This is when Tara called to see how I was doing. I wasn’t doing great. I get frustrated when I don’t get to do what I had planned to do and I’m pretty bad at hiding it. It didn’t help when, while on the phone with Tara, I heard the now very familiar sound of the 2 year old puking up round two. That was a lot of laundry. We ran out of crib sheets and it was one of those nasty barfs that takes more than one cycle to clean out of the bedding.
Have you had an experience like this and asked yourself what on earth you were thinking when you had kids?
Have you ever tried to have a long-overdue romantic rendezvous with your wife only to be interrupted (several times) by different kids needing different things? Have you ever heard the cry of your newborn in the middle of the night and cursed the day you and your wife decided to go off birth control. (“We aren’t trying to get pregnant, we’re just not not trying to get pregnant.”)
Our family is currently doing emergency foster care for kids who need an immediate home until a more suitable and permanent solution can be found. And these kids can show up, hand in social worker’s hand, literally at any time of the day or night, with little or no warning. At the time of writing we have a newborn and a toddler who have joined our family for as long as they need. They are precious but man are we ever tired. I think I could literally fall asleep at my computer if I allowed my eyes to close.
As parents we need to be careful of these very tiring seasons of life. Not careful so that they don’t happen but careful because they will happen. It in times of intense exhaustion and depleted emotional resources that we say and do things that are unhealthy, unkind, and unChristian. There really isn’t a good way to prepare, especially when you are expecting your first baby, because, quite frankly, you don’t know what you are getting yourself into! But there are things we can do that are both somewhat proactive as well as reactive that will help you through the intense storm of raising a family.
First of all, plan ahead. I promise you that having a baby is going to change everything. And so is your second baby, your third baby, your first foster child and your tenth foster child; that’s life, get used to change. One thing that I find a lot of new Christian parents feel guilty about is the change that happens in their devotional life. You can go from having a perfect record of 60 minutes with Jesus each morning at 6am to scraping together 60 minutes a week in a disorganized, mishmash of prayer (mostly of the “Oh God help me!” variety), one-paragraph devotionals, a quick verse on your smart phone… or just about anything else you can find to simply get in some time with Jesus. So, my suggestion is work really hard on your devotional life before the baby arrives. I’m not talking about “banking favour” with God, you can’t do that, He just loves you and that’s that, but I mean things are going to change, so enjoy the time you have before the change arrives. By the way, it’s not like God stops visiting your home if you don’t have regular devotions for a time, He’s actually always near us in whatever season we find ourselves, and that gives me a lot of comfort. Are regular devotions good and the goal? Of course, but there is grace for times of transition and change!
Know your limit and get help before you reach it. It’s too bad that so many parents feel the shame they do for the way they feel towards their kids. Look, when I’m tired, I don’t love my kids the same as when I am rested and in a good mood. If you are in a tiring season (new baby, potty-training, crib training, all of your kid’s adolescent years…) then you run the risk of bumping up against the limits of what you can handle. Grab a friend and pray together before it gets to that point. Ask your mom and dad if they can watch the kids so you can go on a date. Whatever you do, if you feel yourself spiraling into depression and overwhelm, don’t keep it to yourself! God gave us His Body, the Church, for a reason, be brave and use the gifts He gave us.
Rest when you can. I’m going to nap this afternoon. My wife is also going to nap. If our kids don’t nap for whatever reason (spiritual warfare?) we will stagger our naps so that one of us is sleeping while the other is watching the kids. If you have tiring nights, then catch up on a few hours during the day. I know so many people who think that napping is a waste of time and that simply isn’t my experience. I will often take a 20 or 30 minute nap at work and what I find is that my efficiency and creativity is restored and that I actually get more done than if I hadn’t rested. Mom’s there will be an endless list of things to do, don’t worry, the list will remain when you awake. If you don’t learn to rest when you can, then you won’t rest. So adjust your schedule, adjust your bedtime, adjust whatever you have to so that you can find to replenish your deplete resources.
Keep it in perspective. I might be tempted to get annoyed at the precious little foster baby who needs a place in the middle of the night, but who am I really to feel that way? No, it’s a privilege to have children come in and out of our home, and nothing I am inconvenienced by is even close to the deep trauma they have and are experiencing. I think sometimes parents just need to grow up a little bit, parenting is hard work if you didn’t know that before you had kids, you are going to realize it dang soon after your first arrives. But what does it matter? Everything of value in life requires hard work to accomplish, so just change your mind set about hard work and get ready to buckle down for the next 2o+ years as you raise the finest children possible.
Finally, can I offer some comfort? Seasons are seasons, and by definition seasons change. So while it’s true that you will be a parent for the rest of your life, the challenges will change and that change will actually be refreshing. Kids eventually sleep through the night and poop on the potty. Eventually they start going to summer camp so you can have at least one week of uninterrupted romance. Remember, us parents need to stick together, so if you need an extra boost – post a prayer request and you’ll get hundreds of whispered prayers of intercession on your behalf.
I’ll start. I’m really, really tired – pray my kids take the nap I need them to take!
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