I remember the days like the remnants of a dream. We were sleep deprived, overwhelmed with a new reality, feeling inadequate, quite sure we were going to mess up, and worried about every unfamiliar noise, cry, or action. Of course, being parents of a newborn had its glorious moments too: the smell of a freshly cleaned baby, the delight of a smile, the warmth of the swaddled body against your chest, the contentment of snoozing baby, and the joy of a tiny hand squeezing your finger. It truly was the best of times and the worst of times.
Of course, no one actually talks about it being the worst of times. We regularly forget those who struggle with post-partum depression. Even those who do not experience depression have their bad days. But because you have this beautiful new baby, and babies bring so much joy, and maybe you know others who want babies who cannot have them, expressing any stress, anxiety, or negativity seems socially unacceptable. And so, we try to only celebrate the good and ignore or gloss over the bad.
But to me, that is not what we, as people of faith are about: honoring only the good and not the bad. And so, every time we have a family with a newborn, I want to give the new parents some sort of encouragement: to celebrate all the wonderfulness, and to honor the not-so-wonderful. I was so grateful, then, when I stumbled upon a publication by Forward Movement called Changing Diapers, Changing Lives: Reflections for New Parents.
I love it because it is a Bible-based series of devotions that honestly capture the wholeness of parenthood. I love it because the idea of getting to church with a newborn (or even toddler) can sometimes feel impossible, even though you may be longing for an experience with the sacred or Christian community. But I especially love it because each devotion is one short little page. So, when you’re up in the middle of the night, nursing or sitting with a breast pump, and your brain feels like total mush, finding brief spiritual nourishment is just what our wearied hearts and minds need.
Several years ago, the resource took on a new life for our parish. We had been discerning whether we were called to start a childcare ministry for the multitude of young families moving into our area. Aware of the need, but completely overwhelmed by the prospect of starting a new business, we were not sure what to do. Then the Holy Spirit moved—an existing child development center started looking at properties to expand right in our neighborhood. A year, and lots of work, later, we welcomed the new school onto our property and suddenly found ourselves meeting people in the community we never had beforehand.
It did not take us long to realize that we had a new ministry: a ministry to parents, many of whom likely to have more children as time passed. We wanted to support them but knew we could not handle large efforts like our meal ministry. Instead, I turned to the little pamphlet that had given such comfort to our members. It is such a great tool because it is religious without being over the top. It does what I would want it to do for any parishioner: affirms, encourages, and supports. And in our case, accompanied by a pastoral note, it is a great, affordable evangelism tool for families who are just getting to know us.
There may be other books or resources that work for other communities. But for us, I love that Changing Diapers, Changing Lives is down-to-earth, realistically paced (no parent of young children has a brain that can read anything too heady), and sends a clear message: your spiritual formation still matters, you are not alone in this crazy adventure, and God and a whole bunch of other accepting, affirming, loving parents are here with you for the journey. You’ve got this!