Our daughter, Emery, was born on February 6th of this year. We’re finishing up our first year of seminary. Naturally my wife and I were the recipients of about as much advice as you can stomach. Everyone seemed to have their two cents, and if every bit of “this is how you do it” actually was two pennies, we’d be moderately wealthy.
So, as I share my thoughts below, know that I understand your hesitancy to hear another piece of advice. But, I hope that my experience and insights will help you better prepare to have a baby while attending seminary.
First, having a baby is a massive, titanic shift in your life. Like an earthquake that doesn’t stop.
Make your choice to be a parent with eyes wide open, unclouded by daydreams and picturesque scenes from a movie. Make your choice, and stick to it.
To do so, you’ll need to be like the running back in football that refuses to go down, always reaching for an extra yard. Be like the marathon runner, who, regardless of the time and the weather and the burning pain in his legs, refuses to stop. Refuse to give up. Refuse to quit. Lean on God’s power and presence, and commit to being a parent 100%.
The scary truth is this, no advice can fully prepare you for being a parent, much less a parent in seminary. You’re going to get stuff wrong. You’re going to be stressed, tired, burned out, frustrated, at your wits edge. But if you refuse to quit, if by the grace and goodness of God you take hold of the challenge and learn as you go with patience, you’ll be fine.
Based on what I’ve said so far, you can guess what kind of experience my wife and I have had. It has pushed both of us and our marriage to some edges, some tough conversations, some breaking points. And that has hurt, a lot.
But in those moments we persevered, and our love for each other becomes all the deeper, our love for our daughter all the sweeter. Here are some thoughts gathered from our experience that may be of some use. Take them or leave them, but as long as you refuse to give your spouse and your child any less than your best and your most, you’ll do just fine. 🙂
If you are detail oriented and need a schedule for the day in order to feel comfortable, be prepare to be flexible, responding to needs as they arise. Yes, its definitely a good idea to develop a “standard operating procedure” for who takes what feeding, or who takes care of what, but there will now be an often unpredictable element to your life, and he/she doesn’t care about your schedule.
If you’re are laid back and like to just go with the flow, let me first say that I’m this way, and so the reality of both having a job and going to seminary has already helped me, but having a baby was something else. I needed to be consistently present, planning ahead and being willing to give up my hobbies and free time for the sake of my wife’s sanity. She needed to know that she could count on me. Its easy for the husband to just assume that the wife will take care of the kids and let him know if she needs something. Please, don’t do marriage and parenting this way. Make a habit of communicating needs and wants in regards to time and responsibilities, your marriage will greatly benefit from it.
NOTE: The first two bits of advice may seem contradictory, but if my wife (structured) and I (laid back) have learned anything, its that parenthood will challenge all of us in the areas that we are weakest, and that teamwork (YES!) and selflessness is an incredibly soothing balm to the burnout of yet another poopy diaper and yet another hour of sleep lost.
Speaking of selflessness, here’s the core of a concept that all can agree with. Be selfless. I don’t care how burned out and tired you feel, make a habit of being selfless towards your spouse.
You don’t know me, so I don’t gain anything by bragging to you. I rub my wife’s feet, yes, even between the toes where, as my wife says, “where the fungus grows!” I usually don’t want to rub her feet. I’m tired, I’ve been in class all day, or working, or both and I just want to sit down and not think. But in those moments, my small acts of selfless thoughtfulness become most beautiful and sweet to my wife.
She knows that I’m tired. We’re both tired.
But in that moment of me acting against my desires and weariness, she sees just how much I love her, and the burnout of parenthood can’t put its potentially strangling grasp on our marriage.
And this is the deeper point that some will disagree with. Louis L’Amour, the famed author so many wonderful Westerns often came back to the picture of his main characters, the rough handed, strong man, looking for a woman who was strong enough to walk beside him, and not behind him.
I love that idea!
And I am most certainly married to a woman strong enough to walk beside me, and not behind me. But in many ways it is important for the Husband, the Man to walk in front of His wife and children, not to lord Himself over them, but so that whatever life throws at His family hits Him first and worst.
