The other weekend my wife and I were playing with our six-month-old. She’s a happy baby, fully aware and engaged. But she hadn’t sat up yet. And according to our research, babies should be sitting by six months.
So like most first-time parents, we were concerned. Had we already failed as parents? Was our daughter developmentally challenged? What were we doing wrong? These are crazy questions, we realized that—but it’s where your mind goes when you’re a new parent.
Then a strange thing happened. While flipping through a baby development book, I saw two words: “tripod sitting.” It was a new phrase, but I could visualize it—sitting with your legs spread out while propping against the floor with your arms.
Curious, I placed my daughter in a “tripod sitting” position. And what do you know, she didn’t fall over. She actually could sit up—we just hadn’t put her in the right position.
My wife and I couldn’t help but laugh because we’re clearly beginners at parenting.
Which is interesting because at 34, there isn’t much in life that’s new. But parenting—everything about it is new. And that’s important to recognize because I want to keep an open mind. I want to learn and grow. I want to become the best parent possible.
With that in mind, here are three lessons I’m learning—and all new and would-be parents should learn—after being a father for six months.
Time Isn’t Everything, But It’s Pretty Close To It
For the first month of my daughter’s life, I didn’t work—my employer has a progressive paternity leave policy, which allowed me to spend every second with my wife and daughter all while collecting a paycheck.
Let me tell you, though, it felt like I worked for every penny. It was exhausting.
After four weeks, I returned to the office, and though it was nice to get back to “normal” life, it felt strange only spending a few hours with my daughter every day. Compared to 12 hours, it seemed delinquent.
The reality is, relationships require logged time. Minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years spent together, in each other’s presence—talking, playing, connecting, sharing, exploring, learning, arguing, debating, resolving, instructing, reconciling. This is what forms healthy relationships. Living life with one another.
Without time, any relationship, whether friend, spouse or child, will grow stale and superficial. And that’s the last thing I want with my daughter.
As a working parent, I need to make whatever time I have with my daughter count—be it three hours on a weekday or 12 hours on a Saturday. I need to be engaged. That means putting away my phone and interacting with my daughter—giving her my undivided attention. Not just my presence, but focused attention.
Why? Because I love my daughter, and I want to have a close relationship with her.
Your Words Create Your Child’s World
My parents didn’t make too many mistakes. But one mistake they did make was telling me about the end of the world when I was 8 years old.
Understand I grew up in a conservative evangelical home. My dad was a Baptist pastor at the time, and our country was in the wake of the Cold War and preparing for the first Gulf War.
According to some Christian leaders at the time, all signs pointed to Christ’s second coming—and with that, something called the rapture where all Christians disappear, leaving everyone else to face a host of apocalyptic disasters.
It was scary. Images swirled around my head at night, keeping me from falling asleep. Even in my dreams I wasn’t safe—in one dream, an Iraqi military helicopter levitated outside my bedroom window, then started shooting wildly.
As a parent, I know from firsthand experience the power of a parents’ words. Not just in how I describe the world, but in how I speak to my wife, how I interact with neighbors and strangers, how I talk about God, how I treat my daughter, how I describe my work.
What and how I speak about everything defines how my daughter will view everything.
I want my daughter to see the world as a wondrous, beautiful and adventurous place bursting with potential. I want her to see God as a loving and accepting father. And I definitely want her to see herself as a loved, cherished, beautiful, smart, capable, brave, principled and independent little girl.
It’s my job to help her view the world in this way. And it begins with the words I speak.
Appreciate Every Moment, Even the Stressful Ones
As a parent, it’s natural to feel overwhelmed. It’s easy for life’s circumstances to block the abundant life we all desire. There are bills to pay. A job to work. A yard to maintain. A house to clean. Clothes to wash. Beds to make. Cars to get repaired. Add to that the responsibilities of caring for a baby.
Life is stressful. And it only gets more stressful.
So what’s the solution? How do we live with joy when everything else feels more important? How do we give our children the attention they deserve when we can’t shift our focus from the distractions around us? How do we shed the day’s anxieties and enjoy our kids?
We need only look to Jesus. In the few recorded instances where he interacts with children, he never lets the worries of the day get in the way. He sets everything aside—expectations and demands, plans and agendas—and embraces them with love and attention. And he tells us, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me.”
There’s little more important than “welcoming” our children—enjoying life together, imparting a sense of wonder and joy, appreciating every moment. In the midst of life’s craziness.
In a sense, we need to seize life “like a child.” And if there’s one thing I’ve learned about children, they don’t concern themselves with past regrets or future burdens.
They don’t care about today’s responsibilities or tomorrow’s stresses. They live entirely in the moment—enjoying life exactly as it is.
That’s how I want to live life with my daughter.