My daughter is just shy of eight months old, and although she can’t talk yet, it sure seems like she has a lot to say. This tiny little ball of love and opinion certainly likes to let me know what she’s thinking, even if the jumbled sounds of jabber and babble don’t quite translate perfectly into the English she is aiming for. Although it isn’t English, or even words for that matter, I sure feel like I have a pretty clear idea what she’s trying to tell me… (Continue reading at Huffington Post here.)
Some people call parenting a job, but when I think about it, that doesn’t seem like an accurate description of what this beautiful and messy thing really is. This is a relationship — a relationship that takes thought, self sacrifice, love, compassion and intentionality… (Please continue reading at Huffington Post here.)
My child is almost crawling. Crawling. Which means mobile. Which means she can move, and get into things, and things can fall on her, and she can bump her head, and I am not nearly ready for that type of stress. In the past week or so, here are just a handful of completely absurd fears that I have had.
1) Everything looks like a death trap. I was sitting on my couch a few nights ago, looking down at my little one propping herself up, working to tuck her knee in under her belly, grunting with effort and frustration at not being able to move, and it hit me – this kid is going to be moving, very very soon. I glanced around my house, and suddenly it looked like everything was out to get my baby. The book shelf with a glass bowl on top of it, my liquor cabinet, the edge of the coffee table, the TV wires… like a cartoon from my youth, every inanimate object suddenly had teeth and glaring eyeballs. STAY BACK, YOU MONSTERS.
2) My child will have no fears. It has become a legitimate concern that my child will fear nothing. Not a single sharp object, nor sudden drop, nor unconquered step will impose any level of realistic expectations in her brain. This means my house must be very clean, very organized, and I must be very attentive to what my little one gets into. This little child will be fearless, which is good I guess, since I will be scared enough for the both of us.
3) Is everything poisonous? No really, is it? Because it certainly seems that way. I thought about what is currently under my sink, and saw nothing but more ways for my baby to get hurt. Okay, Jon, so just move the stuff. I’m in an 1,100 square foot townhouse; there is nowhere to store the cleaning supplies that my daughter will not be able to reach. That’s it, It’s all going in the trash. Everything gets cleaned with vinegar from here on.
4) Nothing is allowed to be hot ever again. I’m fairly positive that everything hot is going to give my child severe burns, now that she is going to have the ability to move to the hot things, reach for the hot things, and spill the hot things. A nice cup of hot coffee? Never again. That little cup o’ joe now looks like a fire-filled cup of lava just waiting to harm my daughter.
This is my life as dad. The world is not a playground, it is in fact a giant monster waiting for the chance to hurt my perfect little daughter. Here come the bumps and bruises of a crawler.
When you welcome your little bundle of joy into the world, things change. Things change for you, they change for your partner, and they change for your marriage. Lazy evenings in cuddling on the couch and binge-watching Netflix with a bottle (or two) of wine become a distant memory, sleep becomes much less predictable (mostly for mommy) and your responsibilities increase drastically. Through the first 7 months of our post-baby marriage, here’s what I have learned.
1) Communicate. Communicate in abundance. Communicate clearly. Communicate directly. I in no way am perfect at this – quite far from it, to be honest – but it has become blatantly clear to me that communication is your best friend.
2) Follow Through. Your wife needs to see that you are reliable, dependable, and that you can be trusted not only to support her but to take care of your child as well. So when you tell your wife you are going to take care of something for you, it is in your very best interest that you do what you say you are going to do.
3) Support your wife emotionally. When – yes, when – your wife struggles emotionally with the taxing job of motherhood, be her rock. You have no idea what she is going through, and she doesn’t expect you to. What she does expect, and rightfully so, is that the person she chose to go on this journey with will be there to lean on in tough times. Being a mother is a total bear of a job, including and not limited to changes to the body, lack of sleep, hormone changes and, for some, balancing a work/life/parenting balance. Fellas, you will not know what she is going through, and don’t try to fix her problems, but be a kind ear for her to talk to.
4) Clean. Yes, clean. Clean the kitchen. Do laundry. Again, this is something I struggle with. The last thing I want to do is clean after work, before dinner and while watching the baby. But trust me on this one, it goes a very long way. I know this one may sound obvious, but it’s a very big deal. A clean(ish) house creates a sense of relaxation and peace.
5) Be a present parent. Showing your wife that you are in this with her, participating with your baby and not looking to mommy to fix every problem, will take a load of pressure off her. If baby needs a diaper change, do it. If your baby is crying, figure out what they need. Play with your baby. Entertain your baby. Read to your baby. When mamma bear sees you hanging out with her child, it will give her a chance to catch her breath and kick her feet up. Even if only for a minute.
6) Spend time with your wife. Life gets very busy when baby comes home, but after a few months, you start to find your new “normal.” It can be very easy to get into the habit of not spending quality time with your wife, but do it anyways. Find a sitter, go out for a grown up dinner in grown up clothes, go to an art gallery showing, go to a sporting event – whatever it is that you and your wife enjoy doing, go do it. That quality time to be able to invest in your marriage again, to show her that you are still the man she fell in love with, is priceless. Make the investment.
Men, do these things successfully, at least most of the time, and you will be well on your way.
No matter where you turn these days, there is talk about what it takes to ‘be a man.’ There are articles and memes and quotes that float around online telling us what ‘real men’ do and don’t do. I even wrote an article on the topic once but changed the title because people didn’t like that I was playing into the real man hype.
The thing is, though, I find that most of these quotes and pieces of writing sort of float over typical surface qualities that don’t really get into the meat and potatoes (manly reference) of what makes a man a genuinely good man.
So to fill this gap on the interwebs, I have decided to compile my own list of seemingly forgotten, but important points.
Men should be women’s protectors, not their assailants.
Before I get told that women don’t ‘need’ men to protect them, I should make…
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When acts of terrorism occur, it feels like the entire world reacts. I remember how I used to react to such things – with sorrow, feeling for the victims and community that it touched directly, and wishing that such situations did not need to exist in our world. But when you have a child, it becomes much more complicated.
When the attack on Charlie Hebdo took place last week – and also when countless other tragedies have happened in the first 7 months of my daughter’s life – it has rattled me more. It makes me stop and consider the state of the world we live in. It makes me wonder what this world will look like in a couple decades, when the world belongs to Olivia and her generation. It makes me look at my daughter’s innocence with heartache, simply hoping she can hold on to that wonder for as long as possible.
It won’t be long until that little girl will begin asking questions. She will start to see or hear things in the world, and with curiosity, will ask her mommy or daddy what those things mean. I think of situations like this and have no idea how I will ever explain to her how this type of thing could happen, why it happens, or what it means. I don’t know how to teach her that our human rights include the right to express ourselves and to stand firmly for what we believe, yet to do so in a way that is not harmful to others. I don’t know how to teach her how the world works.
After facing these thoughts, contemplating how I can handle these situations, something becomes painfully clear to me – I do not have all the answers. There is beauty in this realization though, and that is that God doesn’t expect me to know everything. “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will direct your paths.” Proverbs 3: 5-6. It isn’t up to my own wisdom, and that is a fantastic thing.
So, I will lean on God and on His understanding. My job as father isn’t to answer and fix everything for my daughter; my job as her father is to teach her, to set the example for what it means to follow Jesus, and to point her to God in all things. It’s in Him that we find peace and understanding, not in ourselves.