Our guests address the common concerns of moms- and dads-to-be, and explain how a couple can be intentional about their marriage – both during pregnancy and after the birth of their baby.
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Jim Daly: Greg, when Erin was pregnant with your first daughter, I think you had a discussion. You referred to it as a great diaper defeat. What was (Laughter) that all about? That conjures up a lot of image.
Greg Smalley: It does. I felt so ill-equipped, so unprepared to be a dad. Erin was a labor and delivery nurse. She knew all of this and so, I really studied up on how to change a diaper. I practiced a couple times, so just to feel competent, to feel like I could do this. And we had a baby shower and it was kind of a co-ed deal, whatever.
And so, they played this game to where we're just gonna race to see who could finish diapering this little doll baby. And so, I was gonna do it. I was gonna win. I was gonna take the trophy, prove to my wife that I could be a great husband (Chuckling) and great father. And I completely lost. It was terrible. (Laughter)
It just showed that I didn't know what I was doing and it really bothered me. I went from there going, "Erin, I don't know. You're gonna have to really take over with this new baby, 'cause obviously I can't do it." I mean, it really affected me that way. So, that was my first loss as a dad.
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John Fuller: Well, a lot of dads feel that and I think even more moms feel it. I can't do this and I don't know what I'm doing. And we're gonna be talking about that with Dr. Greg Smalley, his wife, Erin and our guest, Suzanne Gosselin on today's "Focus on the Family" with Jim Daly. I'm John Fuller and Jim, it seems like a long time ago when I was (Laughter) told the news that you're gonna have a baby and all of that world that was new to us. That was a while ago, but there were emotions that still today feel like, I'm gonna mess this up. I'm afraid.
Jim: I think all new parents feel like we're not smart enough, good enough to do that. I think we can all relate to what Greg's situation was there. But there's so many good feelings [sic] at that moment. You have all these hopes and aspirations and dreams. It's like your adult heart gets revitalized with life, you know, that you can hope for new and fresh things, regardless of perhaps even those setbacks that you've had as a 20-, 30-, sometimes now even 40-something mom or dad. And we're gonna talk about that today, like you said.
The other side of that is just the fear and the apprehension that comes, because I remember when Trent was born, I was really concerned not having a good father role model, whether or not … it's not about diapering. I thought, okay I could get that down (Laughter) over time without maybe stickin' myself. Pampers are really good, by the way. (Laughter)
Greg: Ours were cloth.
Jim: Yeah, you went cloth. But you know, just those apprehensions about not being good enough and I think that's a normal human response to it and we want to talk about that today. So, if you're living in this spot where, you know what? Is it ever, ever gonna get better than it is right now, crying through the night, up feeding every two hours, all the things we experience, hang with us today.
John: Well, yeah and if you're just getting that news that you're pregnant or that a baby's coming into your life, we have a really good program for you, as well, because we're talking about a book called Expectant Parents: Preparing Together for the Journey of Parenthood. It's written by Suzanne Gosselin. She's a former Focus on the Family employee and just had her third child. Suzanne has three children under 3, so this is a space she knows—
Jim: She's got a Ph.D.
John: --very well. (Laughter) Indeed.
Jim: That's qualified right there.
John: Uh-huh and then, Greg and Erin are qualified, as well as Greg mentioned earlier. Erin Smalley is a Focus employee and used to be a labor and delivery nurse. Greg is vice president of family ministries here at Focus and I'm lookin' forward to the conversation, Jim.
Jim: All right, Suzanne. Let's start with you. How did you anticipate having a child was gonna change your marriage?
Suzanne Gosselin: I think I went in a bit naïve and idealistic going into having our first child. Kevin and I had only been married for six months when we found out that we were expecting. And so, we were very firmly in the newlywed phase and just loving life together and thankfully, we had a great foundation of that six months so far.
And I really wanted to protect our marriage and continue the newlywed bliss. I was pretty firm that I didn't want that baby to change a whole lot, but more add to the joy of our family. So, that was great intention, but it played out a little bit differently. So, I wasn't fearful and I don't think Kevin was fearful. We were very excited about having a baby. It was more that we were a little naïve.
