So you’re having a baby: Parenting tips from CaPC
Our very own Drew Dixon recently announced to the rest of the CaPC staff that he and his wife are expecting their first child. So first off, congratulations and blessings to them. This article, which I’m posting with his permission, grew out of his request for advice from those of us on the CaPC staff who are parents.
I have two boys, ages 1 and almost 3, and they are honestly the greatest treasures in my life. I love watching them grow and develop as actual individuals, not to mention sharing my pop culture fixations with them. (I’ve already begun introducing my oldest to anime via Hayao Miyazaki’s films, and I’m proud to say that he loves My Neighbor Totoro.)
But I won’t lie to you: it can be really difficult at times — only a fool would say otherwise. It’s physically and emotionally draining, and it’s a great spiritual challenge to be gracious and patient with them, and to model the Heavenly Father through my own fathering.
So with those thoughts in mind, here are a list of random parenting tips gleaned from my many years — OK, three years — of parenting experience.
- Focus on your marriage. It’s difficult enough to continue focusing on each other when you’re in the midst of painting the nursery, buying baby supplies, thinking of names, etc., and it doesn’t get any easier once the baby arrives. This is something that my wife and I struggle with, and I know we’re not alone. We spend so much time chasing after and caring for our kids that it’s surprisingly easy to forget that we’re actually married to each other. In other words, our kids become our primary focus and our relationship falls to a distant second. However, our marriage ought to be our primary focus because it’s our family’s foundation.
- Don’t give into fear and anxiety. You’ll inevitably spend time on the Internet reading about childbirth, raising kids, and so on, and you’ll talk to other parents via church, families, etc. As a result, you’ll inevitably hear lots of horror stories about medical complications, accidents, things gone wrong, and so on. (I’m not sure why, but parents love telling expecting parents all kinds of stuff. I know I do.) Certainly, it’s good to know about that stuff, and I’m sure you’ll go over issues and risks in your childbirth classes, but it’s easy to become overwhelmed and anxious by such things. Resist this as best as you can, for it will do absolutely no good. For example, I’ve actually had to tell my wife to stop reading baby blogs and whatnot because she got so worried and worked up by what she read. I say this as someone whose kids had difficult births. My wife had pregnancy-induced hypertension (i.e., high blood pressure) with both pregnancies, both of our boys were born premature, and both boys spent time in the NICU. It certainly wasn’t ideal, but both of my boys are healthy and doing great. Looking back, those days in the NICU were an important time for us: we had to learn to trust in our midwife, the doctors and nurses, and above all, God — that they all knew what they were doing and could do it far better than we ever could.
- Don’t get caught up too much in the future. As you plan for the baby’s arrival, you’ll begin thinking about the future. What kind of child will he or she become? What kind of parent will I be? What mistakes will I make? How badly will I screw them up? Who will they marry? How will I pay for their college education? The list of questions goes on and on, and if you’re prone to brooding like I am, it’s possible to find yourself in a downward spiral of anxiety. And our fear-dominated, reactionary society certainly doesn’t help matters, as it throws one crisis or scare after another at us. If you’re not careful, you might start thinking that you’ve made a horrible mistake. Of course, planning for the future is a good and wise thing to do, but this is where that whole “trusting in a sovereign Lord” thing becomes of paramount importance.
- Support your wife. Pregnancy is an amazing thing, but the reality is that it’s also hard on women physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. As a husband, it can be tough to watch your wife deal with things such as morning sickness — not only because you feel bad for her in her discomfort, but also because there’s often nothing you can do for her except give her a shoulder to cry on. I know this sounds obvious, but be kind and gracious to her. You will get frustrated at how incompetent you’re made to feel (not by her, but by her pregnancy), but try not to get frustrated with her. And it never hurts to pamper your wife, e.g., send her off to a spa to get a massage, buy her flowers.
- Do not reject help. This is especially true after the baby comes. Fortunately, people are often eager to help new parents: not necessarily because they like you, but because of that really cute baby you now have. If someone — a family member, someone at church — offers to help out with cooking, cleaning, laundry, etc., never say “No.” The first three or four weeks after the baby arrives will be a sleepless blur, so you’ll need all of the help you can get with keeping non-baby things, like your house, straight. (My wife and I were very fortunate in that both of our mothers stayed for a week or so each after our sons were born, and it was wonderful to have them to pick up around the house, give us time to rest, etc.)
- Have one last fling. I love my boys, but there’s no denying that because of them, I have a lot less time to do certain things that I enjoy, e.g., watch movies, play video games, read books in a quiet house. Even as you prepare for your child’s arrival, take as much time as you reasonably can to enjoy those things because — and I don’t want to sound overdramatic or anything here — once the baby arrives, you’ll be amazed at how much you can no longer do.
- Enjoy it. Of all of these tips, this one seems like the biggest no-brainer. After all, we’re talking about your own flesh and blood here. However, it’s very easy to get bogged down in the minutiae of being parents, in all of the mundane and ordinary chores that comprise parenthood, and thus overlook the blessing that God has bestowed on you. Children are a blessing and a sign of God’s covenant, but it’s a blessing that doesn’t come easily or without significant challenges to your ego, pride, personal desires, and energy reserves. But focusing only on the challenges leads to exhaustion, anxiety, and resentment, none of which are honoring to your children or glorifying to God.
