We’re a FAMILY!
We’re a FAMILY!
Do you remember the moment that realization first hit you?
For me, it was not the moment I held our firstborn late that night in the delivery room with my husband, Lynn, by my side. As much as I expected that to be a magical maternal moment, I mostly remember shaking uncontrollably and feeling oddly disconnected from the baby now being weighed and measured by a nurse nearby.
It was not even the next morning when I finally unswaddled him from his blanket and stared at his eight-pound, five-ounce body in amazement! Not only at the miracle of his perfect fingers and toes, but his huge (still cone-shaped) head. He . . . came through me! No wonder I could hardly move!
Instead, it was two days later when we brought our baby home from the hospital. We lived in a small rental unit in San Diego, where Lynn was in the Navy. My parents had just arrived, driving all the way from Colorado. They were busy unpacking their suitcases in the spare bedroom upstairs. (This was to be an open-ended stay!) I was feeling a bit more normal and less traumatized, stretched out on the couch, bassinet at my side, where our baby slept peacefully. After helping to carry the suitcases upstairs, Lynn plopped down at the end of the couch and repositioned my feet on his lap. Together, we gazed at our baby.
A wave of euphoria washed over me in a moment I will never forget. We’re a FAMILY!
Of course my emotions went on a roller-coaster ride over the next few days, weeks, and years. Euphoria mixed with reality. Like surprising postpartum moodiness. And feelings of Yikes! Help! Wow! And lots more.
In those first few days, I struggled to find my footing in this new place between my mother on one side and our new baby on the other. Did I trust my mother to give the baby a bath? What if she didn’t do it the way I learned at the hospital? Could I teach her? Who’s the grown-up here? The questions and highs and lows went on and on.
We’re a FAMILY! That’s a heady realization, and in the beginning, we hardly understand how an eight-pound infant can transform the dynamics of our whole family and our whole lives. Not that we’re not warned. A protruding belly often invites words of advice, so most of us experience a scene similar to this:
I’m standing in the checkout line at the discount store, buying a bunch of newborn-size diapers, about two weeks before my due date. Another mom wheels in behind me with a toddler and an infant in her cart.
“Your first?” she asks, motioning to my belly.
I nod. “Due in two weeks. I can hardly wait.”
“Oh,” she says, shaking her head with some kind of wisdom I obviously don’t have. “Enjoy these last few days. Your life will never be the same.”
I don’t get her message until a few years later when I’m the one with two children in my cart and I hear myself saying exactly the same thing to a pregnant woman in front of me.
Children change everything. They suddenly fill our world with burp cloths and car seats and passionate new fears about safety and germs. They give us a whole new context from which to live out God’s purpose for us in life. They create a whole new circle of roles and relationships. They turn us into parents, our parents into grandparents, our siblings into aunts and uncles. They continue to shape those relationships as we keep discovering what it means to be a family with all the fun and sacrifices and new experiences and messy challenges.
With the news of a pregnancy or an adoption, dreams about the future are born. We enter this new future first by celebrating, which deepens the significance of the milestone, and then by creating a space for our own little family, apart from but within our larger family.
We’re a family! The birth or adoption of your first child—and every addition to your family—gives you a reason to celebrate! A celebration says, “This matters to us, and we are grateful! This is significant!” That’s why we celebrate family anniversaries and birthdays and graduations. The observance of family celebrations strengthens a family’s foundation.
For some the realization of We’re a family! comes at the moment of the birth. Or the day you bring the baby home. An adoptive mom says her moment of realization came when she heard her baby crying in a crib that had been empty and prayed over for so many years. A single mom who adopted an older child remembers the realization came to her when she held her child for the first time. The circumstances may be different, but all are the same in significance. We’re a family!
For many, that moment of realization comes much earlier, such as the instant the second blue line crosses the second window in the pregnancy test. And the celebration begins with the important announcement of the news to family and friends.
Some get pretty creative with that news.