Jim: Greg and Erin, what are some of the things that couples can do when they hear the news, the great news, you're gonna have a baby?
Erin Smalley: You know, for us, we had been married one year and one month when we got the news that we were gonna have a baby. It was kind of earlier than what we thought. And our marriage was at a place that it needed to be strengthened. We've told lots of stories about the things that we went through. Those stories that we tell, you know, the laundry bag and on and on, all happened during that first year of our marriage.
So, when we found out we were pregnant, we knew that we needed to strengthen our relationship and we really needed to get serious about this marriage relationship so we could be great parents. She … we on our second anniversary, our first was 1-month-old. And so, we really became intentional about growing individually and we also did some counseling to really strengthen our relationship. And it started us really on the pathway of forming a healthy marriage.
Jim: You know, at that moment though, what's so hard is if you're on rocky ground in your marriage and all of a sudden, you hear the news, I'm pregnant, I would think many new expectant moms panic, 'cause they feel it. They sense it's not a perfect spot. It's not a healthy spot. What do I do now? And so often in the Christian community, it's kind of a switch. We're all this way or all that way, but you're saying what I'm hearing in your answer, work on both. You've got the capacity. Don't neglect your marriage or neglect your child.
Jim: You gotta, you know, concentrate on both. Is that fair?
Erin: Absolutely and that's the encouragement we would give always, is that this marriage relationship has to be strong so you can parent these children well. They need the security of this, so the greatest thing you can do is strengthen the relationship.
Jim: Now how do two busy people concentrate on that, when in our case, Troy, our second, every two hours he was awake. Jean in the morning, I mean, she was exhausted. I tried to help, but I wasn't equipped for that feeding time and all that.
Greg: You know, for me, the biggest thing that I learned was, we have to fight what culture is telling us. We're …
Jim: What is it telling us?
Greg: There's some awful message out there, that your life is over. You guys, you know, never will be the same. Your marriage won't be the same. You're not—
Jim: This is a burden.
Greg: --gonna have the time. This is a burden. I think we have to fight that. That was one of the most important things that we did. I walked out of a visit to the hospital where we're just doin' Lamaze and you know, they're showin' us around, never feeling more discouraged and depressed in all my life. Just what they were saying, the messages, that it's all changed and I literally looked at Erin and went, "What have we done? This is your fault."
Greg: Not really. (Laughter)
Jim: You started—
Greg: My …
Jim: --global warming, Greg.
Greg: You know (Laughter), yeah. And I had to fight those messages and realize that, you know what? The truth is, that it's different, but not a bad different.
Greg: And that's okay. Actually I had to realize that it's what we make of it. We can take initiative. We can decide. Erin and I decided from the beginning, that our kids would be a part of our family. They would not be the center of our family, that as Erin was saying, that our marriage is more important than anything else, next to our relationship with the Lord. Our marriage has to be that solid foundation. And that was a choice, a decision that we made, so that when our second anniversary rolled around about a month after Taylor was born, we made a decision. We're gonna get a babysitter and we're gonna go out and—
Greg: --we're celebrating and we're gonna have a great time. And we have trained our kids from day one, that when, for example, 8 o'clock rolls around, you guys, it's your bedtime. This is now mom and dad's time. If you get out of bed, if you come and ask us for water or whatever they're gonna do, then you owe us that time tomorrow—
Greg: --because you're taking away from a time that we're building and strengthening our marriage. Our kids have learned that and they, you know, they respect that in many ways, but—
Jim: All right.
Greg: --that's the right message.
Jim: Erin, I gotta ask you though. So, you have a baby. One month later you're out for dinner, celebrating your anniversary. Are you not thinking constantly about, I wonder how our baby's doing?
Jim: I mean, that would be Jean. (Laughter) Jean's be going, "I gotta call the babysitter."
Erin: Yep. The great news is, my babysitter was the labor and delivery nurse who helped me in the hospital. She was my friend and so, we were able to leave Taylor with her and I knew she was in good hands and she was a grandma. And I think we actually went to a local amusement park and rode roller coasters. And it was so—
Greg: I know how to spoil—
Greg: --her. (Laughter)
Erin: -And so, we were havin' a great time, but it was hard to leave.
