How does the gospel prepare expectant parents?

Part 1 of an interview with
Rob and Stephanie Green,
Authors of Tying Their Shoes

It is not hard to find books that speak to the physical, emotional and mental effects of pregnancy and parenting an infant, but what about the spiritual side? In the uncertainty of all the changes to come ahead, spiritual preparation for expectant parents is sometimes placed on the back burner. In their new book, Tying Their Shoes: A Christ-Centered Approach to Preparing for Parenting (New Growth Press), Rob and Stephanie Green reveal just how important it is for soon-to-be parents—both biological and adoptive—to look to Jesus as the ultimate resource and hope for parenting. The husband and wife writing team are able to offer both a father’s and mother’s perspective on gospel-focused parenting.

Like most expectant parents, the Greens began their journey to parenthood looking for resources to guide them along. While they found books on what to expect from the medical side and child development, what they didn’t find were any resources to prepare them spiritually. “We needed to understand how God’s grace was going to help us every step of the way. We needed to see God’s grace in the days when everything was going according to plan. And we needed to see God’s grace when the day was crashing.”

Q: Share with us a little bit about why the two of you decided to write Tying Their Shoes.

Like many expecting parents, we wanted to be as prepared as possible for this new stage of life. We knew there would be many things we would have to learn after our child was born. After all, having children brings change, and each child is different. We also believed there were some things we could do and could learn to help us prepare. We did the best we knew at the time, but never found a resource we thought would help us address the issues of our hearts.

Now we are more than 20 years removed from that day and have watched many young couples add members to their families and have seen them experience challenges. Given my (Rob’s) first book, Tying the Knot, has been helping many couples, we decided we might serve couples and the church as a whole if we provided some biblical guidance to encourage expecting couples.

Q: How does having the perspective of both parents make Tying Their Shoes a uniquely helpful book?

Sometimes parents prepare separately. We wanted something couples could do together. It could be part of their weekly date. It could mean they turn off their TV and spend some focused time with one another. Since we have both Rob’s voice and Stephanie’s voice it will be easier for both parents to believe there is value for each of them.

For example, we often think labor and delivery is information only for the woman. Without question, learning about labor and delivery is a great value to the woman about to experience it for the first time. However, we also included stories about Rob. It will be easy for potential dads to imagine themselves in the same place. We hope couples will have a few laughs as they read the book and imagine what our stories must have “looked like.” At the same time, maybe they can make their own mistakes rather than repeat some of ours.

Q: How do new parents sometimes experience an identity crisis once baby comes along?

It is easy to experience an identity crisis with the birth of a baby. Let us first say that parents have a new identity. They now have the title of “parents.” The husband is a father, and the wife is a mother. While “parent,” “dad,” or “mom” cannot be one’s primary identity, it is a new and exciting part of it. When things are new, it is possible for how we think and act to become imbalanced.

Second, babies are amazing consumers of time and energy. The needs of a little one completely reorients how a new parent spends time, what they think about during a day, and what things he or she would like to discuss. As a result, this new identity (which is not supposed to be primary) becomes the center of thoughts and conversation. Life also makes changes to one’s functional identity.

Whatever old patterns of spiritual life the couple had prior to children have now been interrupted. When a person does their devotions changes. When a person attends worship service changes. Their ability to serve changes. These changes can result in a slow but sure drift away from the Lord.

Thus, the identity crisis does not occur over one thing, but many things each contributing a part.

Q: With a new baby requiring so much attention, it can become easy to neglect certain aspects of your relationship. How does making your marriage relationship a priority help your new baby?

It sounds crazy right? Spend more time together to help your child. It would seem spending more time with your child would help your baby more! We know you will be giving a lot of attention to your children. We are glad for that. We believe it is good and right to do so. We also know if a child has additional needs you should care for those needs. It is both a privilege and a stewardship to care for the little lives God has entrusted into your care.

Having said that, what can happen if parents neglect their relationship is they create a family structure different than what Scripture expects. Fathers are told to bring up their children. Moms cannot be expected to handle that job alone. Fathers are supposed to lead, but if Mom and baby are dominating life, then it will be hard for a proper biblical family structure to occur. What is so sneaky about this is with newborns you can get away with it. But if it sets the pattern for the future, then challenges that are not so easy to ignore may surface.

In addition, God gave both husbands and wives responsibilities to each other. If those are neglected in order to satisfy a child, then both mom and dad can become resentful of one another. In our counseling ministry, we often have people come to us who have been married for 10-15 years contemplating divorce. As we hear their story, it is clear they developed patterns of behavior and neglect during those early days of marriage and parenting.

We believe God’s priority system is best. When you have mom and dad loving Jesus first and each other second, then the child is welcomed into God’s design of the home. They learn about repentance and forgiveness, two people working together, love and care, and priorities. This kind of home makes evangelism easier.

Q: What does marital unity look like during the strains of this new season of life?

When we think about marital unity during this time of life, we think about three words: humility, encouragement, and dependence. We need to be humble because we are learning and are going to make mistakes. We will experience some failures. Humble parents want to learn. There may be people who want to offer godly advice. Rather than dismiss it as irrelevant or condescending, the humble parent listens, evaluates, and then decides. I know one family that left a church because a nursery worker made a suggestion to them, and the nursery worker was right. The parents were too proud to acknowledge it.

Encouragement. Failure in one area does not mean failure in every area. We believe new parents would be wise to exercise Ephesians 4:29 regularly. It will help them work as a team, parent their child more effectively, and significantly reduces the amount of time spent in conflict.

Marital unity also involves basic Christian thinking such as dependence. We need God’s grace every step of the way. We trust the Lord is working in our life and our child’s life in the way he desires. We will not understand everything, but we can trust the Lord is working mightily in our life.

Q: It’s often said “it takes a village” to raise a child. How does the church community fit into this vision? How would you encourage parents who may be more isolated?

In Tying the Knot, we devoted a chapter to encouraging couples to attend and serve regularly in a church right from the start of their married lives. As they do, they will begin to form relationships with others. These relationships both with peers and mentors can prove to be a real blessing to the couple, especially after the addition of a baby. It can result in praying for one another, providing a meal, offering words of encouragement, and potential play dates with other new moms.

Just as isolation is a risk for a newly married couple, it can be a risk with newborns. While there may be times life has to stop; there are other times you can and should keep going. One sickness can turn into three weeks of no small group, then to no desire for small group at all and on to complaining they have no friends and no support structure. Maybe those around them could have done a better job of reaching out, but the new family has something to own in this scenario as well.

As parents, we greatly appreciate anyone who seeks to help our children live for Jesus. That can be a family friend, a family member, a coach or a children’s ministry worker. God sometimes allows someone other than a parent to have a significant voice in a child’s life.

Q: What was the best advice you each individually received from wise friends or family when you became parents?

Rob: I do not remember a lot of advice. Enjoy every moment because they grow up fast. Maybe I received more, but apparently it did not stick very well.

Stephanie: I don’t remember receiving a lot of advice either. I do remember a wise person once telling me this though, but it wasn’t with our first child. At the time of this conversation, I was commenting on what a mess my house was. The mess I was referring to was as a result of the little lives who were living in my home. This person looked at me and gently said these words, “In twenty years you are going to wish your house was messy.” Wow! Those words were exactly what I needed to hear. And that person was right. The time you have with your children is short, so enjoy every moment because before you know it, your children will be grown.