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.