Parenting is a constant learning process. With each age and development come new challenges, and that learning curve can be especially steep during the initial jolt of becoming a parent—when lifestyle changes are often the most dramatic. Having survived the first year and a half of parenting, here’s what I’ve learned along the way.
IDENTITY: If we’re not convinced that our identity is in Jesus alone, we’ll look for acceptance from our children.
It was a magical morning, the morning my wife told me that she was pregnant. I’ll never forget the weightiness of excitement I felt, having always wanted to be a dad someday. When we found out we were having a girl, my heart leapt inside thinking about how her loving arms would wrap around my neck, how she’d want to sit on my lap while I played with her hair and how she’d snuggle up to me when she was tired or afraid. While my daughter is now only 18 months old, I’m getting the sense she’s not that type of girl, and I need to adjust my expectations accordingly.
I often find myself scooping up my daughter and saying things like, “C’mon, kiss me!” or “Do you love Daddy? Come give your Daddy a hug.” She almost always pulls away, squirming out of my arms shouting, “Down! Down!” Do I pursue her hugs and kisses because I love her? Yes. But it’s also because I often forget who I am. Although I’m fully loved and accepted by my Heavenly Father, sometimes I feel like a child in need of affirmation and affection.
I so desperately want my daughter to love me back, that I’m willing to steal hugs and kisses she doesn’t want to give. Would I be okay with a young man stealing hugs and kisses from her in the same way, or stealing less innocent things from her? I think not. My “love” is often littered with the selfish desire to be loved back. What a devastating thought, that as her dad, I could be instilling within her the perspective that when a guy loves a girl, he takes her love and forces his affection on her.
Because my daughter is barely a toddler, she doesn’t have the ability to tell me she turns away from kisses because Daddy’s beard is prickly and he has coffee breath (or at least that’s why I assume she turns away). Yet I take it personally, instead of pursuing her like God pursues me.
I’m continually reminded that God doesn’t force himself on us or steal our affection. Instead, he waits for us to come to him. He loves us with a steady and patient affection. In Christ, I am fully loved and fully pursued, so I don’t need my child to love me and pursue me the same way. In fact, looking for that from her is a terrible weight to put on her and will only lead to disappointment in both of our hearts.
PRIORITY: Failing to prioritize our relationships in the proper order will cause them all to suffer.
It was a sad moment, realizing that we had slipped into becoming roommates. My wife and I were working well together, but had lost interest in each other’s needs while being consumed by the needs of our child. Not only had the romance fizzled, but our friendship was on the fritz too.
Many couples had warned us, “Make time for each other, don’t forget to date each other” when giving my wife and I advice. While I knew their advice was solid, I failed to create a plan. As Antoine de Saint-Exupéry said, “A goal without a plan is just a wish.” I wished to be close to my wife, but the chaos of first-time parenting took a toll on our relationship.
To be honest, we’re still in process, finding ways to prioritize our marriage. But why does it matter? Is there really time for dating when you have a child that requires constant attention? And even more so, shouldn’t you spend at least the two hours a day you have with them between daycare and bedtime?
For me, I’ve had to learn the hard way. After months of circling the wagons around caring for our daughter, my wife and I noticed the growing distance and added stress brought on by not caring for each other well.
Just like our relationship with God the Father takes some effort and planning, so does our relationship with our spouses. Not seeing my daughter for 24 hours will not cause her to feel abandoned, but will instead free me up to establish a thriving relationship with her mom, strengthening our family unit. I plan and pray that I look to my Father first and in turn care for my wife and children out of the overflow of unique grace only available through God. Thank God for the relief we find when following His design plan.
God is our refuge and strength,
always ready to help in times of trouble.
Whether a new parent, an experienced parent or even a grandparent, it’s important to never forget where our true identity lies and the importance of prioritizing relationships.
Here are some resources I’ve found helpful:
You don’t need more parenting advice by paul tripp
10 ways to grow your marriage while having young kids by gavin ortlund
I hate parenting by Paul David Tripp