We brought our oldest daughter home from the hospital when she was just three days old. Like many new parents, my wife and I were nervous, excited, and incredibly uncertain about how to care for this fragile bundle of joy. We laugh now about how we kept adjusting the thermostat in the car, worrying that she would be too cold…then too hot…then too cold again…
Knowing what we know now, my wife and I look back and we wish we could give ourselves some advice. Here’s what we would say to our rookie-parent-selves.
Becoming a parent feels overwhelming; you stare into the chubby cheeks of your newborn, and you realize you have no idea what you are doing! You can’t always tell if your baby is sick, or just fussy. In your sleep-deprived state, you heat the baby’s bottle too warm. You worry about germs, and about strangers; you fret about sleep schedules and feeding schedules. Before long, you have a nagging sense that you aren’t cut out to be a parent. Take heart! Every parent makes plenty of mistakes as they learn to parent. The apparent health-care emergency, or the parenting crisis of today is often the story you laugh about in five years.
Forgive yourself for your shortcomings, accept the fact that you are a parent-in-training, and you will learn as you go. God invites us to “not be anxious about anything, but in everything…make your requests known to God, and the peace that passes understanding will guard your hearts in Christ Jesus.” I am convinced this applies to parenting as well as to every other area of life. God has things well in His control, and you can trust His Fatherly care as you parent your newborn.
Parents can be ruthlessly competitive. We compare sleep schedules, baby development milestones, whether home birth or hospital birth, discipline techniques, and just about everything else. We broadcast our successes on social media or we brag to our friends because we’re looking for reassurance that our methods trump all others. We feel good about ourselves when our children meet their growth targets. We secretly feel superior to others whose methods seem inferior to ours. We are, at our very root, building our worth and significance on our parenting identity.
But our identity isn’t found in anything we’ve done – parenting or otherwise. Paul insists that he was willing to count all of his personal achievements and things in which he would otherwise boast, “as rubbish, compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus.” Treasure your identity in Christ, and find your importance in him, rather than in comparing yourself positively and negatively to others, based on such temporary things.
You already know that parenting a newborn can be challenging. Sometimes, we try to take on those challenges alone. Perhaps we feel guilty asking a friend or family member (who already has their hands plenty full!) to lend a hand. Or, we worry about burdening a friend with a question for advice that seems so trivial. More seriously, we may ignore the signs of something more serious, like postpartum depression.
God did not make us to forge through life alone; we all need help sometimes. Whether it’s asking grandma or grandpa to watch the baby so you can go out, or whether it’s calling a friend so that you can share your frustrations, surrounding yourself with a community of wise parents, friends, and even professionals will relieve some of your stress, and will offer you a wealth of wisdom that will help you grow as a parent.
Buried beneath a mountain of dishes, washing and drying load after load of laundry, and feeding a baby in the middle of the night, you might question your sanity and your purpose. It’s important to remember why you are doing what you are doing. Parenting is a task that has eternal meaning. You are shaping your children for eternity; you are serving Jesus even as you do the tasks that often feel meaningless or insignificant.
Jesus himself modeled humility and he demonstrated the attitude that we must all emulate. “Your attitude should be that of Christ Jesus,” Paul reminds us, before describing Jesus’ willingness to humble himself to death. Sometimes, we need to recall that in the midst of the diapers, the dishes, and the laundry, that what we are doing, we are doing unto Jesus himself.
Maybe you have recently-–or soon will be—driving home from the hospital with that cherub-faced angel in the car-seat properly anchored into the car. You are excited…and yet, you feel totally clueless. Don’t worry – you can do this! You have a sacred calling in front of you, and the God who has called you to this task, will equip you and walk with you each step of the way.
Rev. Dr. Steven Koster