Bill and Pam Farrel, internationally-known speakers and authors, say it this way: “men are like waffles.” In non-culinary terms, men tend to compartmentalize things…everything in our lives is neatly organized into little squares. We see the different spheres in our lives as separate, and when we plan and process, we focus on one thing at a time. When we are at work, we are in the “work” box, and it isn’t until we come home that we shift gears and enter the “dad” box or the “husband” box.
We are hardwired this way, and it’s for a reason. The way we process makes us productive problem-solvers. When an issue arises, we tackle it swiftly and aggressively, with single-minded drive. Then, we move on to the next problem in line. While this mindset has clear advantages, I often find that a narrow focus is less than helpful in my personal mission to be an excellent husband and dad. My role as the head of my home doesn’t afford me the luxury of digesting the waffle of life one square at a time, and if I insist on dealing with things this way, I end up unproductive and frustrated. And I’m not the only one…my wife, who operates in an entirely different frame of mind, needs me to handle more than one of the many demands vying for our attention at any given second. If I stick to my preferences and only address one issue at a time, many of the important duties of a husband and a father get neglected. Life falls out of balance.
I can say without hesitation that this idea of balance is the most important lesson I have learned in my short six weeks as a dad. Now, more than ever, the ability to multitask has become necessary for survival. I am a full-time college student, and I work part-time both as a math tutor and in construction. These work-related roles are time-consuming, a fact which is only made more obvious by the fact that my family responsibilities have ballooned within the past few months. My wife’s pregnancy, C-section, and recovery, and (of course) a new baby have forced me to refocus my time and energy in a thousand ways. For the task-oriented family man, distractions abound. I do not use the word distractions to imply that the demands of family life are unimportant. On the contrary, the call to care for our families is much more important than the pull of labor or leisure. What I mean to say is that no matter which waffle square we are in, we will (and should!) be required to focus on a dozen other things at the same time. It is crucial that we learn to navigate the new landscape of fatherhood.
I’ve been a father for six short weeks. With that being said, I’m far from an expert in effective parenting. But what I can offer to other new dads is a few guidelines that I wish I had understood a little better when my son was born.
Check your priorities.
The first step in making sure that things stay in order is understanding that order to begin with. The most important pieces of life fall into an established hierarchy, and if this hierarchy is improperly structured, things simply don’t work. Keeping our hearts and minds in step with what is most important will ensure that those things get the most time. God must come first, for so many reasons: His status as Creator, the strength He gives, and the fact that He is the ultimate pattern of fatherhood are just a few. Second only to divine calling is the calling of family: a man’s role as a husband and father is a defining and central element of his identity, and requires the time and energy that that centrality dictates. Work, non-familial relationships, and the other demands of life take a back seat to those big two. Of course, it’s not always so black-and-white as I’ve described it. What happens when the needs of your family pull you in two opposite directions? Prayer, sensitivity, experience, and the advice of good people can help shed more light on things.
Be flexible and stay positive.
Life never goes exactly the way you think it will. Ever. As such, it’s essential to learn to work with the curveballs and try to make the best of situations which might not be optimal. This is especially true for new fathers. The bottom line is that no matter how hard you try, you can’t control what happens. But knowing that, and making sure that even in the midst of the craziness, you keep a good attitude, will work wonders for the outcome. Even more than this, your wife and children will be relying on you to be strong and take the lead. If you crumble under pressure, that security is gone, and chaos ensues. But if you are flexible and maintain a positive outlook, your composure will be contagious, and you will set an optimistic tone for the whole family.
As much as your wife and children depend on you, never entertain the illusion that you can handle it on your own. You will be pushed to new lengths and stretched in ways you never considered. Fatherhood is physically, mentally, and emotionally taxing. You owe it to yourself and to your family to get help. Though your wife will support you and take a major role in keeping things running smoothly, she needs you to be her rock, not the other way around. You won’t be able to rely on her to hold you up. Going to the right places for help will help you, and by extension, your wife and kids. Praying and seeking God daily is the first step. He can help you (and them) in ways that no one else can. Also, assistance from experienced parents is indispensable. Your parents, grandparents, siblings, and trustworthy friends will provide guidance and a helping hand.
Even though I haven’t been a dad for long, I feel that these guidelines will be of service to men who are experiencing the same things I have been. Hopefully, these truths will make it easier to embrace a foreign (but necessary) way of thinking, help new dads avoid the mistakes I made, and promote that essential balance that brings the world into order.
I’d like to end this post in the spirit of learning from the experiences of others, both for myself and for other new dads. For the fathers out there who have been at it many years, would you consider throwing out some tips to newbies? Specifically, if you could give one piece of advice to help new dads avoid parenting mistakes or issues, what would it be? Tweet your responses to @GetConnectDad, and share your hard-earned wisdom. Many thanks!