You’ve been up all night and day. Not a wink of sleep. Whenever you have a moment to sleep, you are torn between cleaning and tidying up your messed up dwelling or trying to catch some zzz’s. Whenever you choose the latter, the second you hit the pillow, the cries of your newborn wakes you just seconds after you close your eyes.
Through your tears you hold your baby, bouncing, soothing, whispering to them that it’s ok and they can stop crying. Why won’t you stop crying? Are you dirty? I’ll change your diaper. Are you still hungry? I’ll feed you one more time. I’ve done all that, why won’t you stop crying? Do you have gas? I’ve been trying to make you burp for an hour. I heard a couple of small burps, even a big one, but you still won’t stop crying.
Please Lord, I just want to sleep.
I didn’t sign up for this.
Parenting is hard. Especially your first. Especially the first three months.
While I believe there is lots we can say about the awesome responsibility and privilege that is raising a child, it drives me beyond insane when I see people overly romanticize parenting; especially those initial three months. You can be told over and over again that parenting is hard, but until you endure it, you can’t truly be shown to an adequate level of understanding what that means. Unless you’ve been through painful, prolonged sleep deprivation, you can’t know what it’s like. You certainly don’t know what it’s like when the reason you can’t sleep is the cries of your child. The cries of this child who has only one way to communicate with the world and it’s through their tears and their silence.
What do those tears mean? That is for you to detect and figure out. Sometimes there is no answer.
May the Lord have mercy on you if your child has colic.
Our first child (we have two) had colic. Hours long, virtually non-stop crying episodes in the middle of the night. How many times I saw my wife, after trying for hours to calm him, would walk out of his room in desperation. Tears spilling out, wondering how she’s possibly going to deal with this one more minute. There was little I could do to support her, other than listen and comfort. I had to work after all, and that requires driving, so I needed my sleep too. At least a modicum of sleep.
That’s not being supportive, some say. You should have taken turns, swapped out and given her a break.
Maybe. Maybe, you’re right. This is the reality of parenthood. Someone does the lions share of child care and one does the lions share of making money so the roof stays over our head, the food stay in the fridge and the oven and lights turn on. Sometimes, this means an unequal distribution of the hard stuff. Don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of early morning drives where I would take our son on a drive, which would settle him. I would take him 15 mins south to the lake. The sun would dawn and we would both sleep. It was exhausting, but I also knew it was giving my wife at least a couple of hours of sleep she desperately needed to get through the day. Then I would go home and sleep. Missing a day of work. I used half my yearly allotment of sick leave in one month.
The first days of your first child can be extremely difficult. Or they could be easy. But, if you tell me they were easy, I’m not going to believe you. If for no other reason than I don’t want to think it could have been easier. The 100 days of hell were just that. We became the living, walking dead. Able to function on an almost primal level, but not much beyond that. Work, when I was able to go to work, because I had had enough sleep and could safely drive, became almost like respite care. A time to get away from the terror of the screamer.
I love my son. And my other son. I learned that you can love someone even though they cause you so much grief and hardship. Intended or not. Love is a choice you make. Every. Single. Day. In those 100 days however, it seemed that the spectrum of time was sharply reduced and it became an hour by hour decision, if not minute by minute.
The reality is that holding a screaming baby close to your chest, puts their mouth right next to your ear, making the screams that much louder and visceral. They cut you to the core. You want to simultaneously fling the baby away from you and at the same time hold them closer. Holding them closer: hoping that you can make them stop if they just feel your breath, your heartbeat, your love a bit more. It doesn’t help. Sometimes love isn’t enough to make someone else’s pain stop.
This is the beginning of compassion.
Compassion is a desire to end someone’s pain, yes. But it is more than that. It is the willingness to sit with them through the pain. To take on some of that burden for yourself. To let them know they are not alone.
Love demands compassion.
In those 100 days, we learned about compassion and devotion. I learned by watching my wife consistently recommit to our son. Bounce. Tears. Bounce. Tears. Repeat. I think that must be God’s cycle sometimes. He teaches, he prods, he pokes. We disobey. God cries. Repeat. Never giving up, never stopping, never imposing.
You can’t impose on a newborn. They don’t know what they’re doing themselves, let along what you want them to do.
I suppose in a way, I was her Aaron to her Moses. I played a supporting role. That doesn’t denigrate fatherhood or manhood. It recognizes the supreme sacrifice that mothers make and the resultant sacrifice fathers must make. Food needs to be made. Bills need to be paid. You know, the necessities of adult life. Just help her get through the next hour. The next day. Eventually those days add up to a week and a month. Then finally, 100 days hits and a switch is flipped.
You start sleeping again. You feel human again. The tears subside. You take a deep breath of relief and start thinking long term again. You’ve made it through survivor without being voted off and now you can get on with the job of raising a family.
Parenting is hard. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s not. You can’t know how hard it is if you don’t have a child, and that’s a good thing. If you knew would you really do it. Parenting is a reflective exercise. Yes, there is planning. Sort of. (Can you hear God laughing?), but it’s ultimately a reflective exercise. So is much of life, I suppose.
If you are not a parent yet, are pregnant or thinking about being pregnant, I want to encourage you. You’re on the rollercoaster as it slowly rises to the top of the first curve. You’re about to drop super fast down that first mountain and you’ll feel like everything is out of control. You will get through it though. Almost every has. Spouses, remember each other. Have each other’s backs. Husbands, remember to “love your wife, just as Christ loved the church”. Support her. Love her. Cry with her. Make sure she knows you’re there for her.
If you have just become a parent and are saying “I didn’t sign up for this”, I say with love “yes you did”. There’s just no way to tell you that in advance. It gets better. It really does. Screw the fairy tales you were told. This is hard stuff. But you will learn so much about yourself, your spouse and God, if you only keep your eyes open and pay attention.
In the end, this is so worth it. Seeing your child grow and develop and learn, is one of the most awe-inspiring things I have ever witnessed or been a part of. My love for my children and my wife, continues to grow and deepen. But, there are the hard bits.
Parenting is amazing, earth shattering, terrible, horrible, and wonderful. All at the same time. Enjoy the ride.