This is part two! If you’d like to check out part one first, click here!
6. I am (becoming) less selfish
No one really tells you that when you become a parent, you will go through a crash course on “how to lose your selfishness.” If you’re a healthy parent, you will (at minimum) work hard to try to provide for your children, feed/clothe/bathe them regularly, keep them from harm, comfort them when they are upset/hurt, offer direction/encouragement, develop their faith, and teach them life skills. All of these behaviors require us to set aside our own agendas to offer our kids a happy and healthy childhood. I notice that when I am selfish, I tend to cause pain or fail to create opportunities for connection. So, my wife and I attempt to prioritize self-care during hours when our children are sleeping, or they can be watched for a couple of hours for date night, and then we do our best to give the remaining time to invest in the lives of these wonderful humans we created.
7. Connection > Perfection
I always say that I am a “recovering perfectionist.” Growing up, I was very anxious and perpetually felt that I was not good enough (for many reasons). Because of this, I became unbalanced and obsessive compulsive in many ways (meaning I had anxious thoughts/feelings that could not find resolution until I completed a behavior/task/routine). Since having kids, I have learned that the house can be a complete and total disaster and I can still have some of the sweetest and most meaningful connection times with my children (and genuinely enjoy it). I value cleanliness and excellence, but I am trying not to do the “Mary thing” rather than the “Martha thing.” Martha was busy and distracted, all in the name of service and hospitality… but we learn that her priorities were messed up and that she missed an opportunity to be present and connect with the Lord. “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41-42, NIV)
8. We must encourage curiosity, wonder, and exploration
The dictionary defines wonder as: (noun) a feeling of surprise mingled with admiration, caused by something beautiful, unexpected, unfamiliar, or inexplicable. (verb) desiring or being curious to know something, feeling admiration and amazement; marvel, or feeling doubt.
My daughter and I have regularly gone on bug/nature adventure walks/hikes since before she could walk. I want to protect her wonder and awe. I want her to see the profound beauty that God has placed all around us and increase her gratitude for it. She is more likely to appreciate and protect it as an adult. I try to answer her “why” questions without expressing annoyance (because she is a child and actually does not know the answer); if she does know the answer, I will attempt to sit with her in the silence and struggle until she can access it (and then praise her for figuring it out). If she isn’t given a chance to explore and be curious, she is more likely to engage the destructive things that are vying for her attention later in life. I firmly believe that wonder protects us from ingratitude, boredom, and depression.
9. Fear is learned behavior
Okay, not all fear is learned behavior; some fear is innate (such as an animal’s natural reaction to a threat/predator). But most fear and phobias (specific types of fear) are conditioned or learned. Fear conditioning can help us survive (i.e. “don’t touch the hot stove, because you will burn your hand”) but it can also cause us great anxiety, avoidance, and distress. Researchers of this topic say that fear increases the chances for survival when appropriately expressed but also because it can lead to anxiety and stress-related disorders when inadequately processed. Fear can also be learned from merely hearing about or observing—rather than directly experiencing—an aversive event.
My point is, I need to be cautious about the way I talk about, react, and respond to negative events/people/etc. in front of my children. Just because I have a fear of needles/snakes/failure/other races/heights/conflict/abandonment because of trauma in my life… doesn’t mean that I need to instill this in my child. None of us would willingly (hopefully) teach our children these fears, but that’s the point… in this area, we lack intentionality. We need to be more aware of the things that trigger us, so that our kids are not stuck fighting the battles we have been facing all our lives.
10. Laughter heals
“A joyful heart is good medicine” Proverbs 17:22. This one speaks for itself, but I have seen laughter interrupt and redirect whining and overreaction and tantrums too many times not to mention it! Beautiful healing can take place in the wake of hurt/misunderstanding/pain when joy is introduced. Make laughter a family habit.
Important note: My wife and I have many close friends/family members/clients who have experienced horrific, painful losses (sudden infant death, miscarriage, inability to have children) and feel a deep grief and sadness for individuals and couples going through this. I can’t imagine the searing pain that accompanies this type of loss, although I have cried, hurt, and journeyed with many people facing this kind of suffering. I have learned that bereaved parents need love and compassion, not advice. I do not wish to be insensitive to anyone facing these traumas, I simply desire to share some interesting observations I’ve made since I have become a parent and hope to normalize some of the experiences that other parents may have.