12 Things I Learned My First Year of Parenting

By Karen Isbell


The first year of parenting is a blur as Ellie races into toddlerhood. Yet, there are those moments that define you as parents that I will never forget. The first year of parenting was filled with joy, confusion, laughter, exhaustion, fear, doubt and lots of love. I would wake up confused as to why I was awake and why there was a crying baby that no one was soothing. During nap time I would think, “Oh I can go run an errand” momentarily forgetting that I wasn’t really alone. We are blessed with a lively, happy little girl and while there were bumps the first year, most of the lessons I learned were more about me and less about her.

Here are twelve things I learned the first year of parenting:

1. Pray…a lot.

In the beginning it was hard to find time to pray. It was hard to have a coherent thought. I began to realize it was “hard” to find time to pray because I thought I needed to sit down to pray. My approach was incorrect. So I began to pray more creatively, while I was doing the dishes, while I was nursing or pumping, or while we were rocking. A seamless conversation of prayer began to ebb and flow throughout my daily rhythms. I prayed for wisdom, I prayed for peace, I prayed for strength, and I prayed for sleep. I prayed when I wasn’t sure what her cry meant. I prayed when I wasn’t sure if her cough was real or just a fun sound. I prayed when she rolled over that she wouldn’t grow up too fast. I prayed that I wouldn’t be too busy to miss watching her grow up.

2. Be consistent.

Consistency provides a framework for Ellie to grow and explore. Changing patterns and rhythms too much doesn’t set clear boundaries for her to understand their world. Consistency communicates expectations. Although I know the value of this from my time in the classroom, I find it hard to be consistently consistent ;). Being consistent requires intentionality and engagement.

3. Be Patient.

Bryan wrote a song for me one time, “Karen is Impatient”. My first year of parenting definitely worked on my patience. I constantly had to remember Ellie was learning. She didn’t understand the world around her and it was my responsibility to teach her. And learning takes time. It was nearly twelve weeks from the time she took her first steps to when she was independently walking. I was so anxious and ready for her to accomplish that milestone. Impatience causes us to miss the moments in between. When we are focused on what’s next and not on what’s now we might miss the tiny moments right in front of us.

4. Be Prepared.

We showed up to Ellie’s first doctor’s appointment, excited and nervous. As our confidence swelled at the thought of surviving the first week of parenthood, Ellie’s diaper swelled with a major stinky. Our confidence quickly deflated as we looked around and realized we had forgotten the diaper bag…not in the car…at home. Most mom’s lament their forgetfulness when the second or third child come along…I never made it that far. There were numerous occasions that we got halfway to our destination without a diaper bag. I had to learn new ways of organization. We now have a diaper bag that stays in the car. We are prepared for my forgetfulness. Preparation alleviates stress. When something unexpected arrises and I am prepared I respond more calmly. Preparation keeps a peaceful home.

5. Ask for Help.

I am an aunt to 13 nieces and nephews. My degree is in Human Development and Family Studies and I was a teacher for four years. It’s easy for me to think I’ve got this parenting thing down. But the truth is I don’t. I don’t know the difference between heat rash and diaper rash. I always think Ellie has a fever. I have to lean into people. We each have different strengths and need each other to figure out this parenting thing. Don’t be an island. Ask questions. Read books. Read blogs. Surround yourself with support. Learn from those who are older and wiser. Learn from those in the trenches. Learn from those with a different perspective and philosophy. You won’t make it alone.

6. Be Flexible.

Growing up I took dance and gymnastics. I always hated doing stretches, but stretching increased flexibility and allowed you to properly perform each move. The more flexible you are the more flawless the moves. The first few months of parenting my muscles were tight and when I moved collateral damage occurred. I didn’t do well with the unexpected. When I took Ellie for her six month appointment the doctor felt a hip ultrasound was needed. However, the ultrasound had to be completed before she was six months old…in five days. The only appointment was the next day, during a meeting I had at work. Nothing was following the plan. I was running around putting stress on other people instead of smoothly moving from one scene to the next. Flexibility helps to smooth out the unexpected. When you are flexible you can change direction flawlessly.

7. Work with Your Spouse.

The first year of parenting is hard on a marriage. It’s easy to let the stress push you a part. Our nights and weekends look a little different, but we learned to stay close we have to work together. We change diapers together. We give baths together. I make the grocery list, he goes to the store. He does the laundry, I have good intentions of folding it. We find fun in the seemingly mundane.

8. Don’t be Afraid to make Mistakes.

The first few months of parenting I lived with a lot of fear. The weight of raising Ellie weighed heavily on me. I felt as though all my flaws stared me in the face each day and I didn’t want to fail her. I wanted to be perfect for her. But striving to be the perfect parent wouldn’t give her a clear picture of the Gospel. I want her to know that I need Jesus every day. My flaws and mistakes will become part of her story. This is a hard truth for me, but I know that it will point her to need Jesus. She doesn’t need me to be perfect, she needs Jesus.

9. Be Intentional.

It’s hard for me to believe we are fifteen months into life with Ellie. Though I can’t remember what life was like before, it seems like these past fifteen months have raced by. It’s easy for me to get caught up in the day to day and not take time to intentionally sit down with her. Intentionality requires investment. It requires me to set aside my exhaustion and my to-do list and invest in Ellie and our relationship. This is hard after a long day, but so rewarding. I love our family time before bed. She laughs so hard at Bryan and melts my heart when she reaches for her books. It would be easier to just put her to bed, but it is more valuable to intentionally invest that time.

10. I set the Tone. 

I often react instead of responding. I’ve got enough red hair to spontaneously combust every now and then. As moms we set the tone for our home. Unfortunately, I learned this the hard way. When I’m upset, everyone is upset. When I’m stressed, everyone is stressed. A peaceful home is a direct result of a peaceful momma. I have to get up before everyone else and spend time focusing and preparing for the day. This is a discipline for me. I would much rather sleep a little longer. Yet, I know a peaceful home is more important for my family than those few extra minutes of sleep.

11. Don’t Compare Yourself (or your child). 

This is a moment by moment struggle for me. It’s easy to feel good about myself one minute and at the bottom of the well the next. Its a dangerous pathway. My strengths as a mom are unique and different but that doesn’t mean I’m less of a mom. I’m not good at “fun” – I can teach colors and numbers all day long, but I often forget to just laugh together. I learn from moms who have fun well and work daily to intentionally have fun with Ellie. I remind myself daily, that God chose me to be Ellie’s mom. She needs me to be me not someone else. I love Pinterest, but it can be a comparison trap if we aren’t careful. Glean from others what they do well, but remember you are the best parent for your child.

12. Don’t live in Fear

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” 2 Timothy 1:7 When we live in fear we are without a spirit of power, love and a sound mind. The fears of raising a child are strong and easy to be pulled under by. We guard our minds with God’s Word and keep our hearts at peace so that we guide our children and our homes in a spirit of power, love and a sound mind.

What have you learned?


3 Comments on 12 Things I Learned My First Year of Parenting

  1. Bob Kelley
    June 4, 2013 at 10:07 am (5 years ago)

    Sounds like you learned a lot. Rule Number 13. Ellie, as all children, is resilient. She will survive every bump, bruise, fall, or perceived shortcoming of her parents and everyone around her. Perfect parents would fail to show the greatest gift we have in Christ . . . forgiveness through grace. One of the most beautiful moments I have had with Serenity is when she asked, “why are you yelling at me Popop?” I had to tell her that it had nothing to do with her. That I had a hard drive home from work and I was sorry I yelled at her. Nothing like a hug of forgiveness from a child.

  2. Kristin
    June 4, 2013 at 1:21 pm (5 years ago)

    I needed this today! As we get closer and closer to Jennings’ arrival I feel the weight of impending parenthood getting heavier and heavier. I want so badly to “do this right” and “not screw him up”. Thank you for sharing, it certainly helped this momma-to be!

  3. Dawn
    June 7, 2013 at 12:03 pm (5 years ago)

    Hey visitiing from FFF link up. What a great list!


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