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Grant and Grace                        (Part One of Four: 
                                     Starting the Journey)
                                                                    

 
Parenting is hard work, no doubt about it—even for geese. Recently I witnessed the parenting work of one pair of geese. I became aware of the project when I noticed a nest of eggs produced by the female goose. Their nest was built beneath a tree located near the small lake behind the office building where I work as a therapist. One of the goose pair was standing guard over the eggs and hissed loudly as I approached.  Not being one to invite an all-out goose attack and out of respect I stopped and watched from a safe distance. I became interested in their efforts and checked on them frequently. In due time the eggs hatched and seven goslings were welcomed into the goose family. I enjoyed watching the parents as they protected the babies, as they provided the basic necessities, and as they moved toward promoting the goslings into full goose adulthood. 
 
 
While observing the activities of Grant and Grace (my names for the pair), I thought of numerous parallels to our human efforts at parenting our children. The adage “silly as a goose” came to mind several times, but Grant and Grace didn’t seem to be silly at all in their commitment and faithfulness. Our fine-feathered friends—those “silly” geese—present some interesting examples for us to consider. Indeed, there is a great deal we can gain from geese.
 
 
As a Marriage and Family Therapist I’ve seen thousands of parents struggle with the daunting challenge of rearing a child and then launching that child successfully into adulthood. I’ve personally traveled the Parenting Highway myself, and I’ve witnessed two “graduations” into adulthood. The ultimate launch usually brings to the parents a mixture of rejoicing, relief, and regret. We rejoice to see our children enter the world of adulthood; we’re relieved that the journey has been concluded; we’re regretful about the mistakes we’ve made. Most of us question how the years passed so quickly, and we feel amazed that somehow we all survived the trip. Yet, in spite of the mixed feelings, manifold questions, and major amazement, most of us would choose to take the same journey again.
 
Perhaps you’re not yet a parent but you’ve been considering the possibilities. Becoming a Dad or a Mom appeals to you, and you’re almost ready to start your parenting journey. If you’re like most serious and sincere travelers on the Parenting Highway, you’re probably looking for some Travel Guides that can help you move safely and successfully toward your destination (that is, the launch site). Perhaps you’ve been on the highway for several years, but you’ve gotten frustrated and fearful about your effectiveness as a parent. In the midst of your frustration you’re looking for helpful resources. Hopefully, this four-part series will provide a combination of information and encouragement for you.
 
 
How would you like to be a “professional” (that is, a “PRO”) at parenting? The idea may sound appealing, but our human imperfections make professionalism at parenting unrealistic and unattainable. At best, we have good intentions and we try our best, but we usually fall short of the ideal. We just hope that our best is good enough to get the job done. With that being said, let’s tackle the task as if we are going to reach the ranks of professionalism. In other words, let’s work toward getting an “A” grade on our Parenting Report Card.
 
 
As a therapist and as a Dad, I like to think about parenting from the perspective of roles we fill as we rear children toward adulthood.  In particular, I consider four such roles to be key ingredients in our work as parents. Let’s explore each of these four roles to see how they relate to becoming a “PRO-parent.” You’ll probably notice that each role starts with PRO—Producer, Protector, Provider, and Promoter. As these roles are explored, don’t be surprised to find that Grant and Grace (the geese couple) continue to walk (or paddle) onto the parenting scene. This article (Part One) will focus on the Producer role; the other roles will be discussed in subsequent articles.

                                                                              PRODUCER:  THE JOURNEY BEGINS!
 

The parenting journey begins with production. Grant and Grace, the geese couple, produced several eggs that contained their future goslings. Each egg was special and was valued highly by the geese parents. I wondered what the geese were thinking as they sat for hours upon their nest of eggs. Was Grace reliving the discomfort or pain of laying the eggs? Was Grant regretting the time required for “nest-sitting” when he could be making laps in the lake? Were they pondering the potentials that lay in the eggs just beneath their warm bodies? Could they be feeling fearful about the hatching process in the hours ahead or fretful about the hectic problems in the months ahead? Whatever the thoughts, Grant and Grace had started their journey on the Parenting Highway. They had successfully produced.
 
