I may have written this before, so bear with me if you have read it already.
Our life decisions will determine the path of who we will become. I know this ain’t rocket science, but I am always amazed at myself for taking this route of being a stay-at-home dad. I admit that most of the time, when I make a decision, I don’t fully know what will lie ahead. I should have read more about what it means to be a stay-at-home dad instead of gung-ho charging in.
At the same time, though, there was a short period when I didn’t want to be a stay-at-home dad. I still remember it was after being invited to a ministry conference. As we brought our 2-year-old and 3-month-old baby to the conference, I wanted to return to ministry. I wanted to send my kids to daycare or some institution so I could go back to church and work. A good Christian should labour for the Lord.
And at this time, I heard a quiet voice; I believe the Holy Spirit spoke to me and told me to take the stay-at-home dad route.
And so off I went to watch my children full-time. I admit it (many times), but I struggled with it. Partly is a sense of uselessness (why am I wasting my time watching my kids?). Part of the struggle is my ego. I thought I was doing ministry for Jesus, but when I feel down when no one applauds me for watching my kids (compared to going to do missions or becoming a pastor etc.), I realize I am serving Him or serving others can look at up to me as a ‘strong’ Christian? That took some soul-searching.
Anyways, going back to the point of this post. It took me a few more years as a stay-at-home dad to show me how we should approach ministry and parenting.
The reality is that we only got 24 hours a day. I wish we have more time to serve and spend time with our children. But there isn’t.
I used to think ministry and parenting were two different things. Ministry is important because we are serving God, and we have to put God first. So everything else must be sacrificed or outsourced such that I can focus mainly on serving. If this is my belief, then my approach is to spend as little time as possible with my children to use that time and, more importantly, energy to serve God in ministry.
However, because God led me on this path of being a stay-at-home dad, He challenged me to rethink parenting and ministry. Specifically, the Holy Spirit showed me that parenting is discipling my children. So the key verse to parenting shouldn’t be Ephesians 6:4. Instead, it should be the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20).
I had a lightbulb moment when I realized my duty as a father is to disciple my children. Then all those mundane tasks are opportunities for discipleship.
How does this change the way I approach ministry and parenting?
I no longer see my children as a liability to serving God. As cute as my girls are and as much as I love them, there used to be days when I dreaded watching them because I longed to ‘serve’ God in church. I must put them to sleep, meaning I can’t teach at night. I have to take them to Sunday School and be with them, meaning I can’t serve on Sunday.
When I saw my role as the primary discipler to my children, I asked myself, “How am I doing in discipling them? When was the last time we had a spiritual conversation? What can I show them about Jesus?”
Before, I never asked those questions. Why? Because I thought my kids would know Jesus through Sunday School. I’m not good with children; Sunday School is way more fun. It just made sense to pass that responsibility to the church. But it ain’t Biblical.
I no longer see parenting as an obstacle to serving. To be more specific, I no longer see my children as obstacles to serving.
Adapt in all seasons.
Those were hard times when my kids were small, like three and one year old. It was hard because they needed me constantly. But harder because I was struggling emotionally. I struggled because I was trying to force going back to serving God when I was single or married. I felt like I was sitting a the sideline where everyone (ministers) was playing the game. I felt left out and alone.
I wished I was back in the game and going all out. But I couldn’t because my kids were with me.
But now, I see it differently and hopefully healthier. My children are part of my ministry team. Of course, they are so young they couldn’t go as fast as I can. As a leader, I need to adapt to them. This means I have to slow down.
I feel like a bad Christian when my pastors tell everyone they must serve. I couldn’t when looking after a toddler and a baby full-time.
One night, Wai Jia said, “What if we spent the first few years with our children so their foundation in life is filled with love? Woudln’t that be worth it?”
Those probably ain’t the exact words, but it was close enough. In my head, yes. In my heart, no, I want to serve 😛 . As my action shows, I spent the next few years and continued to be a full-time stay-at-home dad.
As the leader of Team Tam, I learned to slow down for my team members, Sarah-Faith and Esther-Praise. I learned and still learning not to rush them and let them grow at their own pace. I learned serving God ain’t just in church or in ministry ministry. Ministry begins at home. I want to argue that it is more important to establish a strong ministry at home before we venture out and do something else. I say this because of a chat with a pastor friend. He reckoned that most of the elders who serve do it for the prestige, and the home front is a mess. He said, “It is easier to serve in church than go home and deal with issues.”
This is sad. What’s the point of building a ‘great’ ministry if the home suffers from neglect and absent parenting? That’s a shame.
The Season is Changing
My girls are growing up. Just before Sarah-Faith turned five, she wanted to go to school. Of course, the younger sister, Esther-Praise, wanted to follow suit. Now they both attended half-day kindergarten. They are having so much fun, begging us to sign up for more after-school activities for them. They have some, but we say not so much because Wai Jia and I want to spend time with them.
When they are in school, I have more free time. It felt surreal. But it was also a reminder to myself that seasons change. My girls will grow up, and they will want their own lives. The struggle as a stay-at-home dad (or mom) is real. When you have to deal with two toddlers, it ain’t fun. But it won’t last forever.
Since I have more free time, I started a Stay-at-home dad community called The Ordinary Dad. In a way, it is my fellowship. I started to do a bