Recently a new parent asked me for my best parenting advice.
Hmmm, let’s see...Don’t neglect your marriage. Laugh with your kids. Invest in stain-resistant carpet. Many tidbits come to mind, but the one I’m most inclined to share is simple: write it down. Write down the funny things, the little things. You think you’ll remember them, but take it from a mother with a houseful of kids (and a bad memory) -- you won’t.
I was a spotty journal-keeper my whole life, before I became a parent. I’d go through seasons of faithfully writing down my thoughts, and then months (even years) would elapse without an entry. But when my first child was born, the stakes seemed higher. Like most new parents, I had a “Baby’s First Year” calendar hanging on the wall of his nursery, and I planned to record the big things: first tooth, first word, first steps. I was quickly struck by how significant even the smallest event could seem. Almost by instinct, I began scrawling notes on that wall calendar -- not big milestones, but simple observations: Hates peas. Figured out how to splash in bathtub. Church nursery workers call him “Sunshine Boy”.
As my son grew and his siblings began to appear, a simple wall calendar wasn’t big enough. The stories were funnier, longer, and more numerous. So I moved to a desk calendar, and I always kept it in a location that was quickly accessible. Though sometimes the stories required a paragraph to tell, I still kept it simple. Many of the funniest or most memorable things could be scrawled off in a sentence: Had to call Poison Control twice in one morning. Stephen ate two earthworms. Adam’s fever hit 105.
Some of the stories (especially the really funny ones) are as long as a couple of paragraphs, but that’s rare. Mostly, my journal contains quick notations. It’s great fun to flip back through the journal and read the longer stories, but it’s those simple slices of life that make me smile. I’m still at it, even though my kids are growing up quickly. Very rarely do I pay much attention to form; the object is simply to make a quick note:
January 12th – Stephen went to a birthday party at A’s house. Asked him if he used good manners with A’s parents, and he said, “Well, actually, we were having too much fun to talk to the parents.”
April 4th – Joseph scored two goals in his soccer match.
May 29th – Corrie says “ingle single” for “every single”.
There are several tricks I’ve learned over the years to make this simple journaling streamlined and non-overwhelming (which, let’s be honest, is the only way I’d ever stick with it):
Don’t worry about form. I’m a writer; I tend to think that every sentence I construct needs to be well thought-out, and this perfectionism is a big enemy of consistent journaling. Your priority should be jotting down the memorable moments. I don’t worry about spelling, or transitioning between paragraphs -- not for this writing project. Life is messy. Your journal will be too. If it bugs you that much, write a disclaimer to future generations inside the front cover: “Actually, I DO know how to construct a proper sentence, but I’m so tired from all the potty training that this will have to do.”
Keep it handy. When my kids were babies, I kept the journal at the changing table. Now that they’re older, I keep it in a conspicuous place on my desk so that I won’t forget about it. I always make sure there’s a pen clipped right to it, so I don’t have to scrounge for one.
The little stuff actually IS big stuff. Right now, the little things might not seem terribly riveting to you. Someday, you will back and treasure those details. Adam got a perfect score on the language portion of his standardized test. Joseph’s teacher pulled his loose tooth out at school. Stephen sat down with a pen and paper and tried (again) to explain the off-sides rule of soccer to me. Someday I’ll be really glad to remember that stuff.
Write often. If you take on this little project, discipline yourself to write three to five times a week, only a sentence each time. It will become a habit, quickly, and it will become easier and easier to think of things to jot down.
Use a pre-dated journal/calendar. I cannot explain why, but years of experience have taught me that I’m less inclined to keep a journal if it’s a blank notebook. If the dates are already written in, I’m a hundred times more likely to jot a quick record of our day. I prefer an inexpensive, week-at-a-view day planner, the kind with ten or twelve lines for each day. That’s usually more than enough.
Don’t get discouraged. Last week was especially busy in our house, and I didn’t write a thing. That’s okay. I’ll pick it back up again this week. I won’t abandon it altogether just because one week got away from me. To refresh my memory, maybe I’ll scribble a note over the week: “Vacation Bible school this week -- too tired to write.”
If this sounds like another project to add stress to your day, I will tell you that the opposite has been true for me. There’s an easy sense of peace in knowing that these moments I treasure -- even the silly, simple ones -- are recorded in writing. I don’t have to remember them. It takes sixty seconds of my day, or even less, and it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done. Even as I write these words, I’m belly-laughing over my February 18th entry of this year -- my son delivered a real zinger. I’d forgotten all about it, but now I remember.