I’ll never forget the day that Natalie was born. My in-laws were in town, hoping to be a part of the excitement, and my father-in-law and I decided to go play tennis. I thought that my decisive win was going to be the highlight of the night, until I came home to my wife—who was in labor. Like most first-time parents, Shelby and I arrived at the hospital thinking delivery time was just around the corner! We were wrong! After an hour of doing laps in the delivery unit and several more hours of waiting and sleeping (for one of us), we finally got to welcome Natalie Joy Collins into the world.
Even after Shelby’s parents went home for the night, I sat there in complete awe and totally in love with this little squishy ball of cuteness that is our daughter. Every sneeze, cry, and movement was something worth watching, and, of course, I thought she was the most beautiful baby in the world (I still think that)!
When I first became a parent, it was obvious that my role was to begin the long process training my child to be an independent, Jesus-loving adult. We knew to start by teaching her to eat a full meal, then to sleep through the night, soon to talk and crawl; and, as many others have told us, we’ll soon find ourselves teaching her how to drive. I heard from almost every other parent that having a child changes you, but I didn’t understand fully what that meant until God started to train me as Shelby and I tried to train Natalie. I’ve recorded some simple lessons that God has taught me that I hope can be a help to new dads, not-so-new dads, and future dads alike.
- Parenting is a team sport.
I would imagine that every decent man intends on helping his wife with the day-to-day parenting responsibilities—diapers, clothes, holding, etc. Men are different from women in this area. Unlike my wife, the cries of my daughter don’t awaken my hormones and cause me to immediately rush to her aid. No matter my hormonal makeup, though, my responsibility as a father should lead me to offer my fair share of help in changing the diapers, getting up with a crying baby in the middle of the night, and other not-so-fun parts of parenting.
Men, here’s the thing: your wife can survive as “single parent”, but the emotional and physical strain of parenting a newborn is more than any woman should have to bare alone. Sleeplessness, post-partum depression, and many other things are close to unbearable without a spouse’s help. Even with my help, the rough patches of infancy were very taxing on my wife. I can’t imagine how hard it would have been for her if I didn’t help at all!
It may be funny around your friends to say the number of diapers you’ve changed is in the single digits, but there are plenty of moms who wished their husband would have helped just a little bit more.
New Dad tip: Offer to feed your baby a bottle so your wife can sleep uninterrupted or offer to care for the baby while your wife gets a much-needed nap.
- Patience is key
My first week of dad life was deceivingly easy! All Natalie did was eat, stare, poop, and sleep, eat, stare, poop, and sleep. Then week two happened. Our squishy ball of cuteness suddenly morphed into a screaming ball of terror during the darkest hours of night! I remember holding her, with her little mouth screaming into my ear, thinking, “When will this stop?” We tried every remedy to get her to sleep better (and have since moved past that stage), but those 2 weeks simply turned into a grind of outlasting that phase.
As I held my beloved screaming ball of terror in my arms one night, I remember being very frustrated with her. It was silly to be frustrated with an infant, but I had nobody else to be frustrated with. I remember the Spirit reminding me that the parenting process was also designed to grow me, and this sleepless night was one way for God to instill in me a much-needed fruit of the Spirit—patience.
It occurred to me that getting frustrated or giving up was short-circuiting the process God had designed to help me. I will need the lessons from those sleepless nights in the terrible two’s and all the way through her teenage years. In fact, I need those lessons of patience in my marriage and in my career!
New Dad tip: When parenting gets tough, stop and think, “What is God trying to teach me right now?”
- Slow Down and Take It In
After Natalie was a few weeks old, a sense of normalcy finally came over the Collins household. I was getting my sleep again, and I was back to working full-speed at the church I love. Like every other working man, there are days that I need to work a little late, or take my work home. There were also plenty of other days where my drive to get as much done as possible kept me away from home more often than necessary. Around this same time, I was reading a parenting book in which the author made a statement that stuck with me: God made some moments of parenting for you to enjoy. The smiles, giggles, and first steps aren’t really for the child as much as they are for the parent. God loves His children enough to make parenting an experience that can be enjoyable for the parent, too!
What was I doing by missing out on those moments? I was only cheating myself of some of the joys God had in store just because I chose to be present in Natalie’s life.
New Dad tip: Get a camera, or a good phone, and take lots of pictures and video. Find a way to keep those files long-term: you’ll be glad you did!
I’m not an expert dad (not even close!), but I’d like to think I’ve stopped to learn some of the lessons God has been trying to teach me. I hope you will keenly listen for God’s voice in the whirlwind of parenthood and learn the lessons He has for you. Parenting isn’t just about a product: it’s a process that should mature Mom and Dad just as much as it matures their child.