One pregnant mom announced the news to her husband by filling his underwear drawer with newborn-size diapers; another by going out for dinner and having his drink delivered in a baby bottle (which takes some negotiating with the waitress!). One couple announced their pregnancy to the husband’s family by giving them a bottle of Prego at a family gathering. “How’d you know I needed spaghetti sauce?” his mom asked, but his sister quickly got the message and started screaming, “They’re pregnant!”
Our son, Derek, and his wife, Alexandra, orchestrated an intricate plan to tell us the good news about their first pregnancy. About nine o’clock one frigid January night, the phone rang at our home in Colorado. It was Derek and Alex, calling from their home in Portland. Not so unusual.
Lynn and I both got on the phone, and the four of us were talking when our doorbell rang. Kind of unusual. It was our thirteen-year-old nephew who lives next door. He handed us a special-delivery package that he said had been left at their house because no one was home at ours.
“What’s going on?” Derek asked into the phone, a bit too enthusiastically. This is starting to get unusual.
I took one look at the return address on the package (theirs in Portland!) and guessed immediately what was unfolding here. So of course I started crying before we even unwrapped it.
Inside was a light-yellow picture frame with the letters B-A-B-Y across the top and this message:
Dear Grandma and Grandpa,
My mom and dad have been telling me all about you. I can’t wait for all the fun things they promise we’ll do together at your house, like play with the dogs, go down to the ditch, sled on the hill, and make pancakes. I will see you in September. Until then pray for me and for my parents. (They need it.) I love you.
It was a holy moment in our family. And a great -celebration.
That framed letter was the first of many we received from our grandchild before she was born, reminding us of the love and whimsical joy a baby brings to a family.
One letter came on Mother’s Day a few months later, when I received a grandma’s brag book. The first page contained a message, accompanied by a copy of the baby’s first ultrasound, which looked kind of like an inkblot test until I found the image. Then the picture became profoundly meaningful.
The message read:
You would be proud of me. I have grown so much since these pictures were taken. You can probably tell I look like my dad—and you too! See you soon.
Love, Baby K.
These messages not only bonded us—the grandparents—to our unborn grandchild, they further endeared my daughter-in-law to me as I watched her live out her tender and protective love for their child. She gently caressed her growing belly; she gave up drinking her usual mug of coffee in the morning. She lived differently.
I know that not all prospective grandparents receive the news with enthusiasm, and the parents’ announcements may be shaped by the anticipated reaction. “My mom wasn’t ready to be called ‘grandma,’” one mom said, “so we didn’t try to pull off some dramatic way to announce the news.”
For some, celebrating the news of the pregnancy with close friends is as important as with extended families. One mom said that she and her husband moved often and left a trail of friends who had been praying for them to have a baby. So she made cards announcing their news and sent them to all their friends. Another mom describes driving over to her girlfriend’s home right after she and her husband got the call from the adoption agency that a three-day-old baby was waiting for them. She wanted to share the news in person.
Baby showers also celebrate the family-to-be. (And sometimes educate the mom-to-be!) I attended one recently for my friend Sarah. After playing a guessing game about what kinds of chocolate candy bars had been microwaved into gooey brown messes in several little diapers, we all settled into a circle to watch Sarah open her gifts. With each gift, the giver gave a one-line piece of family advice to this first-time mom:
Trust your instincts.
Watch out when changing diapers . . . poop shoots!
Write down the cute things children say and do. You think you’ll never forget, but you do!
A couple times a week, disappear for several hours and leave the baby with daddy, especially during the baby’s cranky times, so daddy “gets” it.
Use your mother-in-law.
Learn to ask for help.
Mothering is great, but it’s the hardest job you’ll ever have.
Establish time-outs, especially for yourself.
And of course . . . the familiar advice that always comes from older moms: enjoy these years; they pass so quickly.
Even more important than the celebration of the pregnancy is the celebration of the birth!
