When I first found out I was going to be a dad, I think I went into shock. My wife Jenna and I had just moved back home after seminary, were living with my parents and had no insurance. Only one word could describe our condition: unprepared. In a perfect world, we would all be ready for kids in our lives; we would have a great job, money saved and a new house, and then we would proclaim, “It’s time we started a family.” In the real world, this rarely happens. Regardless of my crash entry into parenthood, I survived, and I am still growing. I am now a proud parent of three boys: Noah (4), Samuel (2) and Ethan (9 months).
I don’t have this parenting thing all figured out yet; I don’t think anyone really does. Parenting is an institution of life-long learners. If you are a new parent and you have just been thrust into this age-old institution, I want to share a few things that might help you on your journey.
[TAKING PARENTING ADVICE] Before you have gained your tenure into the institution of parenting, it’s inevitable that you will receive a wide gamut of parenting advice. I like to call this the “Law of Relativity.” This law states that at some point in time, your relatives will tell you how you should and should not parent your child. Don’t panic, don’t freak out and don’t take it personally. Everyone has an opinion on parenting, but no one has it all figured out. Why? Because behind every child is a unique personality and an individual heart and soul that is unlike any other in the universe. This makes it impossible to develop the perfect parent’s guidebook.
Remember this: You are the parent. Don’t get me wrong, there are many strong resources that will help you along the journey, but none of them are in stone. A big part of life is learning on your own each day. Work hard as a parent, read books, engage your child with affection, love, compassion; but don’t get the impression that you have to take everyone’s advice to be a good parent. Take good advice, but don’t take all the advice you receive. Think for yourself and develop your own pattern of parenting.
[THE PARENT AS AN ARTIST]
Every parent should be an artist. As a parent you need to get comfortable using crayons, play-dough and all the other messy art forms out there. In many ways you will be challenged to create a new world with your child, a world your child is seeing for the first time. Pablo Picasso said that every child is an artist, but the problem is how to remain an artist after they grow up.
Children and art are eternally connected. Who else can create a masterpiece from ketchup and cold fries at McDonalds? Children want to discover, create and be surprised; they have a wild wonder. The best way you can relate is to get on their level and become an artist with them. Drop your guard, go back to childhood and create alongside your child. Don’t be afraid of doing something wrong or messy—just do it. One of the best memories I have with Noah is when we took chalk out to our driveway and drew a life-sized picture of Jesus on the cross. I had him lay down as if he were the one on the cross; then we talked through the story and the fact that Jesus took his place. I wouldn’t trade one second we spent on that mural together. A new parent should always be an artist.
[THE PARENT AS LEARNER] Remember the words of Jesus: “If you want to come to me, you have to do it like a child.” The power of children in our lives should always be a reminder of the way we come to Jesus. Children can teach us a good deal about being relevant. The truth is, Christ wants us to engage Him as a child. If you can learn to see through a child’s eyes, you just may see Christ in a different angle, an angle that deepens your love and understanding for God’s heart and allows you to come to Him without anything to prove.
[THE PARENT AS A PICTURE OF JESUS] As parents we have a great deal to re-learn about life, about joy and about God. I think that Jesus gave us a great example of parenting when He gave the children access to His lap and blessed them. He wasn’t condescending to them, He didn’t shuffle them away—like his disciples wanted; he engaged them and simply blessed them. I am convinced that a day should never go by without having my children on my lap and speaking a blessing over them. If it’s good enough for Jesus, it’s got to be good enough for me.
Parenting is tough; there is no doubt about that. But it’s also incredibly rewarding. I know one of the best parenting tools we have is prayer. Simple prayer. Don’t underestimate the power of prayer in your child’s life. You will make mistakes in parenting, we all do, but never make the mistake of forgetting to pray for you children. Teach them to pray; involve them in your conversation with God—no matter how young they are. You can make up for many mistakes if you hold onto prayer as your source of strength on the journey of parenthood.
It’s been over four years now, and I am still in shock; it’s hard to believe I am a parent. I still have much to learn, but my boys have added a rich new dimension to my life that keeps me growing every day.[Stories on RELEVANTmagazine.com are user-submitted. The viewpoints expressed are the opinions of the author and do not necessary reflect the opinion of RELEVANT magazine. For exclusive in-depth stories, subscribe now to RELEVANT magazine. If you are interested in submitting an article, please check out our writers guidelines.]