by Erin Clausen

Just over a year ago, I watched the pregnancy test stick carefully as two blue lines appeared. My stomach churned in some combination of butterflies and morning sickness. I knew that life would change in extraordinary ways, and it has. Parenting challenges even the most able, grounded people I know. We added one child to our family, but the excitement and chaos has multiplied. Some chaos-survival tips I have learned:

Offer yourself more grace than you think you should.Whether or not you believe you deserve it, you will need it.

Let someone else take care of you. You will read everywhere about the importance of taking care of yourself. You will have neither the time nor the energy. A friend gave us the valuable gift of bringing food each time she visited. We didn’t cook for three weeks. Someone else came to babysit my colicky baby one afternoon a week for the first four months. It helped us all survive.

Listen to your instincts and trust them. Even if what you think or feel seems illogical, pay attention. You might need that nap now because the baby will be up all night. Take a shower even though the baby wants to be held again: It might be your only chance.

Make your own rules and stick to them. No one else knows what you’re experiencing, and “experienced” parents have already forgotten how tough this time is. If you want to wear sweatpants and men’s dress shirts for six months, do. Complain about sleepless nights or constant feedings. Share every picture and tell every cute story you can remember. Tell people you already have a plan for feeding/sleeping/whatever advice you’re receiving. You may only get to do this once; do it your way.

Read, but only a little. I chose Dr. Marc Weissbluth’s Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child for understanding sleep/fussiness patterns and Glade Curtis and Judith Schuler’s Your Baby’s First Year Week by Week for developmental expectations and games we could play. I found that reading more than this took time away from my baby and offered contradicting advice.

Journal. Write down two sentences a day, even if they just say “Wow. I’ve never been so exhausted in my whole life.” It is amazing how much and how quickly you forget.

Pray. Especially when you don’t know how to calm your child. Praying centers you, and that creates space for calm. Practice now to pray with your child: at mealtime, bedtime, morning diaper changes, when you’re upset. These rituals will become learned by heart, wrapping you and your baby in God’s grace.

Having survived these first six months, I am consistently surprised at how much about life I still have to learn. When my baby learned to blow bubbles, I discovered I had forgotten how. Trying to quiet her during an appointment with my spiritual director, my director pointed out that my child is God’s very presence in my life. Used to greeting morning with a grumpy, groggy attitude, my baby’s laughter and smiles melt my heart and prepare me to live each day with joy.

Things got progressively tougher for the first eight weeks or so, and then they’ve gotten progressively better. Sure, there is more chaos these days (she’s almost crawling already!). But there’s also more excitement, more joy, more love.

Parenting has challenged and strengthened my marriage, offered space for friendships to grow, and stretched me to reclaim the childlike joy life brings. And the world offers nothing better than the smile that lights up my child’s face when I pick her up after a long day at work or the giggle that greets me each morning. This is God’s grace made manifest each day.

The Rev. Erin Clausen currently serves as pastor at St. James Lutheran Church in Western Springs, Ill. Her loves are her family, her church, relaxing with friends, playing music, and enjoying the good food her husband cooks.