Parenting as a Team in the Early Years

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The day our first child was born I was awestruck looking at him and thought, we made this child, a part of both of us and a whole new person!  A phrase from our Pastor lodged in my heart, “God has given you an eternal soul to be responsible for.” Luke vowed to be an expert at putting baby to sleep, and armed with a swaddling blanket and pacifier did just that. There’s nothing more endearing than watching my husband rocking our son to sleep. He was like our first pet crawling around our cramped apartment floor.

While still in the first years of our marriage, we had three boys in two years. These were wonderful years, but also extremely difficult, Luke and I were often forced apart by the daily struggles of raising children. I was tired, he was impatient. One evening after Luke had disciplined our toddler my facial expression displayed my disapproval, and this frequent scene became too much. “We can’t watch the kids together. Either you watch them or I will!” With this resigned declaration from my husband, I felt absolute failure as a mother.

This was a moment of desperation for me. How could we be a loving couple if we couldn’t parent together? It was hard to manage the kids and feel like we connected with each other, Luke craved time with just me but there was so little! I knew it was vital to learn to connect as a family and as a couple. Luke wanted intensely to be an integral part of our home life, to be able to support me in raising our sons, and to be needed by me. He wanted to walk in the door and be my hero.  As I learned to lean on him, and communicate my needs so he could meet them our relationship blossomed. Becoming aware of what I needed from Luke was the first step in working together. Asking in a humble patient way BEFORE it was a national disaster was the next. My expectation was that Luke would be able to see when I needed help and know how to help without being asked.

We fell into a predictable pattern of Luke being occupied on the computer while I managed the house and kids, then at some point my expression would unavoidably show my frustration, next came, The Offer. “Hey babe do you want me to help you with something?” I always said, “No it’s fine, I got it,” too mad by that point, and too prideful to ask for help in a specific way. Our success in becoming a good team hinged on our ability to express our needs to each other. I learned to ask, and Luke learned how to help me. It was so hard for me to even ask that I went over the sentence, “can you hold him while I make supper?” 50 times in my head before getting it out!

 I also started taking my struggles to God immediately in each angry moment of disagreement. I worked hard to ask Christ to change my heart when I was prideful or controlling. A quite helpful refrain in my head many times went like this, “you do not own him!” We had a common desire to be a unified team and that desire drew us together. We also laughed together at our boys antics, Luke has the endearing quality of laughing out loud at every funny story I tell him. I have always saved the comical parts of my day to laugh over with him each night.

We learned to talk in a way that the other could hear, I listened more, and he plowed through conflict more. Many times when we felt strongly about something or got predictably angry over a certain behavior in our children it went back to our own experiences or our expectations for the future. I had vowed never to marry a hot tempered man that would deal with our kids in an angry manner. If I even felt that Luke was becoming angry at a child I was insanely defensive. We had to talk about these fears and reactions over and over until I trusted Luke’s disciplining to be fair and controlled, and accept that I would have to forgive him when he wasn’t perfect.

In these early years I discovered an amazing secret on endearing our children to my husband’s heart. Make love to him often. When he felt close to me he had the emotional energy to pour into the kids.  This cure had miracle properties! Making time together as a couple with three little boys took enormous creativity and determination. If the baby went to sleep I would have egg cartons for each of them with mini snacks or toys to occupy them, and turn on a kid show for the one kid that would watch TV at that age. Sometimes these efforts to find kid-free time together turned into comedy routines from the ten million interruptions! No matter what it was never wasted effort.

One of the most wonderful routines we have now is bedtime, I kiss each one goodnight and Luke does all the work. This was not a simple or pain free process! A few years ago when he started putting them to bed every night the kids would yell for milk, or sneak out of bed multiple times, Luke would spank them and I hated it! I didn’t want our evenings to end with spankings. We eventually figured out a great system and a better schedule. This was where we practiced communicating about discipline, expectations, and child training. What an incredible gift it is every night to have my husband put the kids to bed while I nurse the baby or drink cocoa!

After six years of parenting practice I love the connection we have as a family and a couple, it’s more than enough motivation to keep communicating and never settle for dysfunction! We have changed for the better raising what is now four sons, these eternal souls given to us by God, it is our journey of joining together.

 

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