Thursday, December 6, 2012

Reflecting On Our New Arrival

Rodrick's newborn son

A week ago today, our family was thrilled to welcome a new child into the world. We already have a 14 year old daughter and a 2 year old son. Now we have another son to add to the mix! The 3 Musketeers, if you will! In the week that has passed, I'm amazed at all that's transpired. Some of it has been predictable; some of it I couldn't have seen coming. But altogether it has set the stage for what I envision to be a fulfilling experience.

As you probably know from reading this blog, I'm passionate about the institution of the family. I've achieved a few things in my life but nothing compares to the role of being a husband and father. There's such a sense of purpose that comes with raising a family – going through the process of welcoming children into the world and teaching them how to take their place in the world as productive citizens. It's not all fun and games - it's serious stuff. But it's such rewarding stuff. And here we are, doing it all over again!

Rodrick and family
As I reflect on the new birth, I'm humbled at the thought of the responsibility given to us - to successfully raise 3 children, each with a unique personality. It's a daunting task, on the one hand. On the other, it's an opportunity to put into practice the principles that are at the core of what my wife and I believe - children are precious gifts and ultimately, their success in life depends, to a great extent, on the environment in which they are raised.

Now here we are - adding a new child to our family and hoping we strike the right chords to help him and his brother and sister to live meaningful lives. There's no magic formula to successfully take the journey we're embarking on. Much of it is unchartered territory for us. But I'm fully convinced that, as the expression goes, "love will find a way." Love will help us make the right decisions as we mold these young lives.

In the week that has transpired since the new birth, I have seen a preview of what the coming months and years will be like. Remember, we have a teenager and a 2 year old. Our daughter is a high school freshman so she's been very much aware of what to expect with the new birth. She's been a trooper these past few months. As the pregnancy progressed, she has stepped up and assumed more responsibilities around the house. She has done a great job of doing her chores - like washing dishes, doing her laundry, etc. Her room isn't always as neat as it should be but still, she's done great so far.

Rodrick's teenage daughter and newborn son
She does all of this while learning to navigate her way through the challenging experience of being in high school. Her school is very competitive and it requires her to work harder than she has up to this point - lots of late nights and early mornings. And occasional weekend school activities too. She's involved in certain extracurricular activities that are demanding of her time. She's also involved in the youth group at our church. Needless to say, she has her hands full.

As parents, we know that, since the younger 2 kids need our involvement more, quite easily our daughter could become less of a priority to us. If we're not careful, we could invest all our time on the younger 2 while she drifts along. But then, wisdom says that, she needs us now more than ever. Why? Because she's at the stage where she's beginning to make life-altering decisions. Think of this - in just over 3 years, she's off to college. She's now seriously thinking about her future career. Soon she'll start dating; soon she'll be driving. So yes, she needs us to help her through this phase.

Then comes our 2 year old. My wife and I have been told by so many people that as long as the baby's in the womb, he will be ok. But when the baby's born, it's another story. So said, so done! I can tell from this moment, that the challenge of raising these kids will be more with the younger 2. If we learn how to manage the relationship between them, then they could become best friends for a lifetime. If we don't, then they could become lifetime rivals. We have such a significant role to play in this.  

When our older boy came to the hospital to see his new baby brother, he was excited! He smiled with the pride of a big brother. At this time, the baby was in the bassinet. Then the baby started crying. My wife picked him up and held him in her arms, trying to sooth him but he didn't stop. Then the 2 year old started crying, wanting her to hold him too. But she couldn't pick him up as before; after all, she just gave birth. I tried to sooth him but he wasn't having it - he just kept crying. He wasn't a happy camper at all. It's like he felt displaced by the new arrival. So I left the room with him till he calmed down a bit.

Rodrick's toddler and newborn sons
Then the day after my wife and newborn were discharged from the hospital, we went to the pediatrician for the baby's first doctor's visit. As we sat, talking to the doctor with the baby in my wife's arms, the 2 year old folded his arms, turned his back, and with a frown on his face said, "That's not fair! That’s not fair everyone!"

Now, even though he knows the baby's name and says it all the time, sometimes when he ask him the name, he says, "I don't know!" It’s just his way of trying to say he’s not ready to concede the limelight to a younger brother.

In the midst of all this, my wife and I recognize that this is all normal. We were told it would happen. Our friends and family tell us of different stories where the same thing occurred. My mom even tells me that when I was a newborn, my older brother (who's 2 years older than me), punched me in my stomach when she wasn't looking. I invaded his territory - our mom's arms - and he wasn't happy at all.  

Our 2 year old will be just fine as long as we are aware of the dynamics at work here. He actually has gotten better over the past few days as he's seen that the attention isn't all gone away from him. We make a concerted effort to make him a part of all that's going on. We try to help him know that having a new little brother is actually a good thing.

And another thing has worked wonders - from early in the pregnancy, my wife's OB-Gyn encouraged us to get a gift for him from the newborn. That way, he would be more open to embracing a little brother - call it a peace-offering if you will. We did just that - we got him a toy car. He absolutely loves it and I think we've set the stage for a great relationship between them both.

Rodrick's toddler son with gift from his newborn brother

One thing that I didn't see coming in all of this is that he and I are probably closer today than we've ever been. You see, before, everything we did was as a family. But now that my wife is the primary caretaker of the newborn, he needs me a bit more now. So we've started to do things together - one on one. We've gone for a few walks, I've read to him, I've cooked for him more than I have before. Now I'm thinking of the limitless possibilities of what we can do together - introducing him to different sports I played growing up - baseball, basketball, tennis. It's a really cool thought - he needs more of me and I'm more than happy to oblige!

Then there's our newborn. He's an adorable little guy and we're so thrilled to have him. Studies show that 90% of brain development occurs in the first 3 years. So the environment that we set around him will shape and mold him for years to come. With both our older children, it just seems like the newborn stage was short-lived. They progressed so quickly. With our new one, I want to enjoy every moment, letting him know that he's in a home where love and respect for each family member is paramount.

Rodrick's newborn son
One thing I know we need to be careful of it helping him to develop his own identity. He’s the last child and it’s easy to have expectations of him based on what we see in his older siblings. Also, I’m sure that many of his clothes will be “hand me downs” from his older brother. That might not seem like a big deal but for a baby brother, it could become a real issue. Another thing that we need to be aware of is that older siblings often feel that the younger ones are spoiled because they get away with things that the older ones don’t get away with. We just need to look out for it.

So there you have it! As I see it, this is just another opportunity to put into practice the principles that I write and talk about with the entire Upbeat Dad movement. It's less about what I might write and say; it's really about what I do. No one is perfect; my wife and I don't have the answers to everything. But I believe that as long as our actions are guided by love and by what's in the best interest of the children, then we'll be just fine.

Parenting is one of the most thrilling experiences one could have. And to have the opportunity to raise 3 kids is more than I could possibly have hoped for. It's the opportunity of a lifetime - one that we readily embrace. I do not know how things will turn out ultimately but I'm confident that, if we play our part, each of them will grow up to become successful, productive members of society who will make us proud. And that thought has me feeling pretty "upbeat" right now!

Enjoy your day,

Rodrick and his children

The Upbeat Dad