A birth announcement tells the world that a new baby has joined the family; it also becomes a unique visual aid with significance that lives beyond the moment. It announces the name the parents have chosen for the baby, which is huge, considering that this name will define that person for the rest of his or her life. Most birth announcements also record the vital statistics of the date, time, weight, and length of the baby at birth. (Tip from an older mom: you think you will always remember these important numbers. Granted, you will never forget the date, but trust me—three children and many years later—those other numbers start blurring together. “How much did I weigh?” your teenager asks. “What exact time of day was I born?” Those questions might send you scrambling to remember.)
Birth announcements get pasted into baby books or displayed in picture frames. Our three are framed on a wall in a hallway. The first looks like a lawyer’s professional announcement (since Daddy is a lawyer) announcing a new addition to the partnership of Kuykendall and Kuykendall. The second shows a picture of the older brother announcing his new baby sister’s arrival. And the third is a Christmas card, announcing that our family is hanging up a new stocking this year.
For generations, birth announcements have served as a reminder of a family’s celebration that says, “We’re a FAMILY! We’re celebrating. We hope you’ll celebrate with us!”
A year after the birth of our first child, we moved back to Colorado, where both sets of parents and two siblings lived. Lynn was getting out of the Navy, my father had just died, and I was pregnant with our second child. Coming back home seemed the logical choice because we wanted our children to grow up with grandparents and cousins and aunts and uncles nearby. But soon we realized that we faced a challenge all young families face at some point: how do we establish our own family within our larger family?
How do we create our own space? Our own boundaries? Our own family?
For some, this question pops up much earlier, even when planning the wedding. That’s when you might discover that families can be complicated. And opinionated! So you find yourself trying to stand firm as you establish yourselves as an almost-family. I know one young man whose aunt and uncle decided they didn’t like the woman he was engaged to marry. Their reasons were superficial, and for the first time in his life, he had to stand up to his older relatives and firmly say, “She is going to be my wife. I love and support her.”
Some people don’t feel like a family until they become parents. Having a child seems to validate their status as a family and gives them the confidence to create their own space and make their own choices based on their new -priorities.
When we moved back to Colorado after five years of marriage, we brought a more mature kind of confidence. Now that we were parents, we felt like adults instead of kids who happened to be married. Before having children, we were like kids who still felt obligated to please our parents and guilty when we did not—not always because they made us feel that way but because we allowed ourselves to feel that way. We simply couldn’t meet everyone’s expectations. On visits, we never could stay long enough. We didn’t call often enough. Or talk long enough when we did. But now that we had children, we had legitimate reasons to focus on different priorities. We could put our own family first.
When a new family starts growing within a family, everyone faces some adjustments, and everyone has to be willing to embrace change as we create our own space for our family to grow. In this way, a family is like a tapestry, a unique and colorful piece of fabric with many individual threads and patterns woven through it. As children grow up, they weave themselves farther and farther away from the original family pattern. They go out with their own friends on Friday night instead of joining the family for pizza. They miss the first family vacation. They move out and go off to college.
New threads are added as children marry and eventually bring their own children into the family tapestry. They begin to create their own space and weave their own unique family circle, which stretches and tugs at the fabric. Ultimately, of course, these new patterns add richness and texture to the family tapestry, but both the fabric and the threads need to be flexible enough to embrace all the growing and changing patterns.
Creating your own space means accepting your new role as an adult with influence and not letting guilt shape your choices—guilt that you heap on yourself or guilt heaped on by someone else. This guilt is most typically experienced during holidays. At Christmas we might load the kids in the car and spend the day traveling around to visit grandparents and cousins, because it’s easier to drive all day and make them happy than to not drive and deal with all the guilt trips. Over time, patterns of response based on guilt can rip the fabric of a family apart.