Obviously, parenting can’t be summed up in, or reduced to, a list of tips. Parenting is complex and mysterious, rivaled only by marriage in its profundity. Hopefully these tips will be of some benefit, both to Drew and his family, as well as to others. And if you have some tips for the Dixons, as well as congratulations, please leave them in the comments.
This is pretty much on target. Especially the idea of coming to terms with not being able to do the things you used to do.
Throw your life away
I mentioned this in my Christmas note: “Our daughter, as expected by anyone with the prophetic power to know that even tomorrow two plus two will still equal four, has changed our lives massively. The things we once did, we can no longer do. Instead we do new things. The things we did before were amazing, but the things we do now are amazing too.”
In some ways I very much miss the life that I had to throw away when we went from a household of two to a household of three. Michelle and I used to spend several evenings a week at the local coffee shop, reading, writing, or playing board games. It was an incredibly enjoyable way to wind down from the day. We’d also sometimes go to movies. We basically lived lives of near-limitless potential. I had time to pursue writing projects, keep up with movies, play games, read piles of novels. It was awesome. And I experience regret for the fact that it will be twenty years before I can have anything like that ever again.
At the same time our daughter, Sonata, has been incredible and if anything could possibly dull the ache of missing out on those things, it’s her. Michelle and I have seen maybe two movies in the theater since she was born a year-and-a-half ago. We’ve occasionally been able to get babysitting and head to Starbucks for a couple hours. But despite that and despite the fact that we’re waaaay more worn out by the time evening rolls around than we used to be, Sonata is forming into an amazing person. She makes us laugh and smile and feel uniquely human in a way that taking part in cultural artifacts does not.
If I had to choose between which life I prefer, the choice would be hard but I think that I would fall on the side of our daughter—if only because now I can barely imagine a life without her.
The moral is: the sooner you realize that your life has ended and a new, very different life is beginning, the easier your transition will go.
The Importance of help
We have friends who have small children and have parents who live in the same city or in a nearby town. I am envious of them if only for the fact that they are pretty much guaranteed free babysitting about 1200% more often than we are. If you have parents in town, take advantage of their willingness to watch your little one occasionally. You’ll need breaks, but having to pay some kid twenty bucks so you can spend thirty more to see a movie that may or may not be any good is a tough decision to make. It’s much easier when you can find those from blood or from faith who will help you out without charging.
So keeping your child on a sleep schedule is one of those things that mothers inexplicably freak out over and either voraciously promote or derisively stand against. It’s up there with vaccines and homeschooling, being one of those things that can instantly turn you from being perceived as a Parent to being a Bad Parent, no matter which way you fall.
Forget that noise.
We’ve kept Sonata on a pretty reliable sleep and feeding schedule and here’s why its been rad. Because she adapted to the schedule we set (since humans are highly adaptable, this was almost a sure thing), we are actually able to plan on her being awake or asleep at certain times and so schedule ourselves accordingly. Giving her a last feeding at 8:oo meant that she was asleep by 8:30, which also meant that from 8:30 to 1:00 (when we go to bed), we have that time free to watch stuff, read, work on projects, talk, play games, do puzzles, whatever. I don’t know that scheduling is particularly important for the formation of the human spirit, but I do know that it makes things much easier for us.
We have friends whose child goes to bed when she gets tired and so sometimes she’ll be asleep by 9:00 and sometimes not til 11:00. I think that personally I would go mad if this were the case with our daughter. They say it works for them, so I guess really it comes down to figuring out what works best for your family and going with that.
Forget the Noise
Parents these days are insane and judgmental. No matter how you parent, 90% of all other parents will think you could be doing a better job. If you vaccinate, you’ll have parents who think you’re putting your children at risk for autism. If you don’t, you’ll have parents who think you’re putting them at risk for things that are much worse. And breaking herd immunity to boot! The way you deal with your children’s television intake, diet, clothing style, discipline, breast-feeding, etc. All of it will make you a target for the majority of other parents. They will all know better than you and will judge you for it.
Do what you think works for your child. Use wisdom and seek wisdom, but have confidence in the choices you make and the reasons for which you make those choices. If your child ends up messed up, it’s probably less a matter of the techniques you used to raise them than it is a matter of the kind of person you are at home. Model Christ in all things and let him sort out your child.
Well put, Seth, and thanks for including that bit about other parents. There are few divisions as deep and vitriolic as those between parents who fall into different camps on scheduling, immunizations, breastfeeding, co-sleeping, and a host of other issues. Take any of those issues, and you’ll find at least one or two valid points on both sides. But ultimately, you need to make a reasoned decision based on what works best for your family. Every family is wired differently, just as every person is wired differently. If you try to work against what seems to be your family’s wiring, you’re in for a bumpier road than normal.
Love the advice, esp. “screw them”. Sound advice, though.
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