My husband (Joel) is a high school teacher, and I am a school-based speech therapist. Needless to say, our first full year working full-time and raising Benjamin was rough. I almost cried my last day of school. This year has been full of blessings, tears, frustrations, and adjustments. As nearly all new parents do, we struggled during this first year of parenting. We were pushed to our limit and forced to form a new normal, which involved waking up early on Saturdays (grrr), drinking insane amounts of caffeine, and doing anything we needed to do to complete one day and start the next one.
This has been a year of stretching, growing, and redefining some of my thoughts about life, love, and my faith. Here are some of the lessons I learned in the struggles of being a new parent:
1. Having children is rough, no matter how much of a blessing they are.
Having children (or any life change) requires you to look at your life, identify what is important, and attempt to live that out in the best way that honors God. We were so thankful to receive Benjamin that we just assumed everything would work out. It did, but we struggled through many restless nights, trips to the doctor, and denial of things we were used to doing in our normal routine. I wouldn’t trade it for the world, but trust me, parenthood is not for the faint of heart. No matter how God designs your family, you better have your big girl pants on when you start. As a new parent, you are going to need them.
2. Parenthood is not my identity. Being a Christian is.
This one I am still struggling with. I think it is a good struggle. I have heard so many direct or implied statements about motherhood that I am still wrapping my head and heart around them. Some of the views about parenthood that I have heard go something like this:
Now that you are a mom, it’s time to focus on your family and raise your children.
Your children are your most important disciples.
You may have to stop doing other activities in order to focus on your family more.
It’s not that I question the validity of these statements. It’s that I am having a hard time living out their practices when I know that being a mother isn’t my only role to play in Kingdom living.
As I have been studying about raising children/parenthood, there are a significant number of scriptures that talk about raising a family. I don’t want to focus so much on raising my family that I minimize the importance of living out the other commands that God has required of us. Some people would say that you could follow God’s commands as you teach and disciple your children.
True…but do I stop focusing on supporting other women who are struggling because my family is more important? Do I stop being a faith mentor to our teens because my children should be “more important?” Should I avoid certain situations that may challenge me as an individual in my faith because it may affect the time I spend with my family (mission trips, discipleship groups, etc.)?
I really struggle with answering “yes” to these questions.
We, as a society, tend to create hierarchies that relate to faith, sin, and works. For example, God sees all sin as sin, not that some sins are worse than others. He values all people and created all people in His image, and He requested that we seek/save the lost and make disciples throughout all nations. I feel like what I can do for Christ is this–wake up every day convicted of living out His commandments in the best way I can.
Some days that means I hold a baby because Benjamin needs to know that his mom is not going to leave him. Some days that means I leave Benjamin with Joel to go to church and spend time with our youth group, or vice versa. There is an ebb and flow to everyday living.
Part of being a Christian is praying that God gives me the discernment I need to follow His commands each and every day. Some days, the discernment I receive and the activities I participate in may look different. But I think that God calls us to live a Christian life in every role that we play every day, not just the role of being a parent. My struggle is ensuring that I honor that call in every role of my life.
3. Focus on your marriage, even as you transition into being new parents.
This sounds like a no-brainer, but knowing it and living it are two different things. I am not just talking about going on dates. I am talking down in the dirt, gut-wrenching, faith-checking conversations about what it is like to have a godly marriage in the midst of transition and chaos. Joel and I really struggled this year. I know we aren’t through it, but we have had numerous conversations about how to parent in the midst of a marriage.
Loving someone is not just a feeling; there are plenty of times where it is a choice–a hard choice. Sometimes parents just try to get through the hard parts of the first year, saying it will get better soon (aka me and Joel). Now looking back on this past year, we should have focused more on our marriage. I think we would have been better at honoring God through our marriage if we had done so.
4. When people said that it takes a village, they weren’t kidding.
I have no idea where I would be right now if we didn’t have the support of our family, coworkers, and church community. I would have gone out of my mind. We have so many people in our village for Benjamin; we can’t call it anything else but blessed. I am thankful for the variety of people who are in our lives that model good Christian living for all three of us. Joel and I have our strengths, but part of our job as parents is to surround Benjamin with people from all ages and walks of life to speak the Word of Truth to him. This village has not only surrounded Benjamin, but they have supported us in our new roles as parents and in our marriage. Words cannot express our gratitude to our village.
I pray that new (and seasoned) parents read this and know that you are not alone. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. I grew up in a culture where confessing your shortcomings and struggles was frowned upon. God designed us for community, and Satan rejoices when we become (or choose to be) isolated. Reach out to receive (and give) support to those around you. Your village may just grow bigger and more spiritually rich. May God bless all of our families as we strive to live by faith in and out of our homes.