In my B.C. (before children) days, I read the experts’ parenting books and listened to tapes with aspirations of being the perfect mother.  I was constantly “tsk-tsking” people at the mall who couldn’t control their screaming toddler, rolling my eyes at some munchkin’s bad restaurant behavior, and judging my friends’ obvious lack of parenting skills. Then I had children.

Fast forward several years and four children. My young sons went to their first bowling class. The instructor demonstrated the basic bowling stance, taught them how they should position their arms and hands, and showed them the correct way to walk -- and most importantly when and where to release the ball. She taught them all these things while pretending to hold a bowling ball. 

They practiced a few times using their imaginary (weightless) bowling balls and confidently walked from the classroom with their heads held high, ready to conquer the pins. Out on the lanes, they found handling a real ten-pound bowling ball was much more difficult. They also discovered the gutters.

My experience as a parent has been similar to the boys’ first bowling lesson. Imaginary parenthood was easy. Despite all my preparation, I soon realized I was not going to be a perfect parent.

How, I wondered, would I ever meet my children’s physical, emotional and spiritual needs? I had trouble just keeping track of them at the store. I often had to do a head count so I would return home with the same number of children I’d left with. I couldn’t remember who was the last child to ride in the front seat and without eyes-in-the-back-of-my-head-refereeing-skills I didn’t know who-touched-who or who-breathed-on-who first. I needed Solomon-like wisdom in my life. I wasn’t dealing with baby-splitting decisions, but I was responsible for the training and preservation of their young lives.

I stopped reading the “expert’s” books and started looking for real life survivors -- women who had successfully raised children and were still alive to tell about it. I sat at their feet as they chatted from lawn chairs at church picnics and gleaned any information I could on potty-training, sibling rivalry, and techniques for removing large buttons from small noses. I would machine-gun them with questions, “What did you do for croup?” “Whole milk or low-fat for toddlers?” and “Will I ever get my waist back?”  I was thirsty for answers to the mysteries of motherhood, and my cup was filled by experts who had already climbed Motherhood Mountain.

These days, I’m a grandma, and I’ve acquired a wealth of information under my belt – (along with an extra few inches.) Young moms ask me, “Did you experience post-partum depression?” I share my experience of locking myself in my bedroom and refusing to answer the front door when an acquaintance came to see the new baby. I tell them about the day I ran away from home but returned two hours later, to make dinner. 

Or how about questions on "biting"? Well, let's just say we once thought that baby Lindsay had ringworm, until I caught her toddler sister munching on Lindsay.

Not only do I now have tried-and-true wisdom on those early days of motherhood, but I have plenty of advice to offer on those tumultous teenage years too. I’ve had a teenage son who refused to sing at church (“You don’t have to sing, but you DO have to sit there.”), a daughter who temporarily rebelled and broke my heart, and enough drama to write my own soap opera.  But, with the Lord’s help and the wisdom, support and prayers of older godly women, I (and the children) have survived. Our journey didn't exactly resemble the picture the "experts" painted, but that's okay.

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• If you’re a young mom, know that you're not alone. Find some godly women at church that can encourage and pray with you.

• If you’re an older woman, take the time to encourage and pray with the younger moms.

The older women likewise…that they admonish the young women…to love their children…(Titus 2: 3-4)
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Tonya Ruiz is a pastor’s wife, mom, and grandmother who calls Southern California home. To find out more: www.RaisingBeautifulChildren.com.