Erin: But I find that to this day, it's always hard to leave as a mom.
Erin: But it's worth it. When we get away, when we go off and have our time together and our kids know that we might be speaking to a group of couples, but it's strengthening our relationship.
Jim: Suzanne, let's talk about that spontaneity, because when a child comes along, a lot of couples unlike the Smalleys, may lose that spontaneity, 'cause there's so many to-do's on the list and you know, you're constantly cleaning and sickness and all the other things that can occur. Couples can just lack the energy, I guess to become or to maintain some spontaneity. Is that a problem?
Suzanne: I think so. I think you need to be intentional going into having a child. As they were talking about setting up date nights, you're gonna have to be intentional, because default mode is staying home with that baby—
Greg: And sleeping.
Suzanne: --24/7. (Laughter) Yeah, and sleeping when you have an opportunity. For me, I realized that I quit my full-time job and went home to stay home with my son, which is my dream. But I ended up becoming very isolated those first six months, because I just didn't have the energy to go do things or I felt like I didn't. Something that I think is common for parents is, once you have that second or third child, you realize, I should've done so much more with the first one, because it was such a cinch with just one baby.
So, I think you do need to be intentional about creating the spontaneity. But at the same time, I talked to one mom who said," I was gonna be that adventure mom that took my baby everywhere and she had severe colic and we had to stay home."
Suzanne: And so, you have to be prepared for what could happen that might get in the way of your plans or you're gonna end up frustrated.
Jim: That's what we had. Both Trent and Troy were colicky babies, so I mean, when we had Trent as first-time parents and we're going, this can't be normal. I was out driving Trent in the neighborhood at 2, 3 in the morning—
Jim: --putting him on—
Greg: The car seat.
Jim: --the dryer at 3:30 in the morning. You know, we even bought something called Gripe Water from Britain and was giving that to them. I don't know what it was (Laughter), but I'm sure it was useless, but Gripe Water. What a great name. Give your colicky baby Gripe Water. (Laughter) But it's bad. I didn't try a swig, but let me ask you, too. Talkin' to newly expectant mothers, what advice would you give 'em? What's one thing, Suzanne, that you would say, here's what you can do to really make it better?
Suzanne: Okay, well, I would say, be willing to adjust your expectations and don't typecast yourself. One thing I went into being a mom saying, I'm gonna be this kind of mom. I'm gonna be the mom that is always well-dressed, who doesn't let herself go, who--
Jim: Has it all together.
Suzanne: -yeah, goes out in public a lot with the baby. And that did end up being frustrating, because babies are born to be interruptions. I mean, they are the sweetest interruptions possible, but they are …
Jim: So, go in with that expectation.
Jim: You're gonna be interrupted all day and much of the night long.
Suzanne: Absolutely. One of the experts I talked to said, "Moms generally go into hibernation mode for that first three months of their baby's life," and be okay with that. Be okay having a messy house for three months. Be okay bringing in take-out food. Especially be okay asking for help and accepting help from people who want to help you. I would say that would be something that I would tell first-time moms, is definitely accept the help that's offered and if you're not being offered help, seek it out, because that is gonna make those first—
Jim: --do you ask?
Suzanne: --weeks and months …
Jim: I mean, let's say you don't have parents nearby.
Jim: Who can you turn to?
Suzanne: That's a great question, coworkers, if you're connected to a church, that's a great—
Jim: Small group.
Suzanne: --small group, yeah, people you're attending church with. There are people around, even if you don't have family in the area so, try to make those connections.
Jim: Erin, do you have anything that you'd add to that, one bit of advice for a mom who, this is her first time. This is her baby coming. What would you tell her?
Erin: You know, looking back, I wish I would've given myself more grace, that you know, everything … like Suzanne is saying, everything doesn't have to be perfect and you may not do it just right. I know there's this one plan that we were doing to try to get her to sleep through the night and when it didn't work the second week, I was devastated. But you know what? In the big picture, she's 20-years-old now and guess what? She sleeps a lot. (Laughter) And she was sleeping—
Greg: Too much actually.
