I have a news flash for you. Parenting is hard. It takes time, patience, prayer and a sense of humor. It also takes common sense. Come to grips with the fact that your life has changed, forever and you will have to adjust your lifestyle.
One of the biggest areas young Christian parents get out of balance in is church. I really am not an anti-church person, so don’t send me nasty messages, rather hear me out.
Single people, and young couples without children often become very active in their church, and that’s ok. When my husband and I first married we were doing something church related every single night of the week, and that is not an exaggeration. Between the two of us we were involved in 12 different ministries. It’s amazing that we ever saw each other long enough to conceive children, ahem.
When I became pregnant with our first child that pace didn’t slow down. I worked full time, went straight to church and put in another couple of hours every night (for free) and then collapsed into bed. It really shouldn’t have been such a surprise when I miscarried. I’d been so busy working for the church that I hadn’t had time to take care of me, or my growing child. The day I miscarried I was working in the preschool classroom. The miscarriage process had started the day before and I’d called around to get someone to cover for me at church, and surprisingly not a single person was willing to fill in “but we’ll be praying”.
When I became pregnant with our second child we went to the pastors and told them that I need to lighten my load in order to be able to physically care for myself and our growing baby. Surprisingly we were told no, and we began to see how out of balance our lives already were, but we wanted to “submit to authority”.
Fast forward to Olivia’s birth and the months that followed. We were still heavily involved in church work, overly so. Olivia spent more time in the church nursery than she did in her own room at home. She was constantly sick and cranky and ill tempered. After she, and several other babies all contracted RSV from a child in the nursery it finally dawned on me that every time she was in the nursery with this other child on Sunday, she was sick by Wednesday. We started keeping her out of the nursery and letting her sit with us during service.
The pastors pulled us into the office “You have to put her in the nursery you’re setting a bad example for the other parents.” WHAT? “If leadership won’t put their babies in the nursery, neither will anyone else, you’re setting the tone.” By now, the mother bear in me had began to raise up. I verbalized that the health of my child took precedence over appearances, and that as a leader I would encourage others to keep their children out of the nursery if they couldn’t afford the doctor bills that followed. I became unpopular.
Without pastoral permission, or approval, I removed myself from several of the ministry areas I’d served in an started staying home with Olivia during the week. I got her into a sleeping schedule, and a more quiet atmosphere and she became a calm, pleasant baby. I became more unpopular.
As time went on I realized that Olivia is very sensitive to sound. Excessively loud music (even church music) would freak her out and send her into a tail spin of nerves and screaming, and take long periods of time to get her calmed down. (Still today at 10 she puts her fingers in her ears during praise and worship because she just can’t handle the blaring sounds.) I began bringing her to church after music had ended or staying in the foyer. My popularity was in the tank at this point, and I was fine with that.
My husband was still working a full time job and busy at the church 6-7 nights a week. Olivia was just 6 months old. She barely knew her father and he and I didn’t really have a relationship anymore. Then it happened, he had a heart attack one night after coming home from church…he was 32 years old. The entire heart attack thing is an amazing story of God’s power, and I’ll share that at another time. My point here though is that he had pushed his body more than it could handle, and he was paying the hefty price. Surprisingly enough, not a single person from church came to be with us during this time, with the exception of the gal who came and took Olivia for me.
Six weeks of cardiac rehab and short term disability almost bankrupted us. I went to work for a temp agency working in a cold storage facility 12 hours a day lifting 50 pound boxes all day, leaving the recovering husband home to care for the baby. Not a single meal was brought to us by church folks, not a bag of groceries, not a pack of diapers. All of our “serving” and “working” in the church and here we were alone struggling to survive.
We sat down with our pastors, and again told them that HE now needed to step down from a few of ministry areas, for his health and the well being of our family. We were again told no. The difference this time was that we didn’t take no for an answer, we informed them that we were not asking for permission, we were telling them. He then joined me in the unpopular camp.
Memorial Day weekend, the year that Olivia turned one was our final breaking point. We’d gone to the church event on Saturday night. Sunday morning we were both scheduled to be on a ministry team. We awoke to find Olivia having an allergic reaction to who knows what. She was swollen and blotchy and looked like a head of cauliflower. We prayed, gave her Benadryl and called the pediatrician, who advised us to bring her to the ER. We called church and told them we wouldn’t be there, we were going to the ER.
An elder from the church called back and told my husband “She can take the baby to the ER, YOU HAVE TO BE HERE.” We resigned from our church that weekend.
We were suddenly uninvited to dinners, parties and events. Unpopular doesn’t come close to describing how it felt. In the long run, it obviously was the best thing for us and our family. When we found a new church we were very guarded with our time commitments. We still are today. It still makes us unpopular.
My point, young parents is simple, don’t allow the demands of others, even the church, to destroy your family. Young children need rest, they need nurturing, training and love. They need a family that isn’t divided constantly.
Remember, God first, family second, others third. GOD first, doesn’t mean being a slave to church or programs. It means having a PERSONAL relationship with God and being obedient to him.
Popularity is highly over rated. Sometimes you will be your own (and only) cheering section. Sometimes you will be your worst critic. Being the parent of young children is a season, it won’t last long. But realize it’s a season that requires YOU to be present.