 
A human couple produces offspring—a son or a daughter (or, in some cases, more than one of each). For some couples pregnancy is easily achieved; for others conception is a major accomplishment. For those who succeed, however difficult, giving birth is the first step in a journey that lasts two or more decades, perhaps longer when certain “adult children” seem determined to stay in the family “nest.”
 
 
Motivation for parenthood merits a great deal of soul-searching on the part of would-be Dads and Moms. “Why do I want to become a parent? What’s my reason, my purpose?” Unfortunately, too many babies are born as a result of selfish, self-serving motives in the hearts of their parents. Responsible parenthood requires that we view a child as a “gift from God” and not as a means of fulfilling personal wants and wishes. Children are not trophies that enhance the social status of image-minded people, nor are they proxies through whom unhealthy adults can vicariously play out some long-desired fantasy, nor are they  toys accumulated to amuse and entertain bored, frustrated men and women. We should not have children competitively simply to keep pace with or outdo our friends or family members. Parenthood should be much more than the pleasing of potential grandparents or an effort made to stop pressures to “give us some grandchildren.” Added to this list of inappropriate or questionable motives is the apparent intention of some women to “have a child in order to qualify for government welfare assistance.” Hopefully, our soul-searching will not result in these negative motives but will instead reveal a positive perspective that children are indeed “gifts from God” along with an honest desire to provide a healthy home for the ultimate well-being of any children produced from our marriage. The right motivation for parenthood is crucial to a successful parenting journey.
 
 
Preparation is a vital key as we begin our parenting journey. No one embarks on an extended travel adventure without a great deal of “getting ready.” To begin a long journey without relevant roadmaps, travel guides, necessary resources, and contingency plans is to invite major breakdowns, collisions, and failures. Likewise, the wise couple will plan well before initiating their journey down the Parenting Highway. Needless to say, unplanned pregnancies, especially for immature, unprepared couples, create a long list of major problems. Individuals (and couples) who have experienced a “teen pregnancy” can testify to the hardships and challenges that lay ahead for the child himself, the child’s parents, and for the extended family. Without question a child deserves better than to be born in such circumstances. Obviously, the underlying culprit is the presence of selfishness and the absence of self-control on the part of the male and female choosing to have sexual relations prior to a marriage relationship. Couples who “have to get married” (because of a pregnancy) start off their marriage and their parenthood on a very difficult footing. Similarly, a married couple who “gets pregnant” without adequate preparation will encounter many stresses and struggles both in their own relationship and in their roles as new parents.  With these thoughts in mind, let’s begin our exploration of several key areas in which preparation is important.

Preparation about relationship…
 

When I consider the profoundness of parenthood I often recall a statement I heard somewhere along the way:  “There are only two lasting bequests we can leave our children—one is roots, the other, wings.” It seems to me that the “roots” are the foundations that are laid by the parents for the child when the child is young. Strong roots for the child involve a strong marriage relationship for the two parents. (The “wings” describe the child’s abilities to “fly into adulthood.” The process of “launching into adulthood” will be explored in Part Four of this series.)
 
 
With few exceptions the presence of a child will add stress to any marriage relationship. Obviously, an infant or a young child requires tremendous attention and total assistance, meaning that there is much less time and energy left to spend on oneself or on one’s spouse. Thus, the marriage relationship must be in good shape before embarking on a parenting journey. “Good” does not mean perfect, but the marriage needs to be healthy and strong, able to withstand the predictable stresses of parenting. The best thing a husband and wife can do to prepare themselves to be a Pro-parent is to develop their marriage into a strong, healthy relationship! That process requires both time and effort. Clearly, couples need to postpone having children for several years to allow themselves adequate time to “become a couple” and to “mature the marriage.” Anything short of that timeline is an invitation for trouble. Children can test the best of marriages, so an immature or undeveloped marriage is in big trouble from the start.
 
