When Parents Learn Patience
Many changes come to a family when a child is born. New parents are usually unprepared for the differences in their lives, even with the best advanced warning. Even experienced parents experience shock when a new addition to the family arrives. With each child, I found myself remarking, "I had forgotten how trying a little one can be." Fortunately, there is more than enough joy and excitement with a newborn to make up for the difficult times. You see, with a newborn, it is the parents who have lessons to learn that will prepare them for raising children in the coming years.
We could discuss love, or devotion, or a number of other important topics, but the lesson parents need to learn the most is patience. Parents need patience to deal with the constant and untimely demands of the newborn child. It is not easy to have your sleep interrupted multiple times each night for months on end. A newborn is entirely dependent on you for everything, but he is unable to tell you exactly what is needed, except by the all inclusive word "WAAAAH!!" It may be disturbing to new parents to learn that this need for patience is not just a temporary phase. Parents need patience to deal with the tyrannical three-year-old trying to find the limits of his territory. Patience is also needed to comfort an ailing child when you feel like sobbing inside. It continues during the adolescent years when hormones sometimes make tempers flare over minor things. Does anyone doubt the need for patience when you teach your child how to drive, or when you are waiting up for your daughter to come back from her first big date?
Parents are forced to learn patience with a newborn. The newborn needs to be fed, changed, and played with. This would not be too difficult, but the demands a newborn makes come on the child's time schedule and not yours. It is hard to be loving and enthusiastic at 3 a.m., especially when the last demand was handled at 1 a.m. Time has no meaning to a newborn child. Playtime could happen at two in the morning just as easily as at two in the afternoon. It takes time to instruct a child who cannot be reasoned with that nights are for sleeping and days are for activities. It is this lack of communication that makes dealing with a newborn so frustrating. "Waaah!" (translated as "I'm hungry!") sounds strikingly similar to "Waaah!" (translated as "I'm lonely"). Parents soon develop a mental checklist . Does the diaper need changing? Perhaps he is hungry? Does he want to play or does he just want to be held? Misery is when you get to the bottom of your list and the answer is none of the above!
Every parent comes to the end of his or her wits at some point. We become frustrated at our inability to quiet the child. The important point is what do we do with our frustration. Some parents turn their frustration on themselves. "I'm a miserable parent. Why did I ever want a child? I must have been out of my mind!" Other parents turn their frustrations on their child. "Why can't you be happy!" If you think you are immune to this, remember that these frustrations come on new mothers while their hormones are settling back to their pre-pregnancy state. Postpartum blues are not a myth! The hormone changes frequently cause wild swings in emotions. Fathers are not immune either. The lack of sleep and constant irritating cries keep any parent from thinking clearly and logically. In weak moments, parents ascribe motives to their newborn that cannot exist: "You're just doing this to annoy me" or "You only scream when we sit down to eat. You're trying to keep me from enjoying a meal."
Therefore, every parent needs to learn patience. In I Thessalonians 5:14, we learn that we must be patient with everyone, that includes our own children. Our family is not an exception to the rule. Trials brings about patience through the testing of our faith (James 1:2-4). We often think about this verse in terms of religious persecution, but believe me when I say that handling the demands of a newborn is a trial; sitting up late in the night with a sick child is a trial; waiting for your daughter to get back from her first date is a trail. These trials test our faith. Can we really depend on God's help or do we think we should be able to handle our problems by ourselves? Can we turn to God in prayer and trust God's answer to our pleas? These trials discipline us and train us, but no discipline is fun to endure (Hebrews 12:11). However, in the end, we learn the lesson of peace.
Look at how Peter describes the effects of suffering in I Peter 5:10. Suffering perfects us - in other words, it brings us to maturity. Suffering establishes us - in other words, it plants us firmly in our beliefs. It strengthens us - in other words, suffering helps us to endure whatever comes next in our life. Finally, it settles us - in other words, it makes us level-headed. There is nothing like raising a child to mold two newly married youngsters into level-headed adults. Peter's thoughts read much like Paul's description of older men, who are to be temperate, dignified, sensible, sound in faith, in love, and in perseverance.
Patience is not a natural trait. Some of us start out with more patience than others, but we all must bring our patience to full maturity. Patience is a by-product of following the will of God (Galatians 5:22-23). In all the fruits of the Spirit are characteristics that every Christian parent needs to properly raise godly children. Remember that a servant of God must be gentle to all, able to teach, patient (II Timothy 2:24).
