“How are you finding fatherhood, then?”

My friend’s message popped up on my phone about two weeks after the birth of my eldest son. Blurry-eyed from the cumulative effect of many consecutive nights’ sleep interrupted by the new rituals of nappy changes and bottle feeds, I managed to fire back the reply:

Simultaneously the most exciting, terrifying, frustrating, exhausting and wonderful thing I’ve ever done.”

Three years later, I’ve had a bit more time to work out the details, but those broad strokes still capture much of the experience of being a dad.


There’s the excitement of welcoming a precious new life into the family, of witnessing the first smile, first words and first steps. The thrill of watching them grow and develop their own personality, and an eagerness to provide them with all the good things and protections they need. 

(Tempered by the fear of getting it all wrong, of course. The internet offers a deluge of opinions on optimal child-rearing strategies, with plenty of commentators more than willing to let you know what they think of you if your chosen approach differs from theirs).

This is quickly followed by the exhaustion. In part due to the sleep loss that comes from living with a small person yet to develop the social courtesy of respecting others’ sleep cycles, but also due to a significant loss of quality rest time. Small children have more practical needs and as a result, many ordinary aspects of home life – mealtimes, bedtimes, bathtimes, even the simple act of leaving the house – take longer. Throw in increases to burdens of laundry, cooking and cleaning, there are simply fewer hours left in the day to do the things you find relaxing and refreshing. Additionally, pre-school children have an enormous amount of energy for play while lacking the capacity to direct it without a certain level of adult input. This input typically involves a lot of repetitive play with the same toys, songs and playground destinations which can easily become another source of exhaustion for a parent.

Frustrations abound. Whether it’s the sustained 3am crying sessions, slapping your carefully prepared and nutritionally balanced meal onto the floor, or wanting to hide under the supermarket shelves when you really need to be getting home to make a start on dinner, children are master innovators when it comes to stress-testing your self-control mechanisms. Overnight trips, date nights, trips to the cinema or even simply dinner with friends become more logistically challenging when small children are added to the equation. This means that, for a season, you may need to go without these activities, or at least enjoy them less frequently.

One particular challenge arising from my decision to be a stay-at-home parent has been a sense of isolation from professional peers. Friends in work tend to talk about their week in terms of professional successes and challenges – dealing with a difficult patient, meeting an important client, lesson planning for the semester ahead – in a way that can feel worlds apart from my daily experience in which success is making it through to bed time without having run out of clean clothes.

There’s something of a generational effect too: I’ve generally found millennial friends to be enthusiastic about the idea of fathers being more directly involved in child-rearing while those of an older generation tend to be more surprised that it’s my wife, rather than me, or both of us, working to bring home a salary. I can often feel pressured to explain our decision in purely economic terms, citing the costs and availability of alternative childcare, rather than our belief in the inherent value of at least one parent being consistently present in our child’s early life.

Despite these challenges, fatherhood remains one of the greatest joys in my life, and my faith in Jesus plays a big part in this.

As my heavenly Father forgives me for being an imperfect human being, so I can forgive myself for being an imperfect parent. Instead of being a slave to an unrealistic level of perfection, I’m free to just work at becoming the best parent that I can be. That freedom allows me to be open and honest about my mistakes when I speak to other parents in a way that I hope helps to encourage and signpost God’s grace.

Accepting my limits allows me to accept help from friends and family when I’m feeling overwhelmed, or just needing to get back in control of the washing up pile. Toddler groups in church halls have been an incredible blessing for providing new toys, activities and a safe, free, indoor space in which a two-year-old can tear around on a rainy Tuesday morning.

Although there are aspects of my child-free life I sometimes miss, my faith gives me perspective. Investing that time and energy into the most valuable people in my life allows me to appreciate a different kind of life. Sometimes old things have to die so that the new can be born…

Whenever I doubt my worth, I am encouraged that the warmth and depth of love I feel for my sons is but a fraction of the depth of love my heavenly Father has for me. I am reminded daily what a wonderful privilege it is to be able to care for two small God-image-bearers and experience the wonders of His creation anew through their eyes.

Related pages:

Motherhood: The highs and lows and how God has been faithful through it all

Motherhood: The highs and lows and how God has been faithful through it all

Ahead of Mothering Sunday, Cara MacDonald, shares why as a mother of five, despite the many challenges motherhood brings she remains grateful
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