No doubt you’ve heard someone say, “Our marriage is in real trouble, so we’re thinking about having a baby. Maybe a child will pull us all together.”  We regret that the person’s marriage has fallen apart, but the truth is clear:  a baby is not the glue needed to heal a broken relationship! In fact, in all likelihood a baby will only magnify the pre-existing problems and will hasten the total collapse of the marriage. At that point all three people lose. It is OUR responsibility as adults to develop a strong, healthy marriage BEFORE beginning our parenting journey. Once we’ve fulfilled that responsibility we can then welcome the baby into a strong, healthy family, and we’ll be able to provide the foundations (the “roots”) necessary for the child’s growth and development toward the ultimate launch into adulthood.
 
 
In summary, effective parenting requires solid foundations, and such foundations require the presence of a healthy marriage. If your marriage is indeed strong and healthy, your relationship may be prepared for the parenting journey. If not, then it is probably best to delay your parenting adventure until you get your “relationship house in order.”
  
Preparation about resources . . .
 
Successful parenting is indeed a challenge when adequate resources are available to us. The challenge becomes a nightmare, however, when we embark on our parenting journey without sufficient resources. Therefore, the wise couple will prepare carefully to insure the presence of basic resources. The word “resources” probably brings the issue of money to mind, and well it should! The financial cost of having and rearing one child (let alone several) continues to increase. Without wise financial planning a couple will dig for themselves a “debt hole” that will keep them in bondage for many years, perhaps throughout life.
 
 
Clearly, there are no guarantees about financial stability or security, especially in today’s turbulent economy. However, on the most basic level a couple needs to possess the skills and means of earning a consistent salary sufficient to sustain the two of them and the offspring they choose to produce. Having a child prior to the possession of those “skills and means” is an invitation to overwhelming stress. Preferably, the husband and wife will purposely achieve a strong level of financial stability “B.C.” (Before Conception). Unfortunately, many individuals (and couples) give birth to children without adequate means of financial support. Too often these new parents expect their families of origin or society in general (like government programs) to rescue them and take care of them. That lifestyle is inherently irresponsible and inexcusable. We must rise above such selfishness and bring children into this world only when we have the means to support them.
 
 
Financial stability includes good health insurance that will cover a significant portion of the “start-up cost” (medical checkups, labor and delivery expenses, etc.) and that will cover any medical emergencies that might arise. A good insurance policy is a necessary defense against potential catastrophic medical problems that might develop during the pregnancy, the delivery process, and the first few months of the infant’s life. Let’s face it; a few unanticipated and uninsured days in a neo-natal intensive care unit can immediately obliterate the savings account that the couple had hoped would be sufficient. Preparation involves good insurance.
 
 
Needless to say, financial stability includes adequate housing. The term “adequate” does not mean “everything we might want,” but there is at least enough space to allow for “breathing room.” Further, the term does not mean “our parents’ house.” If a couple has to live with either set of parents and be financially dependent upon them, that couple is not prepared for parenthood. The couple needs to be “on their own” and financially ready, even though their housing will probably be much less than what their parents have.
 
 
The issue of resources involves more than money. Most new parents welcome the assistance and encouragement offered by their families and friends. These helpers become a type of “support system” for the new parents that can ease somewhat the stress and strain that are inherent in parenting. For example, grandparents or other trusted individuals can provide child-care services to allow the new parents to rest or to go out on a “date” with each other. Relevant information or helpful advice can be sought from the support system to guide the new parents through the initial part of their journey.    

Preparation about realities . . .
 

Certain realities need to be considered in one’s preparation for parenthood. A failure to recognize these realities usually invites huge problems.
 
