5:47pm on March 28, 2018 likely came and went for most people without much of a thought. Perhaps somewhere, someone was posting a tweet for #ManateeAppreciationDay or thinking about how desperate they are for a sip of soda, only to remember they gave it up for Lent. But for Jessica and me, we had just experienced the miracle of life unfold right in front of our eyes. After 14 hours of labor, we met our beautiful baby girl, Eloise Grace, for the first time. In a matter of seconds, our relatively straightforward lives graduated from “Young Professionals Living the Dream” to “Oh Crap What Have We Gotten Ourselves Into.”
I found the process of birthing to be surprisingly quick and void of drama (a statement I’m sure Jessica and pretty much every mother who’s ever existed would disagree with). Jessica progressed relatively quickly to the point where I could see the crown of Eloise’s head, which felt like a teaser trailer of the show to come. She stayed at this stage for a while, but Jessica was able to muster all her strength for a push that would be the grand finale, and plop – out she popped! My anxiety peaked when our doctor calmly described “cord wrapped around the neck 1… 2 times” as she swiftly untangled our precious cargo. As quickly as the tension built, it dissipated when newborn wails filled the room. There was only a handful of them – quieter than I’d imagined they’d be. She was quickly wiped off and placed on Jessica’s chest. Shortly thereafter I cut the cord – and my valuable contributions were complete (where’s my participation ribbon?!).
The next couple of nights at the hospital were full of excitement, anxiety, and exhaustion. Eloise was born with a fever and needed to receive antibiotics through an IV every few hours. When her fever finally subsided, we were sent home with the understanding that we were to keep this baby alive – a deceivingly challenging expectation for new parents.
I vividly remember feeling the dismal feeling of inadequacy during our first night at home as we struggled to feed Eloise colostrum (which I guess is some type of liquid-gold produced by new moms). Eloise had issues latching, so we had to syringe feed her. Being an exhausted new parent, I think the whole experienced bottomed out when I knocked over an uncapped bottle of freshly pumped colostrum during a midnight feeding session, unleashing the terrible but just fury of a new mama upon me. Helplessness washed over me like a cold Atlantic wave.
And thus my foray into parenthood began.
I Didn’t Sign Up for This
Let’s take a step back and remember how I got into this mess. Let’s go all the way back to February of 2017 – around 13 months before Eloise was born. Jessica and I were at an impasse. She felt the pull to start a family, I was steadfastly against such anarchy. We were living the DINK dream made possible without the constraints of offspring – why would we want to change anything? A baby would mean a permanent end of this era, and along with it, an end to all that is fun and enjoyable in the world.
“Remember,” she told me, “that you said you’d be okay having a couple kids back when we were dating!” Shoot. She remembered. I remembered too, in fact. I uttered such nonsense in a twitterpated state of wuv, not fully considering the brash repercussions of my commitment. But commit I did, all the while thinking in the back of my mind that I could help Jessica understand all the logical drawbacks of children – how they’re a financial drain, limit quality time, dominate all aspects of life, etc. – by the time we reached our three to five year planned “kid horizon” after our wedding. Surely, surely she would see the error of her ways over the course of 3+ years. There was no need to worry. It’ll all work itself out. I’ll get my way in the end.
Now it was February of 2017. The three years and four months since our wedding had passed by in the blink of an eye. Jessica was not-so-subtly reminding me of our kid-conversation that took place all those years ago. She was ready to move forward. I was not. But I agreed to search my heart to learn why I was closed to the idea of children. I learned my hesitations could be distilled into two primary reasons:
- A huge level of sacrifice is required in raising children, and I wasn’t willing to give up the freedom I currently enjoyed;
- I’m terrified of passing on my sinful nature (and Jessica’s) to the kids.
