The best gift a dad can give
Colin Gruetzmacher awaits the imminent arrival of his third child, and realises his presence is the best gift he can offer his family.
Three-and-a-half weeks! As of writing this article, that’s how many weeks we are away from Baby Number Three’s grand entrance. That’s less than a month before we’re thrust back into the world of newborns. A foggy world I only vaguely remember because my sleep-deprived mind has repressed so much of it. But the fast-approaching due date has made me reflect on my parenting approach in anticipation of Round Three.
When Leo was born, I was so overwhelmed by the massive sense of responsibility. I just couldn’t believe that an immature juvenile like myself was trusted to keep another human being alive. (I still wonder whether there should have been some licensing test for this!) Because of my deep insecurity, I parented Leo as though he was the stereotypical eldest child. I did my best to make him perfect. We set up routines and had high expectations of good behaviour. I was quick to pick up on anything and to make sure that he was kind to his sister. In the midst of all that, I tried to leave some space for him to have fun as well.
Cora, our second baby, was a totally different experience because so much of our parenting of her was based on survival. She was colicky and had silent reflux, so she cried a lot and was difficult to comfort. As a dad, I just did whatever I could to get through to the next day. Both my wife and I kept trying to figure out what would fix the problem. What could we do to make it right? What sign had we missed that would make it easier? Even now, years after those tough early months, I can feel myself wanting to fix things and trying to figure out how to minimise her toddler tantrums.
So from doing it ‘by the book’ to trying to fix everything, how am I now going to parent Number Three? What will I do differently this time, if anything, to get it ‘right’?
Honestly, I’m working to let go of a lot of those expectations. If my first two kids taught me anything it’s that I can’t parent perfectly. I won’t be able to simply apply the same rules and techniques to all three. If I do, I’ll end up coming down on things I shouldn’t, while ignoring things I should address. I’ll feed them the wrong food and affirm the wrong behaviours. My own insecurities will cause me to miss signals and stuff up opportunities to love and encourage my children. What I’m beginning to understand, however, is that what I can give is not perfection – it’s simply my presence.
I can be there. In those early mornings: I may not be fully awake, but I can get up and make porridge. In the midst of the toddler tantrum: I may not have the right words to diffuse it, but I can be there to give hugs as the emotion subsides. As we struggle to get bubs to sleep: I may not lovingly respond to my wife’s query as to whether I had burped the baby enough, but I can offer to take the next shift so my wife can sleep. During the evening dinner rush: I may not always keep calm as I field yet another toddler complaint about why it isn’t pizza, but I can apologise later as we read stories before bed. As a dad, I know I can’t do everything – but I can be there.
So how will I parent Number Three? Who knows? I don’t yet know whether she’ll be an easy sleeper or whether we’re going to be up all the time. I don’t know what feeding will be like or whether she’ll be colicky. I don’t know how Cora is going to react to losing her spot as the baby of the family, or how Leo will grow in his big-brother role. What I do know is that I can be there for it all.
I can love my family. I can do my best and apologise when I get it wrong. I can ask for advice and listen to their thoughts. And I can be there with them, for them, for the long haul. And when it comes down to it, I think that’s enough.
Colin Gruetzmacher is the pastor of Golden Sands Baptist Church. He lives in Tauranga with his wife and three young kids.
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AS FEATURED IN ISSUE 47 OF OHbaby! MAGAZINE. CHECK OUT OTHER ARTICLES IN THIS ISSUE BELOW