God intends for families to create their own space, as described by the words used in many wedding ceremonies: “A man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24 RSV). No doubt the leaving part is easily understood, but cleaving sounds weird, like separating meat with a sharp knife. Cleaving can mean “separating,” but here it also means “joining together,” so cleaving in marriage means that you are separate but glued together. You can’t be separated without wounding and damaging both people.
Honoring the leaving and cleaving process allows generations of families to remain part of a growing tapestry, while making room for new patterns to be woven into the fabric.
In spite of your best efforts, you’re still bound to face some messy family issues as you create your own family space. Threads don’t tie neatly, or they get knotted together too tightly. Many of those knots involve issues about your child. Here are a few common ones.
Delivery—who’s invited? Take the issue of the delivery, for instance. By this time, you’ve already faced the issue of whether your family agrees with your decision to find out (or not find out) the sex of your unborn child. Now you have to decide who will be present at the delivery. Is this a private moment, with just you and your husband? How about your mom? And where does your mother-in-law fit in? The choices are yours, of course, but they might not make everyone else happy.
Then there’s the issue of who comes to visit and when during the first few weeks after a child is born or adopted into a family. How do you choose and set the time limits for how long relatives stay without hurting someone’s feelings? How do you divide the time between two sets of grandparents and possibly stepgrandparents? Keeping score can be complicated. Especially if you’re not the one keeping score.
Naming the baby: How about the issue of naming your baby? If you choose to find out the sex of your baby before the birth, you have lots of time to announce to the world the names you’re considering. Have you gotten any rolls of the eyes on the possibilities? Did your brother-in-law delight in telling you that Scot, your chosen name, will surely become Scotty-Potty or Snotty Scotty on the playground in first grade? Or that Stacey will become Spacey Stacey?
Parenting: How about issues with the way you are raising your child? Whether you nurse or not. How long you nurse. Whether you let your baby cry when you put him or her down. How strict you are about naptimes, or how picky you are about day care. The way you discipline. Or don’t. Or whether your methods are more or less effective than those your parents used.
Unmet expectations: What about your own expectations of the way you’d like your parents to respond to your children? “I’d love to have the problem of overly involved parents, but my mom is underly involved,” one mom said. “She’s too busy, and that makes me both sad and mad.”
Sibling rivalry—again: If you spend time with your extended family, you may run into some new feelings of competition. Your older brother obviously has the favored child. Or your sister has the spoiled child. After all, her child hit your child first. But her child is the youngest, so she got all the sympathy.
All these issues and the responses they elicit can get pretty messy as you work at creating your own space and becoming your own family within a family. As I look back over my years of dealing with these issues, I wish I’d done some things differently along the way. I realize now that the way I responded to the issues I faced early in our family life formed a pattern in the way I continued to approach those issues. Such patterns are hard (but not impossible) to change.
When I was a new mom, I sometimes created tensions simply because I wanted to clearly set us apart as our own family. I criticized unnecessarily. Or decided to do things differently only for the sake of being different. I wanted a sense of control, so we made rules we didn’t need to make. “We will alternate Christmas every other year with our families!” Or, “We will stay home every year.” The every part doesn’t always work out or make room for unplanned circumstances. So we’ve created a rule that even we don’t want to keep.
I also took too many things personally. For instance, my mother-in-law baked my husband cherry pies all the time (only because I didn’t?). Or gave him pajamas every Christmas (only because I didn’t?). I now know that kind of defensiveness said more about me than her. Besides, I see the adult mother-son relationship differently now that I have a son myself.
When a daughter gets married, if her relationship with her mother is good, she may still look to her mother for a kind of nurturing she doesn’t get from her husband. After I got married, in spite of Lynn’s best efforts, I still had some “I need my mom” kind of days. There were times when I didn’t feel good and could count on her to say, “Oh honey, you need to stay in bed today.” Even though both of us knew I couldn’t possibly stay in bed, her words made me feel better. And needing my mom in that way also made her feel better.
