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When God Sends a Baby Girl to Change Your Life

By Dustin | Children

As any parent will attest, having a baby will change your life. Big time.

This is especially true for your first child when you’re forced to stop focusing on your own needs and attend to every need of your new baby.

There is probably no greater event to change your worldview and your day-to-day life.

However, as Bethany and I discovered over the course of the last year, a new baby can bring a deep, life-changing message at any time.

Hello Avery, Welcome to Our Crazy Life!

Last July, we welcomed with joy the arrival of our third child, a precious little girl named Avery.

Unlike our first two children, Avery took a little longer than we planned to make her way into our lives.  Since we use Natural Family Planning, we have been blessed with an awareness of my wife’s fertility that allowed us to plan the birth of our first two children pretty much as we intended.

Avery took a little more “trying” and her birth ended up coinciding with a lot of chaos in our family life.  While we can see now how positive this was, it certainly didn’t seem like the “right” arrival month at the time.

Life Is Just Too Hectic

I haven’t talked much about the intense changes that we’ve experienced over the last year or so.

In a nutshell, I found myself becoming increasingly unhappy with my career situation after spending 10 years with the same small company. There were many uncertainties and many forks in the road that started to converge with urgency with the arrival of summer.

When Avery was born, I took a week off to be with our family. This gave me some much needed perspective and really opened my ears and eyes to some messages that God had been screaming in our direction for a while.

As she entered her third trimester, Bethany was told that her special education position was being moved to a new school within her district.  After 8 years of building both her career and her social network, everything was changing for her as well.

Life was insanely hectic on all fronts. Most days brought a familiar grind of long work days, brief family time and when we focused on it maybe 15 minutes of time for us.

It wasn’t what we wanted, but we thought it was all we had available.

Back to School?

The summer birth meant that Bethany had to return to work, at an entirely new school in a whole new unprepared classroom, on maternity leave. With our two youngest in tow, she worked hard to get the room ready for school just a few weeks postpartum.  She was fairly miserable, especially with the thought of returning and sending Avery to daycare.

My work situation reached a head, and I decided it was time to make the difficult decision to leave the comfort of the known to test the waters and see what other opportunities were available.

I continued to work hard at my current job, Bethany returned to school and the kids went to daycare.  It was back to the grind of the preceding Spring, except with an extra child and lots of additional discontent thrown into the mix.

Money was tight, and it really seemed like this was simply our reality.

Leap, Then Look

After a series of late night talks, we decided that something had to change.  This was not what we wanted for our marriage or our family.  The urgency was there, but we still didn’t see any options.

My work situation finally degraded to the point that I was forced to be proactive or risk going berserk.

In a flash, I found a better opportunity, we decided it was time for Bethany to resign from her position and be home for our kids.

We didn’t know if all of this crazy change was going to work, but we decided it was time to take a leap of faith and change.  Everything.

Listen!

After we made a conscious choice, a sense of peace enveloped us both. A divine kind of peace that we had felt previously when finding NFP after years of struggling with our sense of morality and meaning surrounding our intimacy.

What had just happened?

We believe we had finally listened to the call that God had put on our lives many months before.

He had delivered this message not through a written message or a dream.  He had sent us our own little angel at just the Perfect Time.

Avery’s birth, right at the crux of our struggles and frustration, had forced us to reassess our priorities and the plans we had for our future.  God had been speaking, but we were finally ready to listen…despite trying SO hard to keep our ears closed!

By the way, after we made our decision, we realized that Avery was most likely conceived while we were away at a Church marriage retreat…and it was during this retreat that we first openly (and tearfully) discussed the possibility that maybe Bethany should stay at home…

Coincidence?

Life is Good.

We still share many of the struggles that face a young family.

But I have a job I enjoy and the mental energy to run two online businesses to help others with their marriage and their health.  Bethany is home with our children and feeling very fulfilled with her new role.

We are happy. Our kids are happy. Our souls feel right.

Thanks God, and thank you Avery Josephine.

How has God spoken to you through your children? Have you listened?

Zombie Parenting: 5 Tips for the Sleep Deprived

By Dustin | Children

Parenting a Newborn No SleepWhat do newborn babies and zombie bites have in common?

They can both make you a creature of the night.

While there’s no cure for a zombie virus, there are ways to deal with the plague of sleep deprivation that accompanies every new baby.

And don’t worry, these tips won’t require any brain-feasting or fantastic choreography.

Swaddling and Sleepwalking

I’ve been through quite a few events in my life that left me really short on sleep.

All-nighters of (ahem) studying in college, overnight hospital visits with seriously ill relatives, long road trips and the occasional need to care for sick children that just can’t make it through the night without you.

However, the birth of a new child offers a unique challenge to parents.  Newborn babies rarely sleep through the night for several weeks, and there’s really nothing that you can do to avoid waking up to feed the little angels every few hours…without exception.

