I’ll never forget the moment I found out I was going to be a dad.  On the morning of July 4, 2011, my wife came out of the bedroom of our apartment holding the positive pregnancy test.  We were scared, excited, and caught up in the emotions of the moment.

In the weeks that followed, I could barely think about anything else. It was too early to tell our friends so I started introducing myself to random strangers on the train every morning, just so I could slip in the fact I was a soon-to-be dad. I even spilled it to the banker when I was depositing some checks one day. Meanwhile, I kept thinking of how amazing that moment would be when I’d meet my child for the first time.

The actual moment I heard Caleb’s voice was just as powerful as I expected. Holly and I were both in tears and I was beaming. But many parents won’t tell you about the moments that follow. You go from unending joy to paralyzing fear as you realize you’re now responsible for keeping another human being alive.

This fear is compounded by the fact this beautiful child also decided to begin his journey into the world at 3:30AM, just as your nighttime cold medicine began raging inside you. You’re excited and thanking God every 5 minutes for this new life, all while fighting back extreme terror and exhaustion.

The Dad Club

As I went through this emotional rollercoaster in the first weeks of Caleb’s life, I was fortunate to have a strong group of men around me. They did so much to encourage and support me in those early days. Several of my close friends also had children around the same time.  It was like a special club of new dads. We would high-five each other just for knowing how to dress our children without suffocating them or changing their diapers without flinging poop all over the room. As long as our kids were relatively clean, breathing, and fed, we considered it an unqualified success.

The Mommy Wars

I quickly learned that this experience is not necessarily the case for moms. In our first year of parenthood, Holly was bombarded with messages that left her feeling like a failure of a mom.

She was told how her C-section was a cop-out – an unnecessary procedure the doctor convinced us we needed to make more money off her delivery. Because real women deliver naturally.

She was discounted for taking an epidural. Because real women feel the pain.

She was chastised for choosing to bottle-feed Caleb. Because real women purely breast-feed.

She was even pitied by a close friend for having a boy. Because real women give birth to girls or something too.

I can already tell that this doesn’t get any better. I’m sure we will be chastised for putting Caleb in public schools. (I’ve already been on the PTA mailing list at his elementary school for three years.) I’m sure we’ll also brave the competitive parents who are determined to show that their children are more advanced than ours.

When it comes to raising children, parents face one tough decision after another.  Often times, many or all of the options are legitimate, healthy, and responsible.  Still, they’re often difficult to make.  What we’ve found, especially among circles of mothers, is those personal choices often become a source of identity.

Whether to work or stay at home, breast-feed or use formula, register of public school or home school – all of these quickly become overly spiritualized decisions that lead to an overdeveloped sense of superiority.  In the end, they become just another form of legalism.

To The Discounted Mom

So if you’re a woman who has been made to feel like your mom card is less valid than the mother next door, let me just say this: I was there when they performed an invasive surgery on my wife while she was wide awake so they could rescue my son from a life-threatening situation. As a man, I was just proud of myself for not passing out.

As impressed as I was in that moment, it pales in comparison to the strength and resiliency I’ve seen out of the petite woman I married four years ago. Despite sleepless nights and days where we’ve been covered in vomit, I’ve seen an almost disturbing calm in her.

Carrying another human around for nine-months aside, you are now partnering with your husband to disciple a new generation of Christ-followers. You have the ability to lay a spiritual foundation in your child’s life that no one else can establish.

The memories of my own mom kneeling down over the couch to pray every morning still sticks with me today. Her love for my dad, my brother, and me was always evident. Whether you breast-feed or bottle-feed your child, it makes no difference in this most important goal. Don’t let anyone else convince you otherwise.

To the Super Mom

Despite all of the negative messages Holly has dealt with since Caleb was born, there have been several women who have meant the world to her. I’m so thankful for one of her coworkers, a fellow mother who carpooled with her several times a week. With two teenage boys of her own, she has been a constant encouragement to Holly, helping her sort through everything she hears from others.

This woman has taken her expertise in motherhood and used them to humbly serve my wife. She never pressures her into making decisions, only helps her think through the options. Despite long days in the office, Holly comes home refreshed after their time together in the car. If the calling of motherhood has come naturally to you, never forget the power of your words to breathe life into another woman, nor their ability to crush her.

To Those Who Aren’t (Yet) Moms

You’re not forgotten. Whether you have chosen not to have children or the decision was made for you, please understand that your worth as a woman is not wrapped up in your parental status.

I still remember the pressure we felt from others in the years prior to conceiving Caleb. But if I had learned that Holly couldn’t have children before I asked her to marry me, I would have still put the ring on her finger and said ‘I do.’ I’m sure your husband would tell you the same thing.

Scripture recounts the stories of so many women who have been in your shoes, only to see God do unimaginable things in their lives. My prayer is that you and your husband have found a Christian community that can support and guide you through your situation, whatever it may be.

To the Adoptive Mom

Biology doesn’t determine family.  Few others will ever understand that better than you.  Your choice to love a child as your own – who once wasn’t – is a brilliant picture of the Gospel to everyone who sees it.  The hurdles you have faced to adopt are far more difficult than most other parents have faced.  Never forget the incredible example of love you are setting for everyone around you.  Never let anyone make you feel like less of a mom.

To Holly

I love you and I am so proud of the woman and the mom Caleb gets to enjoy every day.