Training a newborn takes patience. "Training, what training?" you may ask. Even with a newborn, there are many lessons to teach. Newborns need to learn the difference between night and day. Every new parent is eager to have their child learn this lesson as quickly as possible. Some children get the hang of it quickly, others may take months or even years to learn to sleep through the night. Our children tended to take 10 months to a year to reach that point. We struggled with envy every time someone would say, "Oh, our Joey slept through the night a week after we got home from the hospital." Take heart, it eventually happens. I suspect a large portion of the problem is a child most grow enough to be able to store enough food to last through the night; we tended to have small children. How do you train a child to sleep at night? Establish patterns or rituals that signal the coming of bedtime. Even adults have difficulty going from full-steam to deep-sleep without some time to slow down and prepare for bed. End each day by reading a story or singing a song. Both of these bedtime rituals will have benefits for your child as they grow older. Have the last feeding in a dim room to signal the end of a day. Also, try to give the child a fixed place to sleep. If you have to do some traveling, bring the child's crib blanket or other items he sleeps with. A child finds the familiar comfortable.
A child also needs to learn that Mom and Dad are loving and dependable. Cries are not ignored forever. This doesn't mean that every time a newborn whimpers, that a parent must drop everything, but no child should be left crying for a long time. Sometimes a child must be left to cry for a little while. A baby must be put down while Mom gets dinner ready, even if the child would much rather play. Even with the best habits, a child will not always be ready to go to sleep at bedtime. Sometimes, when all else fails, you will have to allow a child to cry himself to sleep. These times are very hard on a parent's nerves. There is nothing more grating on the nerves than a small child's cry, especially when it is your baby. However, the child is learning that every problem isn't solved immediately, though problems are eventually worked out. One "trick" that my wife and I learned was to lay our wound-up child down at bedtime and allow him to cry. Eventually, he would start to get tired of crying (even a baby can't go on forever -- even though it seems like it at the time!). You can tell when they get tired by the change in their cry. At that time, one of us would go into the child's room and comfort him until he stopped crying and started to go to sleep. We would then lay the child down. Often this ritual would have to be repeated two, three, or four times in a row, but eventually he would fall asleep. Soon, the child would protest, but would quickly go to sleep just by putting him in bed. The surest way to ruin this training is to give in to the crying and take the child out to play with him. Then he will quickly learn to get his own way just by outlasting his parents.
As I mentioned before, patience doesn't end here. You will need patience while dealing with your children throughout their lives. You need patience to deal with the endless questions a preschooler comes up with. You also need patience to deal with a child's stubbornness, his flights of fancy, or his pleadings for just one more piece of candy. It is easy to forget that it takes time for any lesson to be learned. Writing may come easily to you, but for a little one writing is a major chore. I can easily write a four or five page typed letter in a few hours in the evening, yet I still remember the trauma of writing a ten page report on Scotland in the fifth grade. "Ten pages! How can anyone write ten pages on one subject!" It took me over a month to write that report. Just because a task is easy for you, doesn't mean that the same skill is inbred in your child. My wife constantly wonders why our boys can't be neat -- she was always a tidy person, even when she was young. I just smile and say they take after their Dad. I can't do anything without making a large mess, though I have learned to clean up after myself (well, most of the time).
No child remains a newborn forever. This stage will pass and you will move on to other things and other problems. It may seem odd, but there will be times when you wish they were small once more, when you could hold them in your arms and cuddle them while they were sleeping. For every grief that a newborn gives a parent, God has balanced it with many, many joys and precious moments. Concentrate on these simple pleasures and the trials will move on quickly -- too quickly.
Age 4: "My parents can do anything."
Age 8: "There might be one or two things they don't know."
Age 12: "Naturally, my parents don't understand."
Age 14: "I never realized how hopelessly old fashioned they are."
Age 21: "You would expect them to feel that way; they are out of date."
Age 25: "They come up with a good idea now and then."
Age 30: "I wonder what Mom and Dad think I should do?"
Age 40: "Let's be patient until we discuss it with our parents."
Age 50: "What would Mom and Dad have thought about it?"
Age 60: "I wish I could talk it over with them one more time."
Little Eyes Upon You
little eyes upon you and they're watching night and day.
There are little ears that quickly take in every word you say.
There are little hands all eager to do anything you do;
And a little boy who's dreaming of the day he'll be like you.
You're the little fellow's idol, you're the wisest of the wise.
In his little mind about you no suspicions ever rise.
He believes in you devoutly, holds all you say and do;
He will say and do, in your way when he's grown up just like you.
There's a wide-eyed little fellow who believes you're always right;
And his eyes are always opened, and he watches day and night.
You are setting an example every day in all you do;
For the little boy who's waiting to grow up to be like you.