Parenting is the only job I know of where you are thrown into the job with no training or experience. It's a 24-hour, 7 day a week job that comes without a training manual or a review system. Oh, you can read all the books you want and listen to all your friends who have kids, but until that child is placed in your arms, you really have no idea what you have signed up for.
No amount of reading will prepare you for the fear that comes with the first time your kid gets really sick or the joy you feel in their accomplishments. Nothing prepares you for the overwhelming love that you feel for that small bundle of squirming childhood. No one can tell you how hard it will be to leave your child with a sitter for the first time -- even when that sitter is your mom.
And no one tells you that there will be days that you want to throw your hands up in the air and quit. No one mentions the days that you will walk through like a zombie because you stayed up all night with a sick child. There's no warning sign that tells you there will be days when you are stretched to the limit of what you think you can endure.
Yes, parenting is a job like no other. The rewards are great, but the job can wear you down. If we let it, parenting can become the sole focus of our lives. We can lose our own identities because we are so wrapped up in our children. Many marriages fail after the children leave home because for the past 18 years mom and dad were so busy investing in their children that they forgot to invest in their marriage.
You all know that I think the primary calling of a parent is to raise our children to know God, but I don't think that children should take first place in your life. God gets that position. If you're not spending time with Him every day, then He's not first. I struggle with this because it's so easy to say, "I'll get to it later." Then, it's the end of the day, and I still haven't spent any time alone with God. If I don't schedule my time with God like I schedule doctor's appointments and sports practices, I don't do it. Matthew 6:33 tells us to "Seek first the kingdom of God." That means the first thing that goes on my calendar should be my time with God.
Second place doesn't belong to your children either, if you're married. That spot belongs to your spouse. Too often we get this one wrong. Kids needs are often immediate and urgent. They tend to take precedence, especially when the kids are small. But, if you're letting your kids' needs always take precedence over time with your spouse, that's an issue. Find some time in your life for your spouse. Either start putting your kids to bed earlier or have them sleep later. There's nothing wrong with sending your kids to bed a half hour before their regular bedtime to read in bed so you can get some time with your spouse.
Be protective of your time with your spouse. Make sure your kids know that time alone for mom and dad is important and it needs to be an emergency before that time is interrupted. Genesis 2:24 says "That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh." This isn't just referring to coming together physically. It's talking about becoming one in every sense of the word. If we don't invest time in our spouses, we can't work together in our marriage or our parenting.
Make time to get away. We go away for our anniversary every year. We don't usually go very far or for very long (with some exceptions), but we make a point of spending at least 24 hours away. We love getting to spend time together without someone interrupting our conversation every second sentence. It gives us a chance to get on the same page and set some goals for the year.
After your spouse, is where your children come in on the priority scale, but that doesn't mean that your kids always get to come before you. So often we give up things that we love (and are often good for us) because there just doesn't seem to be time for them. Make it a point to put something in your schedule for you -- even if it's as simple as setting aside half an hour a day to exercise or read a book. Take the time to connect with friends. If you aren't taking a little time for yourself during the week, it's tough to be an effective parent. If your batteries aren't charged, then you won't have anything to give to your spouse and your kids.
Spend some time today praying over your priorities and get them aligned in the proper order. There's nothing wrong with taking a short time out from parenting to focus on your relationship with God, your spouse or even to just refresh yourself. When our priorities are in order, we are being filled with God's strength, modeling a healthy marriage for our kids and keeping ourselves healthy. Our kids benefit immensely from all of those things. So, take a time out today and put your priorities in the right place.