My parents have a photo album, the old fashioned kind with a padded cover and sticky pages. Its contents span the course of just under a year from my parents’ wedding day to my birth. If you haven’t guessed by now, I was a honeymoon baby born exactly nine months and two days after my parents’ union. My parents truly did not have much time to settle into their roles as “Mr. and Mrs.” before they became “Dad and Mom.” I can only imagine the challenges they faced in their first year of marriage with new expectations, shifting responsibilities and dirty diapers. By the grace of God, they came through it alive and will celebrate their 39th anniversary this year.
My husband and I, on the other hand, had five years together before our first child was born. Compared to my parents, you would think we had more than enough time to prepare ourselves for parenting. However, many of the lessons we learned about raising children together came after our son arrived…and after much trial and error. We had taken classes to prepare us for labor, delivery and basic baby care, but what we really needed were instructions on how to parent effectively as a team. Whether you are considering having your first child or are light years away from it, it’s never too early to start preparing your marriage for children. Here are four areas to get started on.
Know Your Spouse
Parenting requires both the husband and wife to work regularly together as a team. If you can imagine, it will be as if you and your spouse will be playing a game of mixed doubles tennis…for about 18 years. So, what will it take for you to not only survive, but thrive, in your game? First, you will need to know your partner well. Understand how your spouse ticks: how much sleep she needs to function well, how he handles messy situations, how much alone time she needs to recharge, etc. The better you know your spouse, especially how he reacts to challenging situations, the more equipped you will be to work together with him during those 2AM feedings or bouts of the stomach flu.
In our family, my husband knows I am quite squeamish when it comes to cleaning up bodily fluids, so he graciously handles those messes. Since I am a night owl, I help our kids get ready for bed in the evenings and he in turn gets them ready in the mornings. Knowing one another’s strengths and weaknesses helps us divide up responsibilities accordingly and to function at our best.
Learn From Your Spouse
Second, be open to learning from your spouse because each person brings a unique set of skills to the parenting game. It took me a while to appreciate my husband’s input because as the oldest in my family, I believed I was more experienced with children than my husband, who is the youngest of four. While I may have changed more diapers in my lifetime, that did not make me a better parent. In fact, the things my husband does (that I would never think of doing!) have brought balance and depth to the way we raise our children.
I remember the defining moment when I started valuing his parenting skills. When our son was five months old, my husband brought home a new toy. To be honest, the instant I saw it I thought, Our son won’t like playing with that. What a waste of money! However, I was forced to swallow my words minutes later when I witnessed our son grabbing the toy in delight, his dimpled hands wrapped tightly around the plastic fish. In that instant I had to admit that maybe my husband did know a thing or two about babies. From that day on, I found myself more willing to ask him for parenting advice and more appreciative of his suggestions.
Grow with Your Spouse
Just as the saying goes, “Monkey see, monkey do,” children learn best through imitation. It is amazing – and scary – how much our children pick up on our habits, both in our speech and actions. As potential parents, think about the impact you want to have on your children. What things do you do that you hope your children will imitate? What things do you hope to not pass on to your children? Enlist your spouse’s help in identifying any unhealthy behaviors or beliefs you have. Take steps now to make changes in those areas of your life.
To ensure your marriage can weather the stresses of parenting, make sure you are nurturing your relationship on a daily basis. Get in the habit of having regular date nights and making them a priority. Work together to build up any weak areas of your marriage, especially in how you resolve conflicts. Learning how to communicate your needs clearly and how to listen to your spouse’s needs will better equip you to make decisions together as parents.
Create with Your Spouse
Lastly, but most importantly, talk with your spouse about creating a lasting legacy for your future children. When all is said and done, there is nothing more important than passing on your faith to the next generation. As a couple, do you have a church family you call your home? Are you involved in God’s kingdom purposes of reaching out to those in need? Consider how you spend your time, resources and money. Whatever you make as a priority in your lives will become a priority in your children’s lives as well.
Now, if you haven’t gotten scared off by now at the idea of having children, start praying and asking God to prepare you and your spouse for your own family. Work towards getting to know your spouse better, learning and growing together, and creating your own family’s legacy. Then get ready to experience parenting for the great adventure that it is, one that will bless your marriage and multiply the joy and love you already share.