Q: Do kids really change your life -- and your marriage -- as much as people claim they do? My spouse and I have been thinking about starting a family, but we're nervous about "taking the plunge."
Jim: The short answer is yes. Children will change your life. In the beginning it will be mostly interrupted schedules and loss of sleep. Later on, you'll encounter potty training, discipline and the first day of school. Before you know it, you'll be saving for college and giving up a new car for braces.
The more important question, though, is the one you didn't ask: Are the changes worth it? Here again I have to say yes! Kids will cause big changes. But they also add a new dimension of joy and fulfillment you can't find anywhere else. So, if you're assuming that parenthood is so unpleasant that you should abandon those plans, I'd encourage you to think again. Children are more than just a responsibility and a blessing. They're also an opportunity to learn, grow and experience adventures you haven't yet dreamed about.
There are some things you can do to cushion yourselves from the shock. Start by being prepared to adjust your assumptions. You need to be open to letting go of your desire to be in control. There are many unforeseen challenges of parenthood, and you'll have to give up some of your usual activities in order to provide the structure your children need.
You'll also need to be ready and willing to make sacrifices. The truth is you'll lose some of your freedoms if you choose to be parents. If you and your spouse can't picture making sacrifices, this may not be the right time to have kids. That can lead to resenting your child because of the things you gave up for their sake. If you're thinking of taking the parental plunge, move forward with your eyes wide open -- remembering that most parents find the joys well worth the sacrifices.
While you're adjusting, remember to give your marriage the attention it needs and deserves. When kids come along, you'll have to work harder at keeping your relationship strong and healthy. When you are intentional about connecting, you'll grow as a couple. You'll still need outlets such as dating and spending time with friends, but they'll look different than in the past. If finances are tight, try window-shopping, hiking or coffee at the kitchen table. The important thing is that you're together -- and that you don't spend the whole time talking about the baby.
Be prepared to lose sleep. During your child's infancy, you may have to get up several times a night. During this stage, both of you are likely to be sleep-deprived, so be ready to see each other at your worst. When the two of you are required to fill the roles of full-time parents and spouses, your flaws will probably surface more often. So keep your eyes open, and decide now to make your spouse's needs more important than your own.
Take heart: If you're courageous enough to tackle the challenge of raising kids, things will get easier eventually. The demands of parenting change throughout a child's lifespan. As they get older, sleeping through the night may become more common, but there will still be new challenges. Parenting will never be stress-free, but there's a deep satisfaction that comes from watching your children grow and change, and developing an adult friendship with them.
Obviously, we can't touch on every aspect of this question in a brief response of this nature. If you'd like some extra guidance from our counselors, I invite you to call them at 1-855-771-HELP (4357), or visit FocusOnTheFamily.com.
Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at www.jimdalyblog.com or at www.facebook.com/DalyFocus.
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