 
Reality #1:  “Parenthood will not magically transform my spouse into the kind of person I’ve been wanting.” Expectations of your spouse need to be realistic. If you’re a wife who wants a baby, what do you expect from your husband when he becomes a Dad? As a husband what do you expect from your wife when she becomes a Mom? If your husband is currently (that is, without children) working with you as a team (that is, he is actively involved in the day-to-day running of the household), you could assume that he will continue to function at that level when the child arrives. Alternatively, if your husband comes home from work, plops down on the sofa, and demonstrates very little involvement on the home-front, you cannot expect him to transform into an active, engaged team-player just because there is now a child in the house. You’ll much more likely end up working as a “single parent” without the assistance of your spouse. Realistically, expect your spouse to stay the same as he or she is before children. Now, with that reality in mind, are you willing to become a parent? If any positive changes do occur, so much the better, but please do not make a decision to have a child on the hope or assumption that your spouse will magically change from an uninvolved person to an very involved team member.
 
 
Reality #2:  “We cannot expect to have everything starting out that our parents now have after many years of hard work.” Accordingly, we will be only purchase what we can afford and be content with that. We may not be able to give our children all the material things or activities we might prefer to provide. We’ll show self-control and resist the urge for immediate self-gratification in terms of all the “bells and whistles” (like clothing, electronics, furniture, automobiles, etc.) our culture encourages us to obtain. The desire to enjoy an unrealistic standard of living will be set aside, and we will adjust to whatever standard of living is realistically within our budget as we travel our parenting journey.
 
 
Reality #3:  “The presence of serious health problems or unhealthy personality patterns could mean that we should not become parents.” Unfortunately, some individuals have medical conditions that will understandably hinder or limit their ability to function effectively as a parent. I recall one couple who decided not to have children because they did not want to “pass down” a serious genetic problem to another generation. People who struggle with severe emotional and/or mental problems might do well to refrain from having children. These issues are usually heart-wrenching and mind-boggling to those individuals who really want children. However, reality needs to override preference.
 
 
Reality #4: “I will have less time and attention for me if I become a parent.” Like it or not, parenting is a very time, attention, and energy consuming process. There is less couple time, less travel time, less sleep, less cash, less spontaneity, less “lots of other stuff.” Understandably, the new baby is the “high-maintenance” person who is totally dependent upon his parents for survival. Predictably, the “high-maintenance” husband who demands a lot of attention from his wife is very likely to get hurt and resentful when the exhausted “new Mom” is unable to cater to his whims and wishes. Likewise, women who are “high maintenance” will probably resent the loss of personal time and attention following the arrival of the new center of attention, that is, the baby. If we are not willing to “manage with less” in terms of time or attention, we are not prepared for parenthood. It’s as simple as that!
 
 
These four realties are representative of numerous adjustments that usually accompany us in our parenting journey. Wise couples will try to foresee such adjustments and will make concerted efforts to prepare well for the realities of parenthood.
 
Preparation about responsibilities . . .
 

Parent preparation also involves frank and open discussion about the roles and responsibilities that come with parenting. Couples will do well to spend a great deal of time exploring and sharing their respective beliefs and preferences about parenting. How else will they know whether or not they’re on the “same page” when the children arrive? Unfortunately, most parents appear to do very little of this preparatory work, and, as a result, they wind up as parents who are not even in the same book, let alone on the same page! I’ve seen such parents in therapy who were constantly battling each other about child-rearing, unable or unwilling to talk through and work out differences about training and correcting the children. Without effective teamwork any couple is going to experience tremendous stress as parents, and the entire family will suffer as a result. The time to resolve any significant differences regarding parenting is “B.C.” (that is, Before Conception) and not “A.D.” (After Delivery)!
 
 
Most folks admit that they feel unequipped for many of the responsibilities they face as new parents. Many new Dads and Moms wish that they had prepared better for their journey. Thankfully, many parenting resources are available that can provide practical instruction and personal coaching. Beneficial parenting seminars and classes are usually available through local churches and community groups. Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists are great sources of therapy assistance. The Internet provides a wide variety of online help. These resources can assist couples as they explore and consider their beliefs and preferences about child-rearing. While we are never “perfectly” prepared for parenthood, at least we can work hard “B.C.” (Before Conception) to learn the basic knowledge and skills that will enable us to travel safely and successfully in our parenting journey.