Erin: --yeah, she was sleeping through the night by like 8 weeks and it didn't meet the six-week criterion of this program, but you know what? It's okay andjust to give yourself grace and not judge yourself so harshly, but give yourself grace to just let things kind of unfold as they do, because we often, as women and as moms, we beat ourselves up and put the guilt trip on and you know what? Don't do it. Don't do it and just really take the attitude that things are gonna work out. Yes, I need to be intentional about some things and scheduling and feeding and you know, especially let people help you. Don't feel like a failure if you have to accept help, because other moms, they get it. They, you know, usually there's someone who's six months ahead of you. They know what you're going through. Let them step in and help.
Jim: Now we gotta talk about dads, 'cause—
Jim: --the book Suzanne has written is Expectant Parents, so what can dads do, Greg, to make this a joyful journey? We kind of hover around all of it. We're not directly (Chuckling) involved, if I could say it that way. Please don't write—
Greg: We were there for—
Jim: --and say … I know we're—
Greg: --a little bit.
Jim: --directly involved, but what I mean is, we're not the ones giving birth. We're the cheerleaders and that's a different role for a lot of men to play. What can we do to build up our wives at this time when maybe the load is so tough?
Greg: You know, one of the biggest things that I think is important for men to understand is, that we will gravitate towards what we feel we can be successful at. That might not sound important in this conversation. I am telling you, I think it's one of the most important things that a man can understand, is that I want to be successful. I want to feel competent.
So, here we have now our wife is pregnant. And so, I don't understand it. I'm confused. I don't really understand all the changes hormonally. I don't get to experience that baby and feel that baby. The best I can do is put my hands on her belly. There's so much going on that I start to drift away a little bit. And I will maybe gravitate more towards work. Now I can justify and rationalize, well, I've gotta provide for a family now, so I gotta work a little bit harder or get involved in this hobby.
And I think that's a big struggle for guys, is how do I enter into this, so that I'm not being pulled away? On one hand, a baby can cause a man to come home and that's a great thing. But to understand that we have a natural tendency to gravitate toward what we feel that we can be successful at.
So, the question is, guys, how can we enter into this process of having a new baby and feel successful? And that's why I would say things like, you do spend that time with your hands on your wife's belly and you talk to (Laughter) that baby. You pray for that baby. You go to those doctor visits. I think that's one of the most important things that we can do. We can see the pictures and begin to understand. As guys, all we need to do is make a decision that I'm going to invest in every way I can. I want to be there and my growth and excitement and all this might be very different than my wife's and that's okay.
John: Well, you've got "Focus on the Family" on the radio. I'm John Fuller. Your host is Jim Daly and our guests are Dr. Greg Smalley, his wife, Erin and Suzanne Gosselin. Suzanne has written a book, Expectant Parents: Preparing Together for the Journey of Parenthood.
Jim: Hey, Suzanne, let me ask you though with that whiplash that you may have felt. You know—
Jim: --you're working here at Focus on the Family, you know, successful professional woman.
Jim: So many women are in this kind of situation, where they want to have a child. They're planning to have a child and it happens and now you've gotta transition from the workplace into a different modality, which is becoming a mom. Some moms will choose to stay home. Some moms may still have to work. Talk about that moment when you're realizing, this is a new era.
Suzanne: Yes, I think it was my dream to get married and have children and stay home with my children. However, I was single throughout my 20's and it just seemed like the guy wasn't coming along and that was frustrating.
And so, when I did meet Kevin and we got married and then we found out we were expecting, it was like all my dreams were coming true and I was in my early 30's. So, I was really excited about the opportunity to be able to stay home and you know, do a little freelance writing and editing, keep my creative juices flowing. But I think it really hit me several months in, that this is really different than my life before.
I used to, you know, get up, have all the free time in the world to be ready and go to work and sip my latte at my desk and I didn't realize how hard it would be. And I think a lot of moms realize as … whatever transition they've made, even if they continue working and they're having to balance daycare and all of the things, I think they realize, this is harder than I thought that it would be.
And so, when I hit that transition, it was really an identity shift. I had to find out, okay, who am I in this new era? And it brought me to definitely greater dependence on the Lord to seek who am I, 'cause I don't feel as valuable or in the same ways that I did when I went to work.
