Five Tips To Help Your Marriage Survive A New Baby

Big Face & Bow - Allie Smiling, SmallA co-worker with a six-month old is pretty bleary-eyed these days. His child just doesn’t sleep well. How I remember those long nights of interrupted sleep, on and off, sometimes waiting for the alarm clock just to be spared the pain of another cry from the baby! While he has other children, Leland’s dilemma brought to mind these tips I offered to new fathers, in particular, in my book, First Time Dad:

1.   Stay connected with your wife. Make room in your schedule for daily talk times and weekly dates. Do things together as a family. Hang out at the park with parents who also have younger kids. Develop routines like Thursday night pizza, or Sunday afternoons. Take family hikes or bike rides.

2.   Remember your wife is not your enemy. She is the love of your life, and you need to treat her as the shining jewel that she is for you. So don’t get angry with her. Don’t blow up when she is exhausted and needs you to really help out. Extend lots of grace. Follow the Scriptural admonition to be “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” James 1:19 NIV

3.   Remember this child is not your enemy. You love this little baby, really, you do! So don’t for a minute think that she is an enemy to your marriage. Yes, she will demand a lot of you and she will extract a lot of your wife’s energies and attentions. But she’s your child, and you have a tremendous responsibility to raise her well. It’s your job to allow her needs to dictate a lot of your life’s choices and activities – for now. And that’ll impact your marriage.

4.   Share the load. Now is the time to show your wife you love her by sacrificing your pride – or your stubbornness – and really stepping up the contribution you make to her life. Clean the kitchen, or her car. Empty the trash. Change that baby’s diaper. Make dinner. Those domestic duties that you’ve let her handle need to be shared, as she is pretty tired from being a Mom. That means you have to come alongside her and help. Look around, find practical things that need to be done, and get to work. Trust me, your wife will notice, even if she doesn’t say anything right now.

5.   Get some sleep. Suggestion: Take turns wearing earplugs. Seriously. Buy some Mack’s Silicone Earplugs and learn to love ‘em! I didn’t want to consider these things, but Dena started using them and it became apparent that she was sleeping well – while I didn’t, because our son kept waking me up during the night. So when you are desperate for sleep, wear earplugs. Alternate turns, so at least one of you gets a good night of rest, every night.

That last item is a tip I’m still using from time to time even though our children are older.

How about you: Any tips you’d add to this list? What advice do you have for a new dad…or even an experienced father who isn’t getting enough sleep?


Character, Compassion

My wife asked our youngest daughter the other day, “What do you think character means?” Tauvi replied, “Its who you are when no one is looking.”

I think my daughter got it right. If my kids will make good choices and behave well when no one is looking, they’ll show some character.

Abraham Lincoln once famously said,

“Reputation is the shadow. Character is the tree.”

Our character is not just what we try to display for others to see, it is who we are even when no one is watching. Good character is doing the right thing because it is right to do what is right.

Dictionary definitions of character usually reflect an understanding of an individual’s inner qualities, intangibles that are sometimes rarely revealed. These often include things like honesty, loyalty, courage, integrity, compassion, commitment and devotion

At times, a person’s character is on display. Circumstances reveal those previously hidden attributes. Usually, difficult situations cause our true character to become very apparent to those around us. Almost always, we attach a positive value to our definition of character. If a person lacks these positive values, we suggest they “lack character.”If asked, most folks would agree that good character involves positive traits like integrity, honesty, loyalty, and dependability. These qualities transcend time, nationality, race, and gender.

Here’s how the United States Air Force Academy defines character:

…the sum of those qualities of moral excellence that stimulate a person to do the right thing, which is manifested through right and proper actions despite internal or external pressures to the contrary.

Some have suggested that character is the foundation for all true success. I’d agree. A person may have money, position, or power, but unless he has “good” character he or she is not considered to be truly successful.

Where is character acquired, or learned? The primary place is in the context of family. School, Scouts and sports can help develop a child’s inner qualities, but it is in the family such attributes are cultivated, refined and ultimately brought out. It’s YOUR job as a parent to help develop character in your child.

There are many aspects to character. Conviction to do the right thing. Even when nobody is looking! And how about curiosity…something that leads to discovery and adventure? Let me suggest one other character quality you’ll likely want your child to have as he or she grows up: compassion.  A desire to help others in need, doing right for those less fortunate.

