S happily climbed up and down, up and down the stairs of the slide while my growing belly and I sat perched on a too-small toddler chair. We’d managed to overcome the morning’s nausea to make it out of the house and into our neighborhood drop-in play time. Though my energy still lagged, I was happy for the distraction for both of us. New environment, new toys, new parents to chat with.
Little did I know that the conversation I would overhear between two strangers would haunt me for the rest of the week.
It started innocently enough. A father arrived to the classroom with his 3 year-old daughter in tow, a bouncing mop of curls and freckles. She leapt onto the climbing toys while her father made small talk with another pregnant mother watching her son build blocks.
“So I see you’ve got another one on the way – congratulations!”
“I bet. I’m jealous, actually.”
“Really? You want more kids?”
“Oh, yeah,” he smiled wistfully. “But it’s not going to happen. You know, ‘snip, snip.'” His fingers scissored in front of his face; his shoulders shrugged.
“Ah,” she said, knowingly.
“Yeah, my wife had a really difficult pregnancy and she doesn’t want any more.”
“But you still do??”
“Oh yeah. I love kids.”
At which point his daughter took a flying leap off the slide into a corner of the wall, and the eruption of tears pulled dad away from the conversation for good. The mother soon packed up her son and headed home, and the two never spoke again.
I felt like an intruder, eavesdropping on a conversation that felt too intimate for two strangers to be sharing in the first place. But I kept glancing sideways at the father for the rest of the playtime. He crawled in tunnels after his daughter, chased her around the building blocks, swung her over his head and tickled her till she squealed. Their delight was contagious.
For the rest of the day, and the week that followed, I found myself returning to that conversation between two parents I didn’t know. To the father’s wistfulness. To the mother’s astonishment at his wanting more children. To the over-sharing between strangers that betrayed his need to tell his side of the story.
My heart felt pulled in different directions: empathy for a miserable mother, sympathy for a longing father, frustration at society’s embrace of so-called “quick fixes.” But what saddened me most was the story of two parents so obviously not on the same page about a huge life decision and the future of their family.
No marriage is perfect; we all have our sore spots and sticking points. Some big decisions come easily; we agree on shared values, goals, approaches. Some are much more challenging; we go round and round for months, even years, trying to find a consensus. The conclusion isn’t reached without anger, frustration, sweat and tears.
But in the best of circumstances, the goal of these go-rounds is to reach a workable solution, to find a liveable agreement. Husband and wife may both have to cave and concede on certain points, but in the end, most of us try to meet each other somewhere in the middle.
So what happens when spouses are stuck on two drastically different pages when it comes to a parenting decision – whether something as huge as how many kids to have or something as small as how to handle the latest discipline crisis? When do we dig in our heels and refuse to budge, and when do we give in and give our spouse the green light to go where we don’t want to go? Can we parent well if we’re not on the same page?
I’m no parenting expert; I’m as full of questions and cluelessness as all the rest. But I think about this father, being forced into a major and permanent decision that went against his heart’s deep desires. And I feel such sadness at the situation; I wonder if and how things could have been different.
Perhaps there’s a call to prayer here. Not only a call to pray for this father and mother, but a call for all of us to keep praying and talking with our spouses about the places where we disagree. A prayer for wisdom and guidance and humility and forgiveness. A prayer to help each other grow into the parents we want to be. A prayer of discernment for knowing when to hold on and when to let go.