Marriage, Children, Love, and Responsibility

I’ve always been interested in the nature of responsibility, and in what makes a man or a woman finally pick up its mantle and seriously begin the journey toward true manhood or womanhood. I think for a lot of people, the catalyst is their first child or children. I used to think it was marriage, but after getting married, I realized that it is quite easy to have a pleasant marriage and remain quite selfish. There’s still plenty of time in a day for two reasonable people to basically do what they both want to do. Tonight we’ll eat at your restaurant and tomorrow night we’ll eat at mine; Friday night, the mall, Saturday morning, the golf course; etc…

A child changes that. Free time suddenly dwindles, days and night inexplicably become both longer and shorter, typically expanding or contracting as necessary to most effectively limit your perceived freedom. Everyone becomes more stressed out. Throw a little sickness or depression into the mix and you’ve got a custom designed crash-course entitled The Selfish You: Learning How To Defeat the Me-Monster. For those of you who don’t have children yet, I am not joking.

To be fair, the reason that a child can be so shocking to the system is that the experience challenges our beliefs regarding the purpose of our lives. Someone who is already living a life based on sacrifice, humility, and unselfishness, will notice only the blessings that a child brings: the first smile, the first laugh, the feel of the tiny head resting on their shoulder. To the selfish man, these things seem like such consolation prizes. Look at all that I gave up,” screams the selfish soul, “and all I get is laughs and smiles? I could have rented About a Boy or My Life and saved myself the trouble”.

Where am I going with all this? That’s a fair question. It’s partly a confessional on my part, an admission of my own failures, and an attempt to be more transparent, but it’s also an attempt to frame a question. Does this resonate with other first and second time parents? I have two children now, Gavin will be two near the end of May and Petra is going on eleven weeks. In many ways, the second child was harder than the first, but the first taught us so much that it’s hard to really compare them. God says that the fruit of the womb is his reward, and his blessings tend to be things that go against our nature (Matthew 5:11-12, Isaiah 55:8) How does this thinking compare with what others have experienced? Has God used children or marriage to move you toward responsibility and away from selfishness?

Postpartum Depression, Love, Joy, and Marriage

I’ve been making a point in this last year to be more transparent. There is a tendency among people and particularly among Christians, to pretend that all is well. That joy means happiness, that peace means a life without conflict. We all have problems, we all have conflict, joy is from knowing that these conflicts are the work of God, peace comes when we accept the things he has put into out lives – the good and the bad.

We had a baby girl this past December, and while it was joyous, we’ve had a difficult time with postpartum depression. My wife had a bit with our first child but it wasn’t quite as bad. Some of it is just due to differences between the two children, but I think (from hearing the same thing from many women who have had 4+ children) that girls are harder on the woman than boys are (even the Torah says the period of rest after childbirth is longer after a girl). So it’s been difficult. I’ve spent a lot of time at night praying, dreading when our daughter would cry, knowing that each time she screamed that Susan was battling with how she felt, struggling with thoughts she did not choose to have. It would be foolish for me to suggest that she was the only one struggling.

There has been an aspect of humility in all of this; I realized that I had not prepared my family in some ways for the challenges of a new child, that I had not been spending time in the Word of God with my wife like I should have been. I had let the world inform our minds on the value of the home, and on the value of children. And so there were many hours spent in prayer: Dear God please help my child to have faith so that she will not demand to be held constantly, please help my wife to call upon you, to cast her cares upon you, to take the thoughts she is having captive. Please help me to be wise in my words, prompt in my actions. Help me to be not so foolish as I have been, Above all else, thank you for this child, thank you for these sleepless nights, thank you for showing me my failures before they cost me more than they already have. It is getting better, much better, but it is still on occasion difficult. The real difficulty is in not falling back into old habits as I see improvement, in believing that the crisis is over, that I can return to my foolish ways without consequence.

There is more about these things that I would like to say, but they can come later. For now, this is sufficient. For those of you who read this, how does this compare to your own experiences? How did you deal with similar struggles?