Jim: Let me ask you this in terms of the negativity that we talked about earlier. This may be the reason that culture is so negative at times, because there is a big change and we're very me-focused.
Jim: And so, when a baby comes along, just like when marriage comes along, you've gotta become more selfless.
Jim: And that's a hard thing for us as human beings to do. Do you think that's part of it? You have to choose to say, okay, this is a period of time in my life where I've gotta give of myself without much return.
Jim: It's gonna be constant laundry. It's gonna be constant cleaning. It's gonna be kids pullin' on my clothing and—
Jim: --say[ing], "Mommy, I need you; mommy, I need you." You just have to have that right attitude is what I'm hearing you say.
Suzanne: Yes. Somebody said, you're going to have to serve like you've never served before. And that is so true. I think most of the relational stress that has been on our marriage has come because we're both spent from just the extra effort it takes to raise a human being.
One of the experts said, you know, this is a time of chaos. It's beautiful chaos, but it's chaos to raise a human being. And I think we really feel that, especially in those early years. And so, it is helpful to go in kind of anticipating that and being prepared for it.
Jim: Erin, I need a godly perspective. What is the Lord up to with this? What is He teaching us as moms and dads with parenting? And again, even in the Christian church, why do we at times look at the family with five kids or six kids and we go, wow! That just seems overwhelming. Why would they ever do that? I mean, that's horrible for us in the Christian community to say those things, 'cause children are a blessing.
Erin: They are a blessing, but like Suzanne is saying, it's overwhelming at times. It's chaotic at times. I just recently shared how pregnancy changed my life. And …
Jim: That's a big topic.
Erin: You know, and looking through just each of my children, I cannot tell you from day one with Taylor, finding out I was pregnant, we weren't expecting this. God very much planned it and allowing Him to do what He was doing in me was amazing. Because little did I know, she was the greatest blessing at that exact time that I needed and I didn't even know I needed her.
Jim: Did you have doubts?
Erin: Oh, absolutely. When I first found out I was pregnant, I mean, I was 25-years-old. We were newly married, living in Denver. I was working. I was career oriented and I wanted to continue on with my education after he finished his. And I cannot tell you, I literally worked a shift as a labor and delivery nurse in the same room that I delivered a baby the next day.
So, that night I finished my shift, went home, came back, because my water broke. And so, I had a baby the next day in the same room and it was like this thing. But I'm telling you, the minute they handed her up to me and put her on my chest, I just remember looking down and thinking, I don't ever want to work again. I don't want to ever leave this little thing. I fell in love immediately, but I had to work, because he was in graduate school. And that was very difficult to really balance that.
I found over the years that for me and everyone is different with this, you know, some women do better staying home and being solely focused. For me, it was always better to have something on the side, because it made me really, really appreciate being at home. I was a better mom.
And honestly, each of my kids has molded me and grown me more in my faith, in trusting God and just allowing Him to make me look more like Him through each child. They're a blessing. And through those challenges, they're still a blessing, because He's continuing to grow you having teenagers now. (Laughter) I mean, they've got minds and you know, they want to make their own—
Erin: --decisions and you know, free will and you know, He's still using them to mold me into His image.
Jim: It's quite natural to be fearful at this time when you're pregnant, for the first time particularly. You don't know exactly what's gonna happen. You got an idea. You probably talked to mom or sisters and those kinds of things. But there's always that nagging fear. And then, of course, there is the reality that the fear is come to pass, maybe a miscarriage, something like that. Erin, that is part of your experience. What would you say to women in that spot, who you know, they're just a little unsettled, maybe not trusting the Lord—
Jim: --for whatever comes, day by day.
Jim: What would you say to them?
Erin: You know, it is very, very hard, because you feel enormously helpless, because you can't do anything. I mean, you're carrying this child and for me, my second pregnancy I had what's called HELLP Syndrome. It's a severe form of toxemia and literally came into the hospital. And I was a labor and delivery nurse and did not know what was going on with my body.
Erin: My liver was shutting down. My kidneys were shutting down. The mortality rate of the syndrome can be rather high. And talk about fear in the midst of having a baby, laying in the bed just going, "Lord, I don't know what's going on. This is Your baby. I'm Yours. You know, I just have to trust You and allow You to do what You're gonna do."
