This article is written out of my personal experience of disappointment in early motherhood. Its expressed intention is to be an encouragement to any woman who may find herself in similar circumstances this Father’s Day: disillusioned and disappointed with the way parenting with her spouse has fallen short of her hopes. While I acknowledge that this piece does not speak specifically to many mothers in the Risen Motherhood audience—those struggling with infertility, single moms, those with an unbelieving spouse, etc.—it is my sincere hope that the truth about who God is contained within it might still encourage any woman reading this article in her unique situation.
I remember the first time I ever saw my husband with a baby. He held him with stiff and awkward arms and nervously returned him to his mother when he started to cry. I found myself in a daydream in that moment, as love struck young women do, of what it would be like to raise a family with this kind, servant-hearted, steady man. And how he would surely be so much more natural with his own kids, our kids.
The day dream crumbled shortly after we came home from the hospital with our newborn son four years later. Those first few weeks were really difficult. Caring for our child came much more naturally to me. It took a different kind of effort for my husband to change his diaper, care for his circumcision, bathe him, or even dress him. Gradually, I started to just do things myself instead of asking for help because it was easier that way, but it didn't stop resentment from growing in my heart. I had looked forward to all the ways that parenthood would make us closer and more in love, but those first few months were nothing like I had imagined. It was so much lonelier.
Our son was four months old when my husband’s first Father’s Day rolled around. I snapped a picture of the two of them smiling, and struggled to wade through my bitter disappointment to find the words to celebrate him. I wish I could sit down for coffee with that grieving, disillusioned mama and offer her the encouragement in this article, but instead, I pray that if you are struggling the way that I was in that first year, that this article would meet you in that place and offer hope.
1. Your Father Sees, Hears, and Knows
This sort of disillusionment in the early days of parenting can be isolating. The desire to love and honor your husband can leave you with few if any places to turn for support as your heart is breaking from loneliness and confusion over what expectations are realistic and what emotional responses are appropriate. But your Father in Heaven sees and knows. He also hears the cries of your heart. You can run to him with your sorrow and desire to see a change in your spouse. Even if you don’t know how to pray, the Spirit intercedes for you with groanings that are too deep for words. God longs for you to abide in him and to depend on him more than you hope in your circumstances. The experience of loneliness in marriage is always an opportunity to experience intimacy with God.
2. Your Father Has Given You All That You Need
God’s word tells us that he has given us everything we need for life and godliness through the knowledge of his Son. It also tells us that the words contained within it are sufficient to equip us for every good work. Although you may be tempted to believe that you simply cannot handle the responsibilities of parenting without the support you expected to receive from your spouse, God’s promise for his people is that he will provide all that they need to accomplish the tasks to which he has called them. He has provided everything that you need for the good work of motherhood, even if it doesn’t feel like that provision is coming through your spouse. Recognizing that you are perfectly equipped enables you to release your husband from the expectations you’ve placed on him. God always provides us with exactly what we need, and sometimes what we need is the disappointment required to remove our hope from earthly things and firmly anchor it again in himself and his word.
3. Your Father is Sovereign Over this Season
You can have hope in this disappointing moment because of the knowledge that God is sovereign over your circumstances. He is always at work, orchestrating every event, for the good of his people and the sake of his name. Your experience in this early stage of parenting is not divorced from that sovereign care. This knowledge should move you not only to deeper trust and rest, but also to bold and expectant prayer, knowing that He is able to bring about change. That type of prayer is a powerful weapon against bitterness and cynicism.
4. Your Father is Able to Change Hearts
There was an element of hopelessness that accompanied my disillusionment in those initial months of parenthood. I was not only grieving the present reality that my husband was not “a baby person,” but was also lamenting an imagined future in which he was disengaged and uninvolved in the lives of our children. Our son is now two-and-a-half and I marvel daily at the extraordinary father that my husband is. I don’t offer this story of change to encourage you to put your hope in your circumstances, but simply to illustrate that fatalism has no place in the heart of the believer. Our God is able to do infinitely more than we could ever ask or imagine.God can change your husband. In fact, he is the only one who can change your husband.
This means that you are free from that burden. You are free from scheming to manipulate him into playing the part you’ve scripted for him in the context of your family. You are free to entrust him to God, and joyfully step in to the work the Holy Spirit is already doing within him. You can love him and extend grace to him, affirming him and encouraging him in the ways that you see God using him.
Although you are grieved by your husband in this season, scripture consistently asks us to examine our own hearts rather than focusing on the sins and shortcomings of our neighbor.As we consider its commands and ask the Holy Spirit to reveal our hearts, our painful failure to love our neighbor as ourselves is quickly exposed in our failure to love our struggling husbands. Though we are tempted to blame our behavior and negative thoughts on our circumstances, or maybe even our spouses, the truth is, our circumstances really just reveal our hearts. And that, not the behavior of our spouse, is what we are accountable to him for. Trials are God’s chosen method to refine us and make us more like Jesus. Ask God to reveal what this hardship reveals about your own heart and experience the beautiful fruit of confession: peace and the grace to change. Rest and strength do not come to us through the performance of our spouse but through repentance and trust in who God is and what he has promised.
Celebrating Your Husband with a Grateful Heart
So this Father’s Day, even if you have experienced great disappointment over all that he isn’t, celebrate your husband for what he is: the father of your children. Even if you find yourself grieved by your inability to honestly say the things about him that you long to be able to say, say all the affirming things you can think of. Reach deeply for the things he is doing well for your family and celebrate and express your gratitude. Encourage him with the ways that you see God working in him and through him in his role of being a Father. Tell him that you know what a great responsibility it is and how much of a challenge it is and how you are committed to supporting him and praying for him. Tell him how excited you are to watch him grow and to watch your children experience new things with him as they grow more too. Most of all, feel the blessing of your heavenly father loving you not according to what you have done, but because of who you are in Christ, and extend that same patience, grace, and favor to your spouse.