If you have children, then you have surely experienced life in the frazzled, drowsy, confusing state of sleep deprivation.  You know what it’s like to live as a zombie parent!

5 Tips for Dealing With a Lack of Sleep

As you may know, we welcomed our third child (Avery) into our family less than two weeks ago, so I’m right in the middle of life with little sleep.  However, as my experience living as a undead new parent has grown, I’ve found some great ways to cope with a lack of sleep.

Next time you’re faced with sleepless nights, try these tips to keep your head in the game.

1. Team Up

If you want to maintain your sanity and avoid total burn-out, it’s really important that you share the demands of parenting a new baby (and any other children you already have).  This is a time when you can serve your spouse by stepping up and being fully involved in the child-rearing duties, especially those that happen under the cover of night.

In our house, that means that I do all of the overnight diaper-changing and then hand off to my wife to feed our newborn.  This split in responsibilities helps my wife get a little more sleep but, more importantly, it demonstrates that I’m willing to do what I can to help care for our baby and “be there” as a husband and father…even at night.

By the way, single parents simply amaze me, and these experiences make me more aware than ever that Moms in general are incredible.  There’s no way I could handle the demands of parenting a new baby on my own, and I applaud anyone who has been through it.

2. Back Off

If you’re like most of us, you lead a very busy life that keeps you hopping between responsibilities inside and outside of your home.  During the most stressful first few weeks of your new baby’s life, you should step away from optional commitments as much as possible.  Your church groups, civic organizations and your softball buddies will surely understand that this is a time to focus on your family and spend your time and energy at home.

For me, that’s meant a little less time writing here at Engaged Marriage, missing a meeting at the Knights of Columbus council where I am usually quite active, and taking a week off of work to be home and get to know our new daughter.  It can be tough to unplug, but there is simply no way to get these special moments with your new baby back once they’ve passed.

3. Exercise Your Body & Your Brain

It may seem counter-intuitive to use up your precious energy by exercising.  However, there is simply no better way to relieve stress and give your body a boost than by following a regular workout routine before and after the arrival of your new baby.

I know that very new moms are limited in their ability to exercise, but many can take an easy walk depending on their health status.  If physical activity is out of the question, it can really be helpful to simply  “exercise your mind” by taking a little time to read, solve puzzles and just stimulate your brain a bit.

This is been a real lifesaver for me over the past two weeks.  It’s tough to find the time, but the regime I follow only takes 30 minutes to complete, it has a lot of variety to keep it interesting, and I can do it at home.

Most days, I’ll take our two older kids downstairs with me while my wife stays with Avery.  The kids only need to stay clear of an about 6-foot by 6-foot area where I workout, and my son actually likes to join me for some of the moves!

4. Embrace Help

In most cases, new babies invite lots of interest and offers of help from friends and family.  You should gratefully accept the assistance of your loved ones, and take advantage of their help, as it will keep your energy levels up.

Plus, it will make your family and friends feel like part of your newborn’s life, which they’ll love!

Bethany and I have been blessed to have several friends bring over delicious meals for our family since we arrived home from the hospital.  Not only does this save us the time, energy and money of buying groceries and preparing meals for ourselves, but we really enjoy the short visits that come along with the food drop-offs.

It sure helps break up the cabin fever.

5. Smile

Above all else, always keep in mind the reason behind your fatigue and lack of sleep.  Remember that all of this sacrifice is needed to care for a precious gift from God.

The struggles of sleep deprivation are temporary, but the joy of parenting is forever.

Sure, Avery is costing us some sleep and probably adding a few gray hairs in the process, but there is simply no better way to spend our time and energy than caring for such a beautiful child.

We are blessed to be parents, three times over, even if we do sometimes feel like zombies in the process. 🙂

I’d love to hear your favorite ways to deal with a lack of sleep when a new baby arrives, so please share them in the comments.

I’ll read them later…I need to feast on the brains of the living go to bed right now! 🙂

(photo source)

The Greatest Joy

By Dustin | Children

There are a few days that define a person’s life and establish their legacy and mark on the world.  Thus far, I’ve been blessed to experience four such days.

When you experience something as life-altering as the welcoming of new life, it’s impossible to understand those that oppose life or commoditize it in terms of money, time or supposed independence.

When you witness the creation of something completely new and unique, it’s difficult to give credence to those that don’t believe in God or respect the power of Covenant Love.

When you see the superb power of true femininity in action, it’s awe-inspiring and quite humbling.  We are all indebted to our mothers and their unique capacity for unconditional love.

Welcome to the family Avery Josephine Riechmann.  You made me a better man today.

The Joys of Boredom

By Dustin | Children

Bored Kids are the Best!Do you ever get bored?

Our five-year-old son has recently started throwing out the “I’m bored” line, usually when something he was looking forward to doesn’t work out and he’s “stuck” playing inside at home.

The funny thing is that I realized I was a bit jealous when I heard him say it!