What does it mean to be compassionate? In my mind, it means to care for those who are hurting, powerless and in need of assistance. That’s something I want to see in each of my kids. As they demonstrate true “other-centered” hearts, they reflect the heart of God and reveal an inner quality that is desperately needed in this world.

How do my wife and I try to cultivate compassion in our kids? Well, we’ve attempted to model it. Let me share a quick story about how that worked on a cross-cultural trip we took as a family.

The flights to South America were the realization of my wife’s long-time dream of a family service project. We traveled with two other families, and our entourage included six adults and thirteen children. We centered our activity on an orphanage in Ayacucho, Peru, where we spent most of our time loving on some precious children who had experienced a lot of difficulty in their short lives. These kids had no family, but they were a family, living together and developing bonds through their common pain. Their struggles and challenges in life had been overwhelming, in many ways. But as a small group of survivors they had a lot of shared experiences and had become close.

It was really gratifying to see my children interacting with the orphans. Upon our arrival, they instantly – and intuitively – knew that physical touch was important to the young residents of Casa Luz. They scooped up the littlest ones, hugging and holding them. When the older children came in from school, our kids engaged them in conversation – through some mangled Spanish and English translating – and some football (soccer) on the patio.

Despite the language and cultural differences, those of us from the States enjoyed watching our children reaching out to the kids who were disadvantaged in so many ways. There were bonds formed between them that remained in place long after we left Peru. I was pleased that all the kids in our entourage showed compassion. They looked out for and into the lives of the children we visited. They didn’t consider themselves better than the orphans – in fact, they realized how privileged we are in America and how little those Casa Luz kids really had. This wasn’t pity –this was compassion at work. And it came from their heart. That kind of attitude and openness to others is what I want for my children. I desire that they let go of inhibitions that might keep them “safe” from uncomfortable situations and to actively express love and care to others. Even when they are thousands of miles away from home and nobody is looking.


Ways You Make A Difference, Dad

In his book It’s Better to Build Boys than Mend Men, Truett Cathy cites startling statistics which show that kids from fatherless homes face a world of hurt and trouble (and maybe you know firsthand about this kind of heartache). These children are:

Aren’t those disturbing statistics?

And yet, there’s hope…when a dad shows up and gets involved in his kid’s life. Everything changes then! Dad, you have an influence to help your child avoid the difficult life choices that so many fatherless boys and girls have made.

In my book, First Time Dad,  I suggest some easy ways to spend time with your son or daughter – time that’ll make a difference in his or her life. Things like:

And the list can go on and on. These don’t have to be big getaways, or super-fancy celebrations. Just time together, so you are THERE and INVESTING.



Quick Thought: Aiming As A Parent

How much thought did you give to the day’s activities? And did your planning include ways to show your kids you care?

Far too often we don’t make the effort to really influence our children. We sort of “let life happen.” Let me suggest a better approach: being intentional. It’s something you can start doing today.

Being an intentional parent isn’t rocket science. It doesn’t require lots of money. It does require some choices and some work, though. It just means that you “AIM” for an end-goal.

Financial planners often remind us to set some goals for our retirement “nest egg.” That’s often easier said than done. But it is great advice for both your finances…and your family. So today, think about 10 or 15 years from now, and the child who will then be grown and leaving home. Will he or she do so with assurance of your love, with rich memories of your time? With that end-goal in mind, you can better aim your energies and activities.

What target have you aimed at, as a parent, if any?

(By the way, for some easy tips you can start putting into practice today, stop by Focus on the Family’s “Make Every Day Count” Facebook page. It has some great ways to show you care!)


Your Most Important Job

When my son Dakota was 8, he began exhibiting some troubling behavior. He seemed anxious and easily upset. We had a difficult time controlling him, and couldn’t figure out why. Did he have anger issues? Why was he so agitated and ornery? What could we do?

In fact, it got so bad my wife and I sought professional help. The child psychologist listened, asked questions and then offered some insight.

“It is pretty obvious that Dakota misses his daddy,” she said. “You are extremely busy, John,  and now you’re seeing the external signs of the internal stress your son is experiencing.”

