10 Things I've Learned In My First Year of Motherhood

Baby girl turns one on Sunday, a milestone which has left me feeling nostalgic. There's so much I want to capture about this first year; things I fear I will forget in a year in which scrapbooking has fallen by the wayside.

During my pregnancy, I lost track of how many times I was told, “Once the baby comes, your life won't ever be the same!” Now that we're a year into this parenting gig, I think what's even more striking to me is how much I've learned. Later this week, I'll reflect on what motherhood has taught me about God and faith but for today, here are 10 things I've learned in my first year of motherhood.

1. Babies have personalities. As an only child, I wasn't around many babies until I had one of my own. I was stunned to discover that babies aren't just lumps on a log; they're tiny humans with distinct personalities. What a joy and privilege it has been to watch Hope's personality unfold!

2. The first year is fun. Before I had a kid, I thought the first year would be something we simply had to survive until we got to the good stuff later on. I had no idea how much good stuff there'd be during this first year. Don't get me wrong: There have been days when Doug has walked into the house, I've handed him the baby and burst into tears. But for the most part, I've truly enjoyed this first year.

3. There is so much joy in discovery. I've always valued learning. But this year, there has been no greater joy for me than to watch Hope discover things and to see the wheels turning in her brain as she figures out how to do something for the first time. I pray her curiosity and love of learning with always remain strong.

4. There are hundreds of ways to parent. How someone else parents isn't necessarily bad but it also isn't necessarily the best way for me to parent.

5. There's no shame in doing what works for a season. We parent differently now than we did six months ago. Part of this is the learning curve. Part of this is the realization that as Hope grows and changes, so must I. What works in one season might not work in other seasons. That's OK.

6. Memberships are worth it. I'm pretty cheap... And yet this year, we've purchased memberships to the Arboretum, Brookfield Zoo, and the DuPage Children's Museum. They're worth every penny. They get us out of the house and into an engaging environment. They give us worthwhile, fun things to do together as a family. Because let's face it: Even though Hope can pull apart legos for hours at a time, I can't. Memberships have saved my sanity on a number of occasions.

7. You can do virtually anything while breastfeeding. In the early days, this isn't true... Which is why it came as such a surprise to me to discover, as Hope got older, that I could do virtually anything while breastfeeding. I've read a ton of books while nursing... But I've also cooked meals, taken conference calls, and written chapters of The Real Jesus. Breastfeeding isn't the prison I once thought it would be.

8. You can do a lot in two hours. I've always thought I was good at time-management. Little did I know how much better I would get at time management as a mom. As a working mom, I've had to learn how to work efficiently and fast. I've had to learn how to work even when I don't feel like it. In my first year of motherhood, I've learned how to get more done in two hours while the baby's asleep than I used to get done in an entire day of work.

9. Work makes me a better mother. Before Hope was born, people looked at me aghast when I said I was going to continue working as a youth pastor after she arrived. They couldn't envision how a baby would be compatible with ministry and in some ways, neither could I. Yet, we've figured it out. My work energizes and breathes life into me. It makes me feel fully alive. I'm at my best when my days are filled both with caring for Hope and meaningful ministry.

10. It really does take a village. Parenting is a team effort. I am so grateful for those who watch Hope so that I can work and for the high school students who babysit Hope so Doug and I can go out on a date. Those things make me a better mom... But they're also good for Hope. As a youth worker, I'm a firm believer in the importance of surrounding kids with non-parental adults who love and care for them. This year, I've come to see the value of that for my own daughter as well.

Jen Bradbury on Youth Ministry

Jen serves as the director of youth ministry at Faith Lutheran Church in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. A veteran youth worker, Jen holds an MA in Youth Ministry Leadership from Huntington University. Jen is the author of The Jesus Gap: What Teens Actually Believe about Jesus (The Youth Cartel). Her writing has also appeared in YouthWorker Journal, Immerse, and The Christian Century. When not doing ministry, she and her husband Doug can be found hiking, backpacking, and traveling.

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