Concluding thoughts . . .
 

I’ve tried in this article to address some of the key elements in our preparation for parenthood. Obviously, there are other topics and issues that are well-deserving of our attention. I’m thankful that you are interested in this preparatory process. As highlighted in this article, parenthood involves a high level of commitment and responsibility. However, there is also a great deal of joy and satisfaction that hopefully emerges throughout our parenting journey.
 
There is great joy in pondering the potential that is inherent within a new child. What will this child become? How will this child impact our world in a positive way? What will this child achieve or accomplish? The answers will not be known until our parenting journey has been completed. I’m reminded of a story about Abraham Lincoln that illustrates this “pondering of potentials.” Although I’m unable to document the accuracy of this incident, the story is that a couple of men were talking together on February 13, 1809 in Hardin County, Kentucky. One fellow asked if anything new had happened recently. The second man thought for a moment before responding. “Well, let me think. No, nothing significant has happened lately around here. The only thing is that a new kid was born last night over at the Lincoln’s house, but nothing else that I know of.” Little did that man know about the potential in that “new kid” born to Thomas and Nancy Lincoln!
 
 
There is great joy in watching a new baby as he grows physically and develops skills. The smiles, giggles, and laughter of a small child can melt the hardest of adult hearts. I remember visiting one time with a new dad. This guy was a huge fellow, a college-level football player, a real hulk of a man. I watched him as he cradled in his two large hands the tiny body of his baby daughter. For her amusement he began making various sounds and displayed a wide range of facial distortions. After a while he looked up at me and admitted, “This is the only thing that can turn a grown man like me into a blubbering idiot.” Those of us who have “been there” can affirm his statement as being true. But, admittedly, there is great joy in being the blubbering idiot!
 
 
Words are inadequate for describing the various emotions and personal experiences that result from parenthood. The process of “becoming parents” will definitely change your lives. In fact, your personal patterns and daily routines will be “shaken up” in ways you cannot imagine or predict.
 
 
I’ll always remember the day I stood in the hospital room eagerly awaiting the arrival of my first child. Shortly before her birth an unusual event occurred. The room began to shake, pictures moved on the walls, and everything seemed unsteady. We were experiencing a literal earthquake, one that in fact was felt far and wide. Following Katherine’s birth we received a congratulatory card from a wonderful couple. The card included a note that the woman wrote: “What a wonderful way to remember an earthquake.” Yes, the earthquake was real—and so was the birth of our baby girl! As anticipated, that little girl was indeed an “earthshaking experience.” Our lives were immediately changed; she shook up our lives in many different ways. But what a joy she was! With her arrival the parenting journey was begun. About seven years later a second joy joined our journey—another daughter, Elizabeth. Both girls were gifts of joy, providing years of fun and excitement. Admittedly, there were a few times of unanticipated uncertainty and predictable problems. We were not surprised, for the parenting journey always includes a mixture of joys and stresses. However, in my case, without a doubt, the joys outweighed the uncertainties and the difficulties. It’s a journey I would embark on again without hesitation, assuming that I could travel the Parenting Highway with the same two girls! Now, years later, both girls are heavily invested in their own parenthood experience; each one is traveling her own Parenting Highway with her husband and children. I wish for them the same level of joy that filled my life as a father, and I hope that their journeys will be safe and successful.  
 
 
Likewise, I wish for you the very best as you consider the plan for your own parenting journey. And I wish you well in all of your relationship journeys.
 
   

                                                                           
 
Other Resources: If you are looking for additional information about parenthood, check out the list of helpful books and relevant websites on the Parenting  category under Resources (from the Home Page), or just click here.

 
 
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                  (Blog:  PC #402)

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