I was stunned by the revelation. After all, I worked for Focus on the Family and knew how to be a good parent! But, sadly…I wasn’t around enough to be the dad my boy needed.

At the time I was pursuing a master’s degree on top of logging 50 hours a week at my job. I hadn’t realized, however, what a large price my kids were paying for my absence.

That visit with the counselor prompted me to make an extra effort to tell my children how much I loved and missed them when I was gone. I was also determined to be more available – especially for Dakota – until their bedtime, leaving my graduate classwork for later in the evening.

The emotional healing took years, but I’m grateful that it DID happen. I had the opportunity to correct my mistake while my kids were still young. Today we have a great relationship.

For most of us, the task of balancing work and home life poses the greatest of all challenges. Men typically begin building their careers just as they’re becoming fathers. They feel an immense pressure to perform on the job even while they should be turning their attention to home.

All too often, work wins out.

What is it that makes the pull of work so irresistible? Famed Christian scholar C.S. Lewis suggested that

It is tiring and unhealthy to lose your Saturday afternoons (when you go into work, even though it is a day off), but to have them free because you don’t matter (in your work-world), that is much worse.

There are many reasons why a father will trade work for time with his kids, but a fear of being deemed insignificant is, sadly, very high on the list.

It’s easy to be drawn to work and the sense of accomplishment and completion that it provides. At the office, there’s your checklist, meetings and more. On the job site, you make things happen and manage the crew. These settings give you opportunities to measure your effort and output — and to feel competent and significant.

Fatherhood, on the other hand, rarely offers measurable results or clear indicators of success, and the real payoff for all the work of parenting may not come for many years. Being a dad is full of unquantifiable challenges, and its often easy to feel like you’re just not measuring up.

If you hope to fight the irresistible pull of work, you’ve got to recognize these dynamics and take the long view of your parenting task. See that your role as a dad is irreplaceable, and that it’s the most significant work you can do, even if it doesn’t always feel like it.

So, here’s your challenge: What’s one way you can be more involved in your kids’ lives? It can be a simple calendar-adjustment, or a commitment to spend more time just hanging out them. Or maybe it’ll require something more dramatic. The question for you is this: How will you show your kids that being their Daddy is your favorite job? Even more important to you than your “day job?”

Believe me: The results of your on-going, active engagement at home may not be immediate, but your work THERE as a Dad is probably far more profound and longer-lasting than anything you can accomplish at the office.


Recovering Your Sleep

We had been married almost four years when three simple words, “It’s a boy!” changed our lives. While I embraced my new role as a first-time dad, there were some cgallenges that came along with the new responsibilities.And those were mainly in the realm of our marriage.

Overnight, it seemed our date nights, romance and talk-time were history—at least that’s how I felt at the time.

As new parents, we were overwhelmed, exhausted, and insecure. We kept waiting for life to return to “normal,” but it just never did.

After two more kids, life began to really spin out of control. In the midst of the chaos, our ultimate romantic fantasy was eight hours of uninterrupted sleep.

I’m not kidding.

A strong desire for sleep, not romance, is what David and Claudia Arp recalled about the time surrounding their first baby. The Arps are counselors who have written about having a good marriage—which, they contend, is possible — in spite of having a new baby. Truth is, our experiences were universal. Most new parents feel like they’ve been blindsided by their baby. Maybe that’s you?

David and Claudia Arp have boiled down their advice for new parents into several healthy habits. Here are a few of their suggestions for the sleep-deprived couple who love being new parents but are in need of some helpful perspectives:

1. Be deliberate in sharing responsibilities: Every family is different, but it’s important to make sure one parent, usually the mother, is not the new baby’s sole caretaker. If she is bearing the brunt of it, a wise man offers to shop, cook, and clean around the house. Teamwork!

2. Develop healthy sleep habits: Without proper rest, all parents, including the new mom and dad, grow edgy and irritable. They don’t think clearly. Try to establish a routine that will allow each parent to get some uninterrupted rest. Granted the first few weeks will be tough, but things should eventually  even out. (A practical tip here: trade turns using Mack’s “Pillow Soft” silicone earplugs. They take a bit of getting used to, but when you wake up in the morning refreshed because the baby didn’t wake you, you’ll soon enough become a believer. After weeks of recovering her precious sleep, Dena convinced me to “take a turn” and I’ve never looked back. At least one of us got some sleep!).

