by Dan Sheaffer
Eight months ago my wife, Emily, and I received our first son, Isaac, through the blessing of adoption. We have spent many years praying about the right time for our family to adopt and felt God moving us toward adoption last year. Though we read tons of books on parenting during five years of marriage, I was shocked by how under-prepared we were for the realities of the task.
Becoming a father adds a strange and new dynamic to marriage, even if you have a healthy relationship. There are multiple lessons to be learned—about being a dad and about being a good husband/leader.
1. Just survive. Even though we were not expecting a fairy-tale baby, we drastically underestimated how hard the adjustment would be. Everything that he needed we had to provide, which meant less time for our own interests. A lot less! Those first few months were just downright hard.
The temptation for any new dad is to escape the madness. If you are expecting your first child soon, all I can say is … just survive. Grit your teeth and just get through it. Every parent goes through it. I guarantee you, better days are coming. It will get better.
2. Understand your anger. In general, I’ve rarely struggled with a temper. In 20 years of playing organized basketball I have only been charged with one technical foul. But during the first few months as a parent I was shocked and even embarrassed at how angry I could get.
All the crying can really take its toll. There was one Saturday that I decided to give Emily a day out to herself, which meant Isaac and me, all day, together (I can hear every woman laughing now). He literally cried from the moment she started the car until five minutes before she returned. She was gone for eight hours. It was as if someone was scraping five-inch nails across a chalkboard all day long.
After opening up to a few people, I found that I was not alone. I found that most new parents wonder if there is something wrong with them because of how angry they get. My mother-in-law even admitted she scared herself with how angry she became.
Although our anger reached new levels, I learned that this is a perfect opportunity to become more like Jesus. Often with increased anger, sin follows closely. In Ephesians 4:26, Paul tells us, “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.” I’ve often had to seek forgiveness from Emily for my attitude, and way before the sun ever started to set.
I also started asking forgiveness from Isaac. He may not understand what I am saying, but it provides great practice for me as he grows up. Forgiveness is something that we continually need to seek from others as we follow Jesus.
3. Remember that this is God’s child. One night Emily and I were talking about different decisions we would make as Isaac grows. At some point in the conversation we just stopped. We realized that we can’t protect him from everything. And we can’t provide everything he will ever want or need. But we know who can.
God loves my son more than I could ever love him. He cares for Isaac more than I ever could.
I can’t explain how liberating it is to say out loud to each other that, “We can’t, but God can.” He has given us the awesome responsibility to train this little boy. This is His child. What an amazing thing to know that God loves Isaac more than I do.
1. Man up and grab a diaper. As a new dad, it’s easy for me to withdraw and make an excuse that Emily is better at taking care of Isaac and that she doesn’t need me. But she does need me.
This gives me great opportunity as a man to be creative. I must look for ways to serve around the house and play an active part in raising Isaac with Emily. I’ve found that I can be very helpful by taking care of all the dishes, changing diapers, keeping up on household cleaning, and taking out the trash.
Part of being a family leader is learning to anticipate needs that are coming before being asked to do them. When I look to serve Emily—just to purely serve and take some burden off of her—it goes a long way. In Ephesians, Paul calls all men to love their wives as Christ loves the church. Christ lived so sacrificially for the church that he died for it.
Why is it that we would be willing to take a bullet for our wives, but we forget the simple act of serving them? It could be as simple as holding the baby for 30 minutes after work to give my wife a needed break. So when I feel the urge to flop down into the recliner, I just need to make sure I have the baby with me.
2. Dates are essential. Getting away together is essential to our marriage. This allows us to fight isolation by feeling like normal people. We can concentrate more on each other rather than the needs of Isaac. Isaac is very important, but our marriage is the top priority.
It is also very important to spend some time in conversation about things other than Isaac. We are still real people. What has been going on with each of us? What has God taught us? Where would we like to go on our next vacation?
This is essential in keeping our sanity. Our family can’t be all about him. And dates don’t necessarily have to be in the evening. Dropping Isaac off at someone’s house on a Saturday to get a few hours out together, even if it is just going to the grocery store, is worth it.
3. Stop and enjoy the moment. There have been so many special moments with Isaac. It was exciting to see his smile develop and to watch him learn to laugh. I think I could sit for hours and just watch him peacefully sleep.
Many dads miss these little moments. They miss the birth. They miss the first few years. They miss the school years. They are living in the same house, but miss speaking into the lives of their children. I know many parents who turn around after their kids leave the house and ask, “Where did the time go?” No offense to these parents, but I want to be able to turn around when my kids leave the house and say, “I know exactly where the time has gone. Emily and I have been there hand in hand every step of the way.”
God calls me as a parent to train up our children. That means it is my responsibility, not someone else’s. I won’t miss the moments with my kids. There are so many things in this world vying for the attention of Isaac, and I need to be the voice of truth and love in his life.
I may never achieve perfection. In fact, I will screw up. But learning is a process. Striving to be more like Jesus and love my wife is hard work.
The same is true for you. You don’t have to be perfect today—just work a little each day to love your wife and kids better. Love with your children is spelled T-I-M-E. That starts right now. Go get ‘em, dads!
© 2013 by Dan Sheaffer. Used by permission.
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