My firstborn son recently turned one. One year ago we were zooming through the night on our way to a premature and speedy birth. The night before we had thought ourselves ready, but we had no idea what the following year would throw at us. We had no idea what a tidal wave of love would flood into our hearts; we had no idea how hard and all-consuming it would be; we had no idea how blessed we would be by so many people; we had no idea how much life would change.
I’m reflecting on those changes now, because I can hardly recognise my life from before I became a parent. Six years of marriage had rounded off a lot of the sharp corners of my selfishness, but I was still spoilt by how much time and money I had for myself. What on earth did I do with all that time? Wasted a lot of it. And looking back although we were never exactly loaded I can see that our budget had a healthy chubbiness in many areas which has now slimmed down drastically.
I went from being time-rich/money-poor at university to being time-poor and money-rich as a young married man, but now I’m poor in both areas. But I’ve been enriched in so many other ways that I can’t even begin to look at it as a bad deal. I’ve learnt so much, and experienced such profound satisfaction that all the negative stuff just seems to fade.
There has been negative stuff, no doubt: the sleepless nights, the inconsolable crying, the frustration of not being able to help the person you love most, the saying no to many things no longer affordable. The tiredness didn’t really get to me at first, but 12 months in I’m carrying a cumulative sleep-deprivation burden that makes me feel like I’m only ever operating at about 80% of my previous capacity. It means I get ill easier and overwhelmed quicker. I’m living on short rations in terms of my ability to get anything done, so the creative projects gather dust and the emails stack up. And yet it’s amazing how much you can get done even when your free time is being squeezed from every angle.
I’m really impressed by what Lucy manages to do in spite of chronic tiredness and having her hands full all day every day. Somehow I’d previously entertained the notion that stay-at-home mums had an easy time of things, having oodles of time and the freedom of not being chained to a desk all day. Now I know that their work is every bit as hard as paid employment, more so, in fact, because a growing baby is infinitely more demanding than your boss, and, except in extreme cases, less gifted in communication. She’s on call 24-7 and has to pay attention constantly, with no leave or pay. And yet, in the midst of this, Lucy still manages to have time for her friends, to create beautiful little hand-made cards and makeshift toys. Imagine what she could be capable of when she’s regularly getting a full night’s sleep?
Yet both of us see this phase of life as an investment for the future. We’re raising a man here, a fully functioning human being and member of society, not just looking after a baby. Put in those terms, you realise quite what a responsibility it is, both for the good of the child and of everyone they will one day come into contact with. That makes it much easier to put up with the sleepless nights, the limited productivity, the penny-counting budget. The more of ourselves we give up now, the better off he’ll be in the future. This is a big challenge to my self-centred worldview, and it’s helping to make me a better person.
It’s also bringing me closer to God, because the less of my own resources I have the more I have to rely on Him. I’m supposed to have been doing that all along, but when I had all the time, energy and money I needed it was easy to forget. I’ve learned to trust God’s provision in a new way this year, watching with gratitude as He finds ways to look after our needs outside of what’s covered by my salary. Even a few of our wants too. He is a good God and the generous father I aspire to be, and the more I trust Him and allow Him control the more I see His goodness in our lives.
Another challenge for us is to still be generous with what we have. It might be less than before, but we still have plenty to give. We’re learning to grow in other aspects of generosity as money becomes less central and the use of our time and talents comes to the fore. This is an important opportunity for us to grow in the non-monetary disciplines of stewardship. We’ve been inspired by the generosity of our church family in our first year as a family, and we want to pass that generosity on to others by cooking meals, helping new parents clean and decorate their houses and offering our time and hospitality to bless others.
And at the centre of all this is the privilege of seeing a young life grow. I’ve revelled in every stage of development so far, from the helpless, mewing bundle to the adventurous and inquisitive pre-toddler. I love watching him discover the world, learn what things do and test his own boundaries. His confidence in his own mobility grows with every passing day and he interacts increasingly with us and others. I don’t really miss each stage as it passes because the latest stage is just so absorbing and adorable. I look forward to seeing him crawl, walk and run, to hearing his first words and being able to teach him things verbally, but I’m happy to wait for them, knowing I won’t have this little boy who’s happy to be cuddled and played with forever. It’s time to treasure and not wish away.
We’ll see what his second year brings. Hopefully plenty of quality time and many adventures, and as much safety and provision as we’ve seen so far. We’re resolved to keep giving him all he needs and more, demonstrating first-hand that people are worth full-on attention and the importance of generosity and sacrificial living. If I teach him nothing else, it’ll be that his daddy is always there for him, both me, and the Father we share.