3. Find time for each other: One of my biggest mistakes was assuming I was done with dating my wife. Ironically, there is probably no better time to be deliberate about dating your spouse than after a new baby arrives. Plan ahead. Get a babysitter, even if it’s for an hour’s walk around the neighborhood.

I’m grateful to the Arps for their wisdom, and hope you’ve gotten a tip or two to help in the early days of being a new dad or mom.


Time + Internet = …?

One of our favorite camping spots…away from it all, surrounded by Colorado beauty. Ah…

Too much time + internet + too much media + bad choices.

I’ll explain that non-scientific formula in a moment, but first, a reflection on the long lost days of summer.

It…is over. Hard to believe, and maybe it hasn’t yet hit you, but by all indications summer is over and it is the start of another school year.

What characterized YOUR summer? For our family, it was a wonderful season of camping, travel, visitors, ballgames, yard projects, lazy days, and many moments of fun. Much for which to be thankful, and many moments from which to learn.

There were also some sobering moments like the Waldo Canyon fire, which affected so much of Colorado Springs directly or indirectly (fortunately, we were not evacuated nor did we have an fire/smoke damage). One of the season’s hail storms flooded our basement. Then the awful Aurora shootings which left many wounded or dead, including a family friend who suffered several gunshots. During these crises we prayed and tried to listen to God’s voice in the midst of chaos and loss.

Along the way, there was also a matter we had to address, as parents, that is related to the little formula above. In the waning weeks of the summer we learned of unauthorized media activity, in our home, by some of our kids. It was a case of too much time, an extra computer, not quite enough oversight and some online wanderings.

As a parent, it is a sad thing to see your children stumble – and to realize you might have been a little lax. We do have protections in place, and it seems that the kids – this involved more than one of them – didn’t view anything particularly vulgar. Still, the behavior was disturbing both because of the actions themselves and also because of the heart behind them. While we have addressed these things initially, I suspect there is more to plumb in the coming weeks.

Getting my children to understand the “why” that drives their choices is our end-goal. As parents, we want to help them learn the inner voices that should be listened to, and those which they need to ignore or even run away from. As we’ve talked this through, there was a sense of justifiable indulgence for some of the choices. Also, a curiosity about media offerings that “everybody else” is talking about. And finally, a lack of discernment about the effects, both short- and long-term, of media habits.

So summer is over, but a couple of my children are entering the school year with a “media probation” in place. They’ll be paying for their poor summer-time choices with a severe lack of online access. I told them that we’re giving up some bad habits, and that it’ll take a while for those to be replaced with positive patterns. They’ll have to rebuild a certain level of trust before being able to freely use the web again. It’ll mean less “screen time” and more family game time, more reading and more walks around the block. That’s a good thing, I think.

A word of warning, too, for those who think their kids are safe: Not really. Even filtering, regular usage monitoring and keeping the computer in a public place in the home can’t keep a child totally safe. That said, there are some smart things for every parent to consider, posted here. You’ll find articles, links and more there. Focus on the Family is committed to helping you do all you possibly can to keep the home environment pure.

Finally, my friend Andy Braner has a new book coming out about the false sense of connection that many teens encounter when they are heavily involved in social media. It won’t be out for a couple of months, but you can read more and download the first chapter here.  Andy wrote this book for young people to better understand that the only real connection they’ll find is with the God of the universe. It will be worth getting, reading and then sharing with your teen.



24 Years of Fatherhood

Today I want to shift the spotlight – about parenting, really – to my wife. She is a wonderful woman, and has been an inspiring wife for 27 years. Today, she did something that reminded me about her deep mother’s heart – and the reason I love her so much, and why I like being a dad so much.

Some background: My wife updates her Facebook page a few times a year. A Year! Really. Today, though, she posted something that made me tear up. It’s short yet very poignant…

“24 years ago today I learned several things: the depth of my parents love for me; how possible it is to let go of “self” and think of someone else first; the incredible worth of every human being; and that the God of the universe loves me more than I could ever imagine.

All this from a newborn… with much, much more to come. Happy Birthday Dakota!

I love you,


That is quite touching! Let add my own “Happy Birthday!” to our oldest child, who turned 24 today. (What a privilege to be your dad!)

