After my son was born, people often ask me what it's like to be a new dad. I think a part of it has to do with who I am. I was never one to play with other people's kids or aspired to have many children, so I'm sure those close to me wonder how I'm doing in this new and seemingly awkward role.
But I think another reason people ask is because they know having a kid changes your life - and yet they don't really know exactly how kids change your life. Sure they hear stories about sleepless nights, dirty diapers, and losing your "freedom." But beyond these lifestyle differences, is there anything else that changes?
Everything has changed. And it goes far beyond just the lifestyle. The way you view every aspect life is just different. How so? Here are a couple of ways.
You See Everything From a Parent's Perspective
In the past when I would counsel college students, I always saw everything from their perspective. So for example, when they'd share about how they were raised or why they're not close to their dad, I would empathize with the student and wonder what their dad's problem was.
But now when I counsel college students, I can't help but see things from their parent's perspective. So when they'd share about how they were raised, I'd ask how that affected them while taking mental notes ("must not do that to my son"; "I should try that with Jude"). When students shared why they're not close to their dad, I now empathize more with the dad and wonder what this student's problem is.
In other words, everything is interpreted as a dad now. As a parent you just can't help it. The same goes with TV shows and movies and books. Even if the protagonist is a child, I can't help but look at the whole story from their parent's perspective. It's a pretty strange shift that no one warned me about.
You Re-evaluate Your Career
Before when people choose a career, they usually do so for personal reasons ("do I like what I'm doing?") or existential ones ("is my work meaningful?"). However after you have kids...it's different. You don't think so much about what your kids will think about your work; rather you think more about how your kids will be shaped by your work.
So when I decided to pursue pastoral work, I never considered how my decision would affect my son. I never thought about how he'll now be known as the "pastor's kid" and carry all the baggage that comes with that. I never considered that now he'll consider being a pastor because his old man is one.
Thoughts like this make you re-look at what you're doing and see if you want to keep doing it. This isn't necessarily a bad thing - but it does make you reevaluate what you do and believe in the work that you're doing.
Your Spouse Is Now Your Business Partner
When you have a kid, your marriage changes. And I'm not just talking about sex, time or personalities. Rather your marriage now gets nuanced in a way that you never really anticipated when you first started dating. Let me explain.
When you plan to marry someone, most couples will often focus on how attracted they are to one another or how much they "click." However once you get a kid your spouse is no longer just your friend and lover - she's now also your business partner. And that "business" happens to be your child. You now schedule, delegate responsibilities, and vision-cast with one another.
I feel like I can be friends with most people - but I definitely can't work with all of them. However that's a question couples never really ask each other: Can the two of you work together? What would it be like if you ran a business together? Well, when you get a child you'll find yourself essentially doing just that. And if you don't like the way they "work," expect a lot of conflict.
All Decisions Are Based On Your Kid
Back when I was single, I'd look for a church where the preaching was good and the community was vibrant. I think this is what most Christians look for in a church. However, if I were to ever look for a church now, I'd look for a solid children's ministry. Of course it'd be ideal if a church had all these features. But if I had to choose one, I'd choose the healthy children's ministry.
This is why I've said elsewhere that people who stay at dying churches will almost certainly leave after they have kids. When your single, your decisions are based only on you. But when you have a kid, every decision is based on him - and what parent would want to subject their kid to be the only kid in the children's ministry with no friends at church?
I'm sure for many parents, this is common knowledge. Hopefully this simply articulates what many of us are feeling. But for singles who wonder what a difference kids make, this shift in perspective is probably the biggest & most surprising change.
So I probably look the same on the outside, but inside - there's now a whole new way of looking at the world. And I have to say, it's actually quite nice.