However, when a son gets married, that kind of nurturing is transferred to the wife—as it should be—so his mother loses what used to be an important part of their relationship. It goes back to the biblical model of leaving and cleaving, but it’s good to cut a mother-in-law some slack for the ways she might want to maintain a relationship with her son, especially when it doesn’t interfere with the husband-wife relationship. The fact is, I didn’t make cherry pies, so why not be grateful that she did? Besides, one of the best ways I can love my husband is to love his parents as best I can.
When issues did arise in our families, I wish I’d learned to tell the truth—in love. Not in self-defense or anger. In love. In order to make an important relationship better. Too often I stuffed my feelings and chose silence until a major blow-up happened. Other mothers admit the same response. “If I tell my sister that her remarks about my child make me mad, she’ll tell me I am being overly sensitive.” Or, “If I tell my mother-in-law that her comments about our Christmas plans make me feel guilty, she’ll get irritated.” So we say nothing, becoming pseudo peacemakers instead of real truth tellers. Though your efforts may feel risky, learning to lovingly tell the truth builds authentic relationships that allow a family to grow within family. You’ll feel better, and eventually your family will feel better as well.
Here are a few guidelines for a lovingly honest -conversation:
Some things have changed since I was a young mom, but what matters most has not changed. Relationships matter, and God created us to be in relationship with others, starting with our families. They offer the closest circle of relationships that are intended for the support and encouragement of each other. So if you feel yourself getting tangled in tensions, stop and ask, “What matters most here? What will matter next week at this time, or next year at this time? How can I do what matters most right now?” Those questions help us sort out the important from the trivial, extend grace to each other, and keep growing authentic relationships as we continue to make adjustments to our changing roles in a family.
I can’t resist this final story, since it illustrates how some things have changed since I was a mom with young children. That was before cell phones (gasp!) and pagers were connected to the human body. And before those indispensable baby monitors were invented. All these things are supposed to make your life easier, but they can also create some new (and amusing!) wrinkles in our family relationships.
Here’s the story: A young couple took their six-month-old baby to visit his parents (therefore her in-laws). The night they arrived, the proud grandparents hosted a fancy dinner party in their honor. So, after showing off the baby, the parents tucked their precious little bundle into the Pack ’N Play in the upstairs bedroom where the three would be sleeping. They dutifully turned on the baby monitor and plugged the other monitor in the dining room, turning up the volume as they joined the dinner party. Just as dessert and coffee were being served, the young couple excused themselves, feigning fatigue and saying goodnight. Quietly they crawled into bed upstairs, whereupon they began to do what married couples do in bed. “Quite enthusiastically,” as the young mom describes. It was not until much later that they realized they had not turned off the baby monitor on the nightstand next to them. At breakfast the next morning, they didn’t dare ask how long it took for someone to turn off the baby monitor in the dining room during dessert at the dinner party.
Hmmm . . . maybe technology doesn’t always make every-thing better. At least this couple was showing that their own relationship was still a top priority for them. And they did create a space for themselves.
In the first few years, you celebrate the creation of your family in ways that deepen its significance. You also create a space for your family, setting yourselves apart within your larger family. Maybe you have one child, maybe more, but in these first early years, you are shaping your own family in many lasting ways.
“We’re a family!” you are announcing.
Now, what kind of family do you want to become?
1. “We’re a FAMILY!” When did that realization hit you, and what did it mean to you?
2. Play the word-association game. Say the word family out loud. What other words come to mind? Write them down:
Why did you choose those words?
3. Pregnancy and birth announcements are great ways to celebrate the news that a new baby is joining your family. What creative ways have you heard to celebrate this news? (For instance, a BABY photograph frame with the words “Photo due in February”; or framing the pregnancy test strip or sonogram picture.)
4. Look at the issues listed in this chapter: birth and coming home; baby’s name; raising your child; unmet expectations; sibling jealousy. What issues do you face in creating your own “family within a family”? How are you resolving these issues?
5. What do you want or need most from your extended family? Are you able to communicate that desire to them? Why or why not?