Nobody knows everything about being a parent. But everyone knows this much. Having a child will change your world.
When my wife was pregnant with our first child, we read a lot of books. Most of them had something to do with breathing techniques to help keep women from strangling their husbands during labor, how long you can get away with keeping your kid in a dirty diaper and what babies are trying to say when they cry. Very few words have been written to tell parents what to expect once they’re done expecting. Here are a few.
1. Your house will be dirty.
Cleaning your house with kids living inside of it is sort of like walking out in your front yard to kick over all of the ant beds. As soon as you’re done, the occupants are going to get to work undoing what you just did.
Clean houses are pretty. By all means, work hard to train your kids in the fine art of cleanliness. Teach them that dirty socks go in the washing machine, not on the floor. Or in the refrigerator. You should just know going in that it’s not always going to work out like you planned it to. Your floors will be covered with Legos. Your kitchen table will have permanent milk stains and those little circles that get left behind from glasses of water that outstay their welcome.
But there’s another thing that you should know.
In a way, a dirty house is a sign that you’re doing it right. Again, don’t turn into the crazy cat lady in the neighborhood and start collecting old TV Guides and used coffee filters. But don’t let your preoccupation with a clean house keep you and your family from enjoying that little place you call home.
Sometimes a dirty house means that you’re doing it right.
2. Things will slow down.
When your kids are small, you do all of the cleaning for them. After a while, you start to develop your own system. And you get pretty good at it. But you shouldn’t get too good at it. Before long, you’ll have to blow that system up. Instead of picking up clothes and taking out trash, you’re going to need to teach your kids how to do those things.
This will try your patience. What once took 3 minutes will now take the better part of the afternoon. When your kid takes the trash out to the street, he’ll come back an hour later with two frogs and a bruise on his forehead. The job, if it even gets done, will be a messy one. You’ll be tempted to just do it yourself next time.
You’re kids are learning how to work. And serve. And you’re learning how to be patient. Some jobs are more about the skills and character they develop than the tasks that they accomplish.
3. You’ll learn a new language.
For the parent of a six-month-old, there is no such thing as a pacifier. No, it’s called a binky. Or a bop-bop. Also, your kids don’t have grandparents. Your mom and dad are no longer mom and dad. They are now Boe-Bop and Linky. You’ll have a hard time referring to your father, the Marine, as Boe-Bop. Just play along. But not for too long. The last thing you want is for your grown daughter to tell her boss that she was late for work because she had to take care of her Boe-Bop.
4. You’ll think that you are invisible.
This will happen when you volunteer to chaperone your son’s field trip and find out that he would rather hang out with his friends than you. It will happen when you have to beg your daughter for a kiss before you drop her off at school, knowing that she’s wishing for the gift of invisibility as she politely accepts your request in front of all of her friends.
Don’t let this get you down. It’s part of the process of slowly getting them out of the nest to develop their own flying wings. But while they’re still in your nest, hang out with them, kiss them and talk to them as much as you can. Once they’re gone, you’ll want to look back with a peaceful, easy feeling instead of regret.
5. You’ll think that you are doing something wrong.
You’ve tried all of the techniques. You’re read the books. You’ve gone back and read them again. You’ve asked friends for advice. You’ve tried being nicer. You’ve tried being meaner. But nothing seems to be working. It just feels like you’re doing something wrong.
All of us are.
But God didn’t make you a parent because you were perfect. He had other reasons. Better reasons. Whatever they are, you can be certain that God is in the business of doing good and big things through small and broken people. He did it with you’re parents and he can do the same with you.
6. You’ll love like you never thought you would.
The little kid on the soccer field is your new favorite athlete. When he comes over in the middle of the game to give you a kiss, your heart melts. Who cares if it cost his team a goal? You’re in love.
The love a parent has for a child, just like any other genuine love, involves sacrifice. It means getting messy. It means moving your schedule to the side. It means slowing down to take a mental picture that you’ll need later on.
Parenting will be hard. Expect that. But there’s more to it than that. Much more. It’s also the most rewarding job you could ever have. And most of those rewards come in the ways that you least expect.