And getting through that pregnancy then, we had a third pregnancy and through that pregnancy, really dealing with the fear, the con … the day-by-day fear of, is this gonna happen again? So, if you've been through a miscarriage or if you've been through toxemia or HELLP syndrome or you know, another disorder during pregnancy, what I found is, that I was fully reliant on the Lord through … I got into the Word. Got great Scriptures that I just focused on and meditated on.
I had friends that I could call day and night and say, okay, it's happening. I'm afraid. Pray for me now. My husband, you know, any time, pray for me, because I am afraid and just saying it out loud and getting people to pour back into me and allowing the Holy Spirit to minister and just letting Him do that through me and trusting Him. It takes you to a whole new level of trust when you know that it's in His hands.
Greg: I got to watch this journey when she was having her C-section, laying on the table. And I could hear her saying something or mumbling something. I wasn't quite sure, to find out that she was singing that song, "Yes, Lord, yes, Lord, yes, yes, Lord." And just to watch her strength that came from God--
Jim: Well, especially—
Greg: --in that moment.
Jim: --in that moment.
Jim: That's quite impressive. Well, you guys, we have really touched on this thought and idea of expectant parenthood, both for husbands and for moms particularly. Suzanne, you've written this book, Expectant Parents. It is a great help to kind of take care of the myths and better understand what's gonna happen, what your body's going through and what that day will be like when your entire life changes and how to prepare a proper attitude before the Lord, not to see it as a grind, but to see it as an incredible blessing to be a terrific mom and a terrific dad. So, thanks for being with us.
Greg: Thank you.
Erin and Suzanne: Thank you.
Closing Voice Track:
John: And this time has moved so quickly and if you're preparing your marriage for a new baby to arrive, then you'll want a copy of the book, Expectant Parents, which is informative. It's written from a Christian perspective obviously, as you can tell here today and it's really full of some great information about what to expect each trimester of the pregnancy and how to prepare your marriage for your little bundle of joy and how to trust God to equip you as a parent. It'll make a great gift for an expectant couple and there's surely somebody in your sphere that could benefit from Expectant Parents.
And let me just say that when you get in touch and make a donation to Focus on the Family today of any amount, we'll send the book to you for your reference or perhaps to pass along to someone. It's our way of saying thank you for standing with us and enabling us to make radio programs like this one.
And then here at the end of the end of the program, let me just share a comment that we received from one mom about how she uses the resources that we've provided over the years. She told us, "Focus on the Family has been such a blessing to our family. From the time I was in college to first being married and then having our four children, Focus has been there in every stage. Now as a mentor to younger moms, I'm able to pass on the wisdom I received from Focus and encourage this next generation of families to connect with this ministry. Thank you for your commitment to Christ and the family."
Very kind comments and they really do reflect our concern, our passion to help families thrive. And if you'd like to be part of that mission and equipping that next generation of parents, then please pray for the ministry of Focus on the Family and contribute as you can. Donate at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio or when you call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY; 800-232-6459.
Our program was provided by Focus on the Family and on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team here, thanks for listening. I'm John Fuller, inviting you back next time, when you'll hear more trusted advice to help you and your family thrive in Christ.
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Greg SmalleyView Bio
Dr. Greg Smalley serves as the vice president of Marriage at Focus on the Family. In this role, he develops and oversees initiatives that prepare individuals for marriage, strengthen and nurture existing marriages and help couples in marital crises. Prior to joining Focus, Smalley worked for the Center for Relationship Enrichment at John Brown University and as President of the National Institute of Marriage. He is the author of 12 books including Crazy Little Thing Called Marriage, Fight Your Way to a Better Marriage and The DNA of Relationships.
Erin SmalleyView Bio
Erin Smalley serves as the Marriage Strategic Spokesperson for Focus on the Family's marriage ministry and develops content for the marriage department. In addition to her work at Focus, Smalley is a conference speaker. She presents with her husband, Dr. Greg Smalley, at marriage enrichment seminars where they guide husbands and wives in taking steps toward enjoying deeply satisfying marriages. She also speaks to women on faith, family and the importance of healthy friendships.