Matt took a course on family ministry this semester, so we now have a 650 page textbook on the topic. I have been out of school for long enough now that I can read through academic material without my brain and soul shutting down, and as I was flipping through Matt’s textbook (Family Ministry: A Comprehensive Guide by Diana R. Garland), I came across this excerpt which was, shall we say, very timely
Despite what the commercials and movies tell us, love is not a feeling. It is a way we decide to act. We cannot force ourselves to feel love – we can’t force ourselves to feel anything. A baby crying for the third time since parents went to bed may not invoke feelings of love, but parents do not wait to act until they feel like doing the loving thing. Instead, they choose to act in love. In such ways, children “discipline,” or influence, the behavior of parents.
Maybe one of the reasons people think it is wise to wait a while after getting married to have children is not just so you can travel unhindered but because it gives you practice at acting loving when you don’t feel like it. Just as it can be a rude awakening the first time you don’t feel lovey towards your spouse, it can be scary to not feel lovey towards a tiny infant who depends on you for everything. I have a really easygoing baby, an extraordinarily supportive spouse, and a great network of people who sincerely care about me, but there have definitely been times when Torre has needed more from me than I had to give. I expected motherhood to stretch me, and it has, but it has been different than what I expected – both harder and easier than I thought it would be.
What has made it easier than I expected is an abundance of lovey feelings, a decent amount of sleep, and a surprising amount of downtime when Torre naps or other people entertain him. I also have possibly the most charming baby in the history of smiles and coos, so our time together is generally great.
What has made it harder is the times when the lovey feelings aren’t there, eclipsed by frustration or fatigue or restlessness. Garland nails it – feelings simply can’t be conjured up by will. And what has caught me off guard is that the love and wonder I feel toward my son flickers sometimes. In those flickers, while I know that I would do anything for this child (eat live spiders, dive in front of a bus, pay any ransom), I just don’t feel like changing another diaper.
Maybe marriage isn’t so different, because while there is the possibility of negotiating chores or finances, of communicating appreciation or disappointment, sometimes that doesn’t happen, and you are simply left with the choice of how to act.
It has been nice to have this phase of parenting where Torre’s needs are so basic. Since he doesn’t have the cognitive ability to manipulate or deceive, we don’t have to worry about disciplining him yet – our main job as parents is simply keeping him alive, and like I said that is plenty. But it was interesting to realize that before we discipline our son, he is already disciplining us. And we are learning to discipline ourselves for his benefit, which is a fair prerequisite considering all the years we will be responsible for shaping the character of our child(ren).