When I was a kid, I probably told my parents I was bored no less than 100 times a week.

We grew up in the sticks, and we were quite poor, so I didn’t get the chance to do a lot of the stuff that my friends from school were doing.  No Little League, no soccer, no Boy Scouts and no neighborhood kids to play with.

Now, this wasn’t entirely bad.  It really helped me develop a love for the outdoors and a pretty wicked imagination.

I guess that will happen when your idea of fun is getting yourself lost in the woods so you can find your way back home, all while pretending you’re a ninja.  But, alas, I was quite a bored little guy for many years.

And I miss it.

No Time for Boredom!

Of course, nowadays there are WAY too many things going on to ever be bored.

I’m sure you can relate to the hectic life of a young married couple, especially if you have little kids looking to you to keep them entertained (and fed).

We work a lot to advance our careers, and many of us continue to grow our education at the same time.

We help out in our community and church as much as we can.

We coach tee-ball and attend every weekend soccer game to support our kids.

We visit our own parents to see how they’re doing and to show off their grandkids.

We take shopping trips to Wal-Mart (that sometimes make us feel like a ninja again), and we work on our family finances to provide the best life we can for our family.

We try to exercise and spend time with our friends occasionally.

We read books to expand our mind and watch TV to help it contract back a little.

We make sure our spouse knows they’re the top priority in all of this craziness by carving out a few sacred minutes each day to spend some quality time together.

And some of us even blog late into the night to help make sense of it all for others (but mostly for ourselves).

Personally, I am a lot of things, but bored is not one of them!

Help Your Kids Be Bored

I have to be honest: when I hear our kids say they are bored, I smile a little.

They are involved in a lot of activities and they certainly are not suffering from a lack of “stuff” to keep them occupied even if, God forbid, there’s a rainy day that keeps them cooped up.  But they do have down time in their young lives to just sit and draw, play together and imagine they are on crazy adventures that don’t require a TV or a schedule.

Our kids get bored sometimes, and that is awesome.

Photo by John-Morgan

Do You Pray With Your Kids?

By Dustin | Children

Prayer with KidsI hope everyone enjoyed a wonderful Easter!

We had a great day visiting our families after attending an inspiring Mass early in the morning.  And we ended the day by putting our kids to bed and saying their nightly prayers with them.

But this was not something new for the Easter holiday.

We have actually developed several “rituals” throughout the day where we share family prayer, and it’s become a cool part of our family dynamic.

What is Easter?

That’s the type of question my 5-year-old son is likely to ask completely out of the blue.

He’s also been known to ask things like, “Where is Jesus?” or “Who is the best: Baby Jesus or God?” or “Why was Jesus on a cross…did it hurt?”

I can tell you that answering these queries from an inquisitive kid is both challenging and really inspiring.

It can be tough to explain things on his terms (or to actually know the answers sometimes), but it’s so cool to know that he feels connected enough with his faith to wonder.

Where Does He Come Up With This Stuff?

If you met us on any given day in real life, I don’t think you would peg our family as an overtly religious or deeply spiritual bunch.

We’re normal folks with all of the typical faults and failings that accompany a busy life in today’s society.  Our kids are generally pretty good, but there are certainly no halos floating above their heads.

This makes me particularly proud to have a young son who asks such deep questions about spirituality.  And it got me thinking about why he may be giving these things so much thought.

We make it a point to attend Mass every Sunday, and we try to speak openly about our faith within our home.  However, I really think that our young children are connecting on a more basic level.

Praying With Our Kids Rocks

I think it’s the prayer.

Again, we do a few basic things as part of our family routine, including the traditional Catholic blessing before our meals at home.

My wife and I also end every night with a visit to our kids’ rooms to say some more traditional prayers over them while they sleep (Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be, Prayer of the Guardian Angel).  Of course, they don’t know that. 🙂

All of that is well and good, and we find it to be very valuable to take these few minutes each day to thank God in a ritual way.

However, I think the real impact for our children comes from the prayer our kids say each night before they go to bed:

Thank you dear God

For Mama and Daddy

And (sister or brother’s name)

And all my Grandmas

And all my Grandpas

And thank you for having a good day.

Amen.

At the end, we usually ask them to think of something specific that they are thankful for that day.  This could be tee-ball, princesses, chocolate or any other thing that looms large in the minds of young kids.

This prayer actually has a bit of history. It was the prayer my wife said each night with her parents when she was growing up.

It had enough of an impact on her that she suggested we adopt it with our own children as soon as they could talk.  And I am so glad that we did.

Do You Pray With Your Kids?

So I’m curious to hear about your experiences with this topic.  You may not be a parent and you may not be religious.  That’s totally fine, but feel free to chime in with any words of wisdom that you may have to share from your own upbringing or from others that you know.

Do you pray with your kids?  What kind of prayers do you say?

Do you think this has had a positive impact on them (and you)?

Photo by Rennett Stowe