Growing up in the church, I listened to numerous teachings each Sunday. From sin to salvation, Sabbath to the Samaritan, sanctification to the sacraments, I tuned in. Those messages on parenting though? I paid them no mind as I was an immature teenager trying to navigate the exacting throes of adolescence intact (see I Timothy 4:12). But that was then and this is now. Welcome to my now. Research shows 42 percent of millennial women who were between 18 and 33 in 2014 were parents.
My wife and I are expecting our first child, a son, in late June. Though we have been told numerous times by family and friends since our initial announcement, the advice to us bears repeating again for all expectant parents: Everything will change. For the two of us, this summer will encompass less dates and more diapers; less sleep and more snot; less romance and more reflux.
Everything will change.
In spite of these upcoming adjustments to our lives, we are humbled and excited to pursue parenthood. King Solomon affirms the significance of this blessing. “Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him.” (Psalm 127:3) Parenting is a daunting responsibility that will reshape the context of all our subsequent decisions. My wife and I are unearthing a few previously unknown but potent truths for this grand adventure that will start sooner than we realize. Here are a few things you need to know:
1. Preparation does not negate panic.
After waiting for four years, my wife and I started trying to conceive. Make no mistake—we were intentional about this. However, hearing your wife say “I’m pregnant” will still stop any man in his tracks. I’d like to say that I embraced my wife, leaned her backwards, and gently kissed her forehead after hearing the grand news, but all I mustered up in the moment was a befuddled “What?”
Fear gripped my soul, but then I remembered that it should occupy no place in my life. The prophet Isaiah puts God’s faithfulness like this: “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (41:10) This is a powerful word for any parent, expecting or experienced. Though we scare easily, God quells our fears. Immanuel is with us always.
2. Opinions can be overwhelming.
In the words of Nicole Kear, “I used to have a lot of opinions about how parents should raise their kids. Then I had children.” Expecting parents, moms in particular, will receive advice on sleeping habits, birthing methods, exercise during pregnancy, which gender is better, nursery design, dropping the baby weight, the right response to crying and the like.
Though fathers escape much of these opinions, their presence as a sounding board is a mighty virtue. In fact, simply being present, i.e. physical proximity, is an indication of remarkable love towards her. Paul articulates this truth in Ephesians. “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” (5:25) In summary, some opinions will be valued higher than others. Who’s in your circle of influence? What advice matters most?
3. Friendships will falter.
If squeezing work, church, exercise, chores, dates, meals and sleep into 24 hours isn’t enough for our current to-do list, the arrival of a child will be nothing short of a game-changer in terms of time management. Consequently, relationships with existing friends will become strained as a newborn requires immense attention for many months.
Remember that I said falter, not fail. Friendships, meaning personal time with someone close, will undoubtedly be hampered by the presence of kids, but this doesn’t diminish the power of a phone call or a text message to say hello. Use the calendar and schedule time with these important people. As the book of Proverbs makes clear: “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” (27:17)
4. Parents take precedence.
I recently came across an article on Nerd Fitness, and was immensely struck by this remark about how parenthood changes the marriage relationship. “You’re both much more tired, worried and overwhelmed than you’ve ever been before. You realize how much better sleep is than sex, and you’re no longer each other’s top priority.”
Though I nod in agreement concerning the coming increase of fatigue and worry, I respectfully diverge in saying that parents take precedence. In other words, my wife and I will not raise a child at the expense of our wedding vows made years ago; we are each other’s top priority. Consider this enduring principle from Solomon. “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10)
5. We are raising an adult, not an adolescent.
As an adult, I have paid closer attention to the parenting messages at church I once ignored as a teenager and a college student. Incidentally, one phrase has transcended each series, a phrase that seems obvious but isn’t applied well today. Parents are tasked with raising independent adults who can succeed on their own. In the words of Julie Lythcott-Haims, author of How to Raise an Adult, “This omnipresent over-involvement means kids grow to be chronologically adult while remaining utterly stunted, dependent on parents to do not only the heavy lifting of life, but the lovely, light, ethereal dreaming as well.”
As novice parents, our focus will be guiding our son through the grey area of freedom (independence) within a clearly defined structure (boundaries) by way of appropriate discipline. The hope is simple too—that he would echo the words of Paul later in his life. “When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.” (I Corinthians 13:11)
This final word from Robert Fulghum is sobering for any parent-to-be though: “Don’t worry that children never listen to you; worry that they are always watching you.” In light of this perpetual attention that we will receive, I know that I speak for my wife in saying this about the example that we wish to convey as Christ followers who don’t pretend for a moment to have it all together in our lives. “And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)
Micah. That’s a good baby name.