaded apps, registered for the hospital birthing classes, and checked out books from the library. It was hard to target a specific topic of study; my ignorance was all-encompassing. I tracked the size of my child as compared to fruits and vegetables (you know the apps). I took three breastfeeding classes. I read a book about hypnobirthing and talked to every mom I knew about labor and delivery. I revisited the Love and Logic course. I sat through a car seat safety course and attended a lecture by a pediatrician.
Honestly, it only sort of helped. They say that knowledge is power, but information about parenting and childbirth is also opinionated, varied, and changes every few generations (spoiler alert: there is no “right way” to parent). Mostly my frenetic efforts just stoked that horrible sense of not-knowing.
I don’t know if my experience is universal, or if it was my own particular brand of ignorance-induced anxiety. But if I could go back and tell expecting Jenny just one thing, it would be this—“You know enough.”
You Know Enough
I don’t want to short-change the value of developmental trajectory charts, professional opinions, and everything that your grandmother can teach you about raising kids. These are excellent resources. You can and should glean lessons on parenting from many, many earthly sources. But there is one Eternal truth that has blessed me more than any other book, blog post, or expert opinion. This truth has come to rest on my soul, gently and repeatedly, during my child’s first year of life. The truth is simply this–
Before my child came into my womb, she was with God, as a mature spirit. Her existence neither began nor ends here on earth.
God assured the prophet Jeremiah of this when he said, “before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee” (Jeremiah 1:5).
Remembering the eternity of my child’s soul reduces my anxiety. It prods the answers to specific concerns about development and discipline. For me, it is the eternal principle that umbrellas all of the emergent daily questions.
Three principles about the pre-earth life inspire my parenting:
(1) Big Spirit. Small Body.
When your child is all tears and tantrums, remember to reverence the eternity of his or her soul.
Imagine what it is like to squish a mature, expansive spirit into the confines of a small mortal body. Or to first encounter the complex physical and symbolic worlds of language and social interaction! What empathy it inspires! I consider it my privilege to wait out the hard moments with her.
In my experience, each developmental accomplishment (grasping, sitting, crawling, walking, talking) is preceded by a spiritual storm. It makes good sense. Isn’t your soul angsty when you face tasks that feel insurmountable? Don’t you cry and fret and whine? Big, capable spirits want to do things well—confidently, capably, even admirably. But bodies and physical environments—all this thick, material stuff—is new to our spirits. It takes time and practice.
One of the sweetest moments I had as a new mom was holding an inconsolable infant and feeling like I could empathize. I confess, before the empathy came agitation. Incessant wailing does crazy things to one’s nerves. As far as I could tell, Lucy shouldn’t have been crying. Her needs were apparently met: she wasn’t hungry or tired, her diaper wasn’t messy, and there was no fever. It would have been easy to label her whiny, or colicky, or just incredibly frustrating (as though she was willfully crying to incite me). But the Spirit stepped in and reminded me that she was old soul trying to figure out a small, unwieldy physical body. She was trying to bear up under a HUGE change (and who of us deals with change gracefully?). Maybe she was mourning the loss of our Father’s warm presence. Or fed up with a lack of control. Maybe she just needed to muck around in a state of overwhelm for a few minutes.
Geez. So hard. So I responded by holding her close and whispering the story of God’s plan. It is one thing to recite the rote plan that your Sunday School teacher told you, but quite another to shape it into lullabies and calming whispers. It feels truer, holding an infant who just passed through liminal spaces and into mortality.
So. Babies cry—sometimes a LOT. And as a parent, sometimes you feel helpless and crazy. But remember: big spirit. Small body. Wait it out together.
(2) Mighty Missions
Before she donned this physical body, my child cultivated good gifts in spiritual state. I don’t remember it; neither does she. But I see it in her personality, in her aptitudes, and in her interests.
Therefore, my task is clear: to help her remember her eternal identity. I must help her heed those premortal pinings so that she will fulfill the missions that are uniquely hers.
I can highlight her natural gifts and God-sent inclinations. I can help Lucy to see that her talents are not merely for self-promotion.
I can teach her to pray—not out of habit, but in earnest.
I can help her satisfy those natural cravings for the things of the Spirit.
I can share God’s commandments. They will protect her from vice and distraction.
I can extend the grace of Jesus Christ. Not just church-going habits, but the lived practices of repentance and forgiveness. Lucy will feel the truths of redemption when I choose to discipline with maturity, wisdom, and love. She’ll feel close to her Heavenly Parents when we mimic their warmth and affection.
My child is a great and noble spirit. She was chosen before she was born. Her earthly potential is to do all things that the Lord her God commands her (Abraham 3: 22-26). I can mentor, scaffold, encourage, and teach along the way.
(3). Capital-H Home.
Earthly home. Heavenly Home. The capital-H says it all.
Our home is but a faint, fond imitation of a far finer heavenly Home.
Lucy is accustomed to the presence of God. Her innate preferences bend toward the very finest in language, music, and beauty. If she is to feel at Home in our home, we must promote the very finest in language, music, and beauty.
I know, I know—she’s just an infant. But we can use kind words and varied vocabulary. We can spend time out of doors, in God’s adornments. We can fill our home with music and laughter and light. We can expose her to good people and great ideas and beautiful surroundings.
Early on in parenting, we discovered that our personal standards needed a lift. The moral force of a child is a real and present force. We can’t watch movies that we used to, because we don’t like the way it feels; it might rub off on our daughter. We ousted a good portion of our music collection because we didn’t like the messages being promoted. Moreover, we now seek goodness and light with zeal. We’ve discovered some really amazing new music and media resources.
We become what we listen to, think about, and view. And knowing that Lucy is a great spirit, we want her to listen to, think about, and view great things.
Privileged to Parent
Above all, pre-earth existence promotes parenting from an earthly necessity to a divine opportunity. It’s easy to see the messes and limitations imposed by children, but that’s just the mortal stuff. When I remember who Lucy is and from Whence she hails, my daily task becomes an adventure of the highest sort.
* This children’s song is one of my favorite exposes on the pre-earth existence. It’s our Sunday morning jam.