And so began the process of seeking a perspective change. I knew Jessica wanted desperately to be a mom. It was the least I could do. She had spent the first years of our marriage loving me well and serving me, all the while helping me achieve life goals that she probably could have cared less about had they not meant a great deal to me. She was (and continues to be) a wife whose top priority is seeing that her family is cared for and valued. Her heart is full of love, and a child would be a blessed receiver of her care. Maybe – just maybe – agreeing (willingly) to become a father could be my opportunity to sacrificially love Jessica. “After all,” I thought, “She puts up with my crazy ambitions. This is a great opportunity for me to help her achieve one of her life goals.” (It’s important to note that Jessica has precisely two primary life goals: (1) Get married [check]; (2) Have babies [nope]. So yah, two seemingly very reasonable things… but I somehow found myself at the center of both goals).
I spent the next few months consulting with friends and family who had taken the plunge into parenthood. Miraculously, not one seemed to regret their decision (or at least that they were willing to tell me). Parenthood, it appeared, actually had the potential to add a jolt of excitement to life. The guys I talked to were honest about the challenges of parenthood, but were also quick to point out the spiritual growth opportunities (among other joys) that come along with raising a family.
By the time June 2017 rolled around, I felt comfortable with the idea of pursuing this next phase of life. I didn’t really want children, but Jessica did, and those around me didn’t seem to regret it too much. So I made myself content with the idea that I could be a parent alongside Jessica. My journal entry at the time seems to sum it up nicely:
I’ve more or less come to accept that Jessica desires to be a mom, and I am happy to help her reach that goal. I’m even kind of excited for her to discover that she’s pregnant…. Which is really saying something, because prior to this moment every time a friend has made a pregnancy announcement, I can’t help but sing the chorus of “Another One Bites The Dust” in my head.
Things got real pretty quickly after that. Here are my thoughts from August 2017:
Jessica is pregnant. WOAH. Is this real life? Is Jessica really pregnant? It’s certainly hard to believe that we could be parents this time next year. Not just dog parents – real parents. I don’t necessarily want to be a dad, but I do want to see Jess’ dreams fulfilled. So I’m at a weird place of excitement mixed with sadness: Excited for this next phase of life, but sad that the current phase is coming to an end.
Nearly nine months later, my resolve was put to the test when Eloise graced us with her arrival.
Discovering the Sacrifices of Parenthood
I imagine our experience raising a young infant hasn’t been terribly different from others’ experiences. We can’t have been the first clueless parents to wonder “Is her poop supposed to look like that?”, “Are we sure she’s in her car seat properly?”, and “What does it take to get this child to sleep?!”. All these questions and more are part of the humbling story of parenthood. We eventually find solutions to our problems (often through trial and error), one after another, allowing Eloise to progress through the phases of infancy. She continues to amaze as she learns to sit, crawl, and stand. The development of a child is truly something of a miracle, and we as parents have the opportunity to be an active part of the process, marveling in wonder as she progresses.
Yet the wonder and joy I associate with raising Eloise has been muted. For every exciting moment, there is a moment that causes me inconvenience. Gone are the nights of uninterrupted sleep, happy hours at the local bar, using the bathroom in peace. I’m finding that the cost of loving an infant is steep; parents are often required to sacrifice comfort, passions, and pleasures to provide adequate care. Perhaps the most challenging circumstance is the reality that my relationship with Jessica has been forever altered. Our easygoing, fun-filled approach to life has been replaced with mountains of responsibility for raising Eloise.
I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve found myself harboring resentment against Eloise for “putting an end” to what I thought was a pretty sweet life. I wanted to become a parent so that Jessica could fulfill her dream to be a mother, but I wasn’t willing to accept the inconveniences required to be an effective parent. My whole justification process for children proved to be flawed. It was impossible for me to just “do this for Jessica.” With a perspective like that, I am destined to be eternally conflicted, yearning for “what once was” instead of embracing the “here and now” of our current life phase. And most importantly, my perspective won’t allow me to be the best father I can be to Eloise.
Over the past several months, it’s become clear to me that a radical heart change is needed in order to overcome my sour perspectives toward parenthood. I’m tired of begrudgingly fulfilling my parenthood responsibilities simply out of obligation. I want to be excited about the opportunity to raise Eloise – to be there when she needs comforted (even if it’s 3:00am in the morning) and to help her grow and develop (even if it means spending most of my time at home chasing her around the house). As her father, I have the unique opportunity to love her as our heavenly Father loves us: With an intense and unconditional love that nurtures, supports, and forgives. This should inspire nothing less than awe, amazement, wonder, and heart’s desire to see her needs fulfilled. How amazing it would be to have this perspective on parenting!
And thus, as the calendar turns to 2019, I now find myself facing the pivotal question: Am I willing to embrace parenthood? Along with all of its messiness and sacrifice? Knowing full well that my personal interests may be prioritized against the needs of an infant?
Learning to Embrace Parenthood
Maybe it’s possible to will my desire to embrace parenthood into existence. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Or at least that’s what I’m hoping. If I just try hard enough, maybe I can WILL my heart to change. But I’ve got to really go ALL OUT and forsake everything that stands in my way. It’s all on me, and I’ve got to overcome this trial on my own strength.
Except for it’s not working. That’s been my strategy for the last six months, and I still feel as if I’m continually viewing life through the veil of regret; a steady tug of nostalgia pulls me to the easygoing, carefree nature of pre-kid life. I’ve found that I valued this way of living so much that I perhaps let it become part of my identity. If this is true, it would explain the challenges I’ve had willing myself to change perspective. Something much more deliberate may need to occur before embracing parenthood: An internal surrender of the ideals causing me to live in direct conflict with life’s current stage.
Embracing parenthood means willingly letting go of self-serving interests that may have been a key component of pre-kid life. Becoming a parent has revealed sin struggles in my life that had become so deeply integrated into my being that I didn’t really consider them to be unhealthy. I valued efficiency and productivity (i.e. jamming as much into a day as possible in order to feel productive; accomplished) above showing love to those around me. I was so bent on chasing worldly success (i.e. making more money, saving enough to retire early, successful/impactful career, etc.) that I let it become a greater priority than loving my own family. Feeling an immense sense of freedom to engage in social activities and/or traveling (i.e. happy hours, trivia night, city excursions, etc.) was more satisfying than feeling tied-down/limited in what I could do as a result of caring for children.
While each of these interests can be good and worth pursuing, Eloise has taught me that they can become dangerous when elevated to such heights where they are worthy of my worship. The realities of sacrificing self-interests for a child came into direct conflict with these ideals, which I believe caused discontentment and regret to be cast upon the thing that fueled this imbalanced perspective: Parenting Eloise. And thus I’ve come to realize the need to re-center my life on the life-giving truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ, which promises to offer redemption and restoration.
This type of thinking may seem silly at first – and maybe even counterintuitive. But the gospel is a message intended to give strength and freedom to those who feel burdened or trapped or discontent with the current state of things. Try as I might, I can’t force myself to embrace parenthood and show an unconditional love to Eloise. I’m a broken being, driven to make selfish decisions that are not rooted in love. But the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ gives me a new life with the gift of his Holy Spirit – a gift that restores me to God (or perhaps worded differently, ‘restores me to love,’ per 1 John 4:7-21) and his world (Titus 3:4-6). Therefore it is through the Holy Spirit that I can find the ability to orient my life around love. The disproportionate amount of value I place on being efficient (losing the ability to “be still” and live in the present), accumulating wealth (an endless pursuit), and freedom from responsibility can be replaced with an identity rooted in the love of Christ.
In essence, I believe the truths of the gospel is what will give me the strength to find joy and worth in the wonderful opportunity to spread the love of Christ though parenting. Raising Eloise alongside Jessica can be one of the core missions of our marriage, something that can unite us and bring us closer than ever before. My regrets of the past can be washed away with new, exciting opportunities to be a Christlike example to Eloise and Jessica.
This new phase of life serves as a reminder that the Lord can and will use major life changes to reveal a love that is so much greater than anything I can muster on my own strength. Jessica and I are in for and intense ride, and embracing the reality of our situation through the strength of the Holy Spirit is how I expect to be guided and strengthen through this next life phase. Letting go of “the good old days” allows me to look forward to our future adventures with excitement and great anticipation. Eloise has brought a whole new way of life to our family, and 2019 will be a year of exciting opportunity to show her (and others) a selfless love made possible by my restored identity in Christ.
Let’s Stew it!