Congratulations on your new baby or baby-to-be! If you thought the changes you experienced during pregnancy were wild, buckle up! From sleep deprivation to your sweet child yelling “NO!” when asked to pick up a block, the first years are akin to Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride (for those unfamiliar with Mr. Toad, he lives at Disneyland and if you plan to go while your child is still a child, open that saving account now) and life probably won’t show any semblance of calm for quite some time. However crazy life might seem during the newborn to early toddler phase, there’s a whole lot of good too.
From the time baby arrives to the day they depart for college, you have roughly 936 weeks to prepare them for life without you. It may sound unimaginable now, but as the weeks tick by, your baby continues to grow and mature and one day you’ll leave them at home while you run to Lowe’s singing “A Whole New World” because after 11 years of a shadow (or three) wherever you go, it is a whole new world! A solo trip to Lowe’s doesn’t happen overnight- there’s years of teaching, repetition, trust building and more that lead up to that glorious day, and believe it or not, it all starts now with that newborn in your arms.
Proverbs 22:6 calls parents to “Start children off on the way they should go,” so that “even when they are old they will not turn from it.” I think we can all agree that aside from a few Proverbs and a Psalm here and there, the Bible isn’t exactly an exhaustive parenting manual. That’s not to say that all we do as parents, as people, shouldn’t be done through a Biblical lens, but it can be difficult to discern how many Cheerios are too many Cheerios and at what age exactly is it no longer socially acceptable to loudly announce the need to go potty. What we have learned (curtesy of our friends at the Phase Project) is that there are six key things every child needs over the course of their 936 weeks in your home aimed at helping them become the people God has created them to be: love, stories, work, fun, tribes and words.
Let’s start with love. For a newborn and toddler, love is all about embracing their physical needs. Babies need to know that they are safe, held close, while toddlers often look to you asking “Am I able?” Granted it’s not long before “Am I able?” turns into “I do it!” but look at it this way, a toddler learning to feed himself is one step closer to making his own quesadilla for lunch and that’s a win for both of you.
Just like your child, the stories you’ll read them grow in length and complexity over the years. They’ll help develop language skills and instill a love of learning new things and just when you feel like you can’t read One Fish, Two Fish one more time, just like that, your child will be reading on his own! Well, maybe not quite like that, but soon.
It might seem odd to think of a baby working, but work is important at any age. For the youngest, work looks like tummy time, learning to track and grasp objects and roll over. My oldest loved to grab earrings and gently rip them from my earlobes until I took the hint and packed the jewelry away indefinitely. As they move into toddlerhood, work is learning to pick up toys, drink from a cup and getting their dinner from plate to mouth with less and less ending up on the floor for the dog.
I’ll wager that less than one percent of the population would consider a newborn “fun,” but once that first intentional smile erupts, parents turn into the biggest goofballs just to see another. Babies love games like peek-a-boo, stacking blocks, soft toys and mirrors. Toddlers are much the same but be warned, it’s not long before they enter the hide-the-sharpies phase because coloring is not just for books.
Your child’s tribe at this stage consists of the people God has already placed in your life, and by extension, theirs. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends and even nursery workers are all people who have a huge influence on your child. This is also where healthy (and sometimes unhealthy) boundaries and relational dynamics are first learned.
Finally, the words you say to and speak over your child will shape how they see you, God and themselves for the rest of their life. Proverbs 18:4 tells us that “A person’s words can be life-giving water; words of true wisdom are as refreshing as a bubbling brook.” So in-between teaching the color of grass and the ABC song, be sure to tell your child how much you love them. How much Jesus loves them. How they were created in the image of the God of the universe for a special purpose that no one can take away from them. It’s not too early for an authentic faith, one that will become their own, to take root and begin to grow right along with them.
This parenting journey is going to be the most amazing, terrifying, life-giving, gut-wrenching thing you’ve ever done. So set your tired eyes on Jesus and know that one bad day does not equal a bad parent. Trust me, I’ve had a few and my kids still tell me I’m the best mommy ever. And yes, it still counts even though they have nothing to compare it to.