And…thanks, God, for that boy – and his wonderful Mom.  What a terrific journey it has been so far.



Lessons Learned About Being A Good Dad

As we approach Father’s Day, some reflections about parenting lessons I learned from my own dad:

Time – My dad used to have me work alongside him in the garage or yard. That wasn’t easy, as I was lazy and not particularly interested in doing the job well. But he involved me anyway, just to spend time with me.

Advocacy – I’ll always remember the time in grade school when Dad stood up when a teacher made a hurtful comment about me in front of the class.

Laughter – Our evening meal times were frequently punctuated by a joke or humorous story. Some of my best childhood memories are of funny moments at the dinner table.

Correction – sometimes gently, other times not-so-much, my Dad was a disciplinarian. He gave me boundaries. He taught me how to live well.

Modeling – As I was growing up, my Dad lived out his convictions. He had set moral guidelines, and along with teaching those to us, he modeled them daily.

Sacrifice – My dad had some hobbies as I was growing up, but they didn’t keep him away from home a lot. In fact, his love for model trains was something that kept him at home in the basement, and  we loved being down in the “train room” with him.

Those are just some of the qualities my own father has passed on, primarily through example. I dedicated my book, First Time Dad,  to Thomas L. Fuller,

“for modeling in word and deed how to be a good dad.”

How about you? What lessons did your father teach you about parenting? Leave a comment here or on Facebook. I’ll randomly select one commenter to receive a copy of First Time Dad.

(By the way, I’m pleased to announce that First Time Dad is now available in audiobook form. That’d be a great instant Father’s Day gift! Just download and put it on a flashdrive or CD for a new dad.)

Your Great Father’s Day Gifts?

It’s a fact. In our household, most holidays and “greeting card occasions” are not celebrated with great fanfare. We do observe most of them, but only birthdays, Christmas and Easter warrant much attention. It’s not that we’re party poopers, although my kids my think so at times. Really, it is a pragmatic matter. We have six children, and we’d be broke if we went out to eat or had a big to-do every time it is “National Second Cousin’s Day” or “National We Can’t Believe We Didn’t Think To Honor Zucchini Gardeners Day” or “Middle Children Are Special Sunday.” We’d be broke if we spent a couple of bucks on every special occasion.

On that note…it’ll soon be Father’s Day (have you noticed the sales already?). This isn’t the same kind of sentimental, tear-in-your-eye observation as Mother’s Day. In our culture there is affirmation for fathers, but not the emotional expressions we show moms. I’m good with that.

Reflecting on my past, I’m sure my mom was behind many of the Father’s Day purchases and gifts given to my dad as I was growing up. I do recall making things for my dad as a boy – seems like we sometimes used macaroni noodles, glue, construction paper and spray paint.  Or we’d go find a new key fob for him, or the traditional new wallet. Over the years there were “coupons” fore a car wash, a chore done in his honor, or hand-made cards. As we’ve gotten older, there have been gift cards, tools, a meal out or an audio book.

I’ll admit that as time has passed, finding that special something for my Dad becomes harder. What do you give a guy that seems to have everything he needs, and buys what he wants to have? What in the world can I get him that says, “I love you, Dad, and thanks for everything?”

Can you relate?

As for me, I’ve tried to downplay the whole Father’s Day gift thing, but still they see the day approaching and they want to do something for me. I’m glad for their affection and love. I really don’t desire much to be reminded of the wonderful job I’ve had as their dad. A very meaningful gift for me is a home-made item. Nothing special. And maybe an extra hug. I don’t expect big items, but if there was something I had in mind…I’ve probably already purchased it and have it in the closet waiting to be “gifted” on Father’s Day.

Are you struggling to find YOUR dad something meaningful this year? Is he like many men who, only a few weeks before Father’s Day, come home with a new tool, electronic gizmo or nick-knack that you would’ve been happy to give them as a gift? And if you’re a dad, are you guilty of doing that?

So tell me, what gifts have you’ve given to your father that have made Father’s Day extra special? Was it a surprise, a hand-made item from the heart, or maybe the computer of his dreams?

And if you are a dad, what gifts from the past stand out as most memorable, or (hint hint) would you hope to receive this year?

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