What does this look like? I had to work a 11:30pm to 9:30am shift on a Saturday night. My wife and I have struggled to attend church regularly as the first few months of parenthood have been very hard. My wife, not present in all my classes and not making all of the connections that I’ve made needs to be in fellowship with other believers, and, as we’re still new, she isn’t as comfortable going to church by herself with our daughter. So yes, I came straight from work and met my wife at church. And while we were there our daughter needed to be fed, yes, right in the middle of the sermon. So I took her out into the hall and fed her. Because, as I often tell my wife, I’m the Husband.
Husbands, love your wife as Christ loves the church, sacrificially. Walk in front of your wife, and when you fall, and grow weary, tell her. Let her know. And because you walked in front of her, she will have the strength to support you and hold you during your weak moments.
And that flows right into the next point. Cherish your marriage. Make your spouse feel cherished. You know them. What speaks to them? What resonates with them? What makes them feel loved? Alive? Understood? Do those things. Talk about what those things are. HAVE A DATE NIGHT! AND KEEP IT!
And some actual class advice…and I promise you that this is true for 99.99% of us, if you go for the A in your classes and you’re married, much less a parent, you will destroy your marriage, your wife, and you won’t know who you children are. You need to be okay with lesser quality work. You need to be okay with passings grades. You need to be okay with a few hours less study time. Or you need to leave seminary. My wife has my express, meaningful permission to tell me that we are leaving seminary if we need to. My marriage comes before my children. My children come before my classwork. Do it any other way and you’re not just playing with fire, you’re lighting other people on fire, burning more than just bridges. So give classwork its proper place.
Part of having a right heart about class work is asking for grace. Emery was born two weeks early, and I’d only recently gotten over being sick during the Winter Break, and within two months of Emery’s birth, my wife’s grandmother died suddenly. On top of all that, we were shorter on money that we’d thought we’d be. So I asked for grace, afraid of looking weak, of disappointing my professors. But little did I know that they were men, just like me, with wives and children like mine. I asked for grace and I was overwhelmed by the response! You are not alone! Ask for grace!
Take time off for the birth of your child (obvious) but as much time as you can afterwards as well. I was able to take almost a month off of work (still feeling the financial hit from that one), and it was more necessary than I could have imagined. Giving birth to a child is a traumatic experience. Don’t leave your wife to deal with it on her own. If you’re able, make her feel like you’re waiting on her hand and foot. Err on the side of care.
For you and your wife, find your own balance of eating, sleeping, and exercising as best as you are able. Its really important to be diligent in taking care of ourselves as best we can and not get lost in the ease of fast food and no sleep. make each other take naps and try your best to eat kind of healthy, which isn’t easy. Still, never let it be said that Taco Bell for dinner isn’t occasionally good for the soul. Its going to be tough on your bodies, so do your best to take of yourself and establish good habits. You know yourself, be wise, especially you Husbands, as you lead your family through some tough stuff.
Don’t lash out at each other. Your emotional margins will shrink and as your spouse feels the need to vent and share their pain with you, you will find that you will feel resentful in that moment, as if afraid that your pain, your burnout, your weariness will go unnoticed. It is a dangerous feeling. When we’re well and truly burned out, we easily slip into survival mode, where its hard to think of anyone else. Someone once told me that “hurt people hurt people.” Don’t speak out of your place hurt. Don’t act out of your place of weariness. In those moments be still, and listen, and trust, trust, trust your spouse to give you what you are giving them, a listening ear, and the comfort of another’s love. Comfort one another in each other’s pain, and watch as your relationship becomes that much the deeper and the sweeter!
And last, pray together. Seek the Lord together. Don’t let go of the things of God that we so desperately need, more than bread, or Taco Bell. Be careful that you don’t stray from church, from fellowship, from worship, from prayer, from reading the Bible, from all the ways in which we know and and known by God. Husbands, lead your family in the ways of the Lord and don’t allow the necessary habits of Christian living to become academic.
As with all advice on all things, take it with a grain of salt. I hope that at least some of what I’ve said is of some use to you. In the end its up to you. You can do it!
By Colby Anderson. Having just recently discovered the joys of coffee, pickles, sharp cheddar cheese, and fatherhood, you can find him attending Dallas Theological Seminary in pursuit of a Masters of Theology, which, of course, comes secondary to the continued pursuit of his Beautiful wife. And all of this under Christ, even the pickles. If you’re curious, he sometimes has time to think aloud at more-than-bread.blogspot.com.