Have you noticed how many reasons there are to not start your family? Everything from scary headlines and falling home values to career and travel plans that conspire against the little voice that says maybe this is the the time to have a baby. Is that voice your possible child speaking?
If you need some reasons to get started, this is the place. Following is the second in our series of interviews with people we look to as family-formation mentors. This week, pastor and author Kevin DeYoung talks about having kids early. It’s soul-shaping, exhausting, and fun.
What surprised you most about becoming a parent?
We were surprised by how tired we got and the time involved. With three kids now (and a fourth on the way) we think, “why did we feel so exhausted with one child?” But there is nothing as dramatic as the transition from zero to one.
Overnight your schedule is no longer your own. We couldn’t go on walks whenever we wanted. We couldn’t leave the house without thinking it through. Of course, we were also surprised at how immediately you love this new member of the family and how gladly you center your life on him or her for those first few months.
How has having children affected your marriage?
We were only married nine months before Trisha got pregnant, and only 18 months before having children. So it’s hard to remember what it was like without children. We have no regrets whatsoever with having children sooner rather than later. There are plenty of frustrating days, but the joy our kids bring more than makes up for them. Of course, having children means less time for just the two of us. It means that our relationship focuses a lot on taking care of the kids. It means that my wife often feels like a mother before she feels like a wife. But having kids also means we have a house full of laughter. It means we get to share this massive discipleship project together. It means, on some days, that we need each other for survival.
How has having children affected your relationship with God?
On the negative side, it’s harder to set aside ample time for prayer and meditation. Our kids have also been God’s means of showing us our impatience and anger. On the positive side, I (Kevin) have learned a lot about the Fatherhood of God in experiencing what it’s like to be a father. Trisha has learned about humility and the constant need to die to yourself. We also have been motivated to pray, realizing that we cannot control their lives, nor ensure their physical or spiritual safety. Having children is about giving yourself away every day.
What have you learned through the highs and lows of starting a family?
The craziness and frustration of parenting is a struggle, but after the kids are in bed for a half hour, the angst subsides and you wonder why you were so worked up. The highs are manifold: watching the kids play together, wrestling on the floor, teaching them to read, hearing them pray, singing with them.
Did either of you have any unusual cravings during pregnancy?
Trisha gets a hankering for red meat. I (Kevin) really enjoy this aspect of her pregnancy! She suddenly is interested in burgers, hot dogs and other protein-rich man-food. She also has had cravings for sweet tea and chocolate chip cookies (but that may just be part of life).
What’s the most annoying toy or children’s show or video that parenthood has brought into your life?
Bob the Builder is really lame, as are many of the PBS cartoons. But for the most part we only get the kids toys and videos that we also like (now that’s some good parenting!). Trisha would like to add that we have no personal animosity toward Bob, Scoop, Muck, or Dizzy. The stories are just pretty uninteresting.
When do you find time to read, blog, and write as a parent?
As a pastor I get to read for my job. The church has given me a four week study leave each year, so that affords wonderful time for reading and writing. I also read once the kids are in bed or when I’m traveling. The bathroom works too. I love to read, so I’m usually reading during even the smallest breaks during the day. Trisha has found it harder to read, but she manages once in awhile before bed. Trisha and I hardly watch any TV, so when the kids are in bed and the house is clean (which is late at night sometimes) we are either talking or reading together (or I’m at a meeting).
What advice would you give a couple considering starting a family?
While we recognize that every situation is different, in general we are big proponents of starting your family early. Trisha has said, “You may regret the things you lose in the process, but you never regret the children you have.” We would say to most couples: don’t wait. The transition will get harder as the habits of being without kids get more ingrained. Plus you never know what your health will be or how long the woman will be able to have children (if the couple is able to conceive). Children are a blessing. They sanctify you and can make your marriage stronger every bit as much as, or more than, living five years on your own can do.
Kevin DeYoung is the husband of Trisha and Dad of Ian, Jacob and Elizabeth. A graduate of Hope College and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, he co-authored Why We’re Not Emergent: By Two Guys Who Should Be and Just Do Something: How to Make a Decision Without Dreams, Visions, Fleeces, Open Doors, Random Bible Verses, Casting Lots, Liver Shivers, Writing in the Sky, etc. Kevin is the senior pastor at University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Mich., across the street from Michigan State University.