In part one, we explored the first three lessons I've been learning during my first year as a parent. I discovered the worst and best of myself; our society's expectations of fathers are kinda screwy; and other parents can be a great resource, as well as a great distraction. Now let's finish out the list.
Lesson 4: My relationship with my wife has never been more important.
I am blessed in that I get to raise my daughter alongside my wife. I hugely respect the single men and women who are raising children without the full support (or even presence) of a spouse. I do not know how you do it.
For Emily and me, raising Audrey has been a team sport. Just like marriage, we can't each be putting in 50% to this whole child-rearing thing. It's gotta be 100%. And trust me, we keep each other accountable to that.
What can be tempting, though, is for that noble task of parenting to actually put a wedge between Emily and I's relationship. It's completely understandable. Raising a baby from day one through year one old takes immense amounts of time, attention, and energy. And we each still have jobs, ministry, and the need for self-care.
But I also recognize that if Emily and I's relationship isn't healthy, our daughter won't grow up healthy either. Not because she'll catch some illness, but because she'll grow up watching two people grow further apart in the noble name of parenting, and take those same patterns with her into adolescence and adulthood.
We gave ourselves some grace with this at the beginning, because we had seven years of a healthy marriage to lean on during those first few tough months of bringing up baby. But once we got into the swing of things, investing in our relationship regularly with date nights, intentionally vulnerable conversations, and long hours of doing nothing more than leaning our bodies together and watching the same TV show together has made all the difference for us.
Lesson 5: My relationship with other people have never been more important.
On the other hand, a spouse is not meant to be "your everything." One single human being can't possibly meet all your relational, emotional, spiritual, and recreational needs. It's unrealistic and unhealthy to expect that from anyone (it's called co-dependence; and it sounds sweet at first, but it tends to eventually blow up relationships).
That's why we've also spent this year carving out time to spend with (gasp!) other adults. As I've mentioned elsewhere, I'm in a group with four other guys that regularly Skype together to keep each other accountable, learn from each other, and rant about movies and video games. Emily has a list of girls who she schedules "phone dates" with so they can stay in touch. We've stayed invested in our missional community and our church, and we (semi) regularly invite folks over (or invite ourselves over!) for dinner and conversation.
I don't say all this to prove how awesome we are. I say this because we would have gone cuckoo-nuts-crazy if we had done otherwise. We needed adult relationships to stay sane, get perspective, and break up the monotony of raising a child.
Starting a family is no excuse to stop investing in your adult friendships. If anything, it's a catalyst to invest even more.
Lesson 6: We needed to give ourselves permission to rest and say no.
All that said, it's not like we didn't take time to rest and find a new rhythm for our lives. A few years ago, Emily and I gave up trying to find "balance" in our lives. I've heard it said that balance is just something you swing through as you're on your way to another extreme. That's why you're much more likely to hear Em and I talk more about rhythms and seasons. And we knew that when Audrey was born we needed to enter into a season of rest and of saying no.
This meant ruthlessly exorcising any people-pleasing reflexes from our souls. It meant being willing to disappoint others by saying no. It meant being willing to disappoint ourselves too. We had to grant ourselves permission to let our standards go down when it came to cleaning the house or working out, or even just how many times we were going to make it to the beach last summer. We weren't going to be leading any small groups or disciple a lot of people, even though that's hugely important to us. It was a year of setting healthy boundaries for the sake of our marriage, our daughter, and our family.
Lesson 7: We needed to push ourselves to get out and say yes.
And yet, we also couldn't let ourselves completely shut down. During Emily's pregnancy, we talked a lot about the kind of values we wanted to have as family. What did we want to show and teach our children about risk and grace; independence and relying on each other; loving our neighbor and loving our enemy?
That's why we flew the whole family down to Florida when Audrey was three months old for my brother's wedding. Or why we met up with our friends at the Wisconsin Dells for our annual meet in the middle trip (along with 3 other kids; should be even more this fall!). That's why we'll be taking Audrey with us when we serve on a mission trip in Mazatlan, Mexico this fall.
Though it's easier said than done (especially for me, as a particularly over-protective father), neither safety nor homebody-ness are on our values list. We want Audrey to experience a lot, and we want to experience a lot of it alongside her. So that means saying yes to the right things and even pushing ourselves to be uncomfortable so we can all be stretched and grow together.
So there they are: seven lessons in this first year of parenting.
What have you been learning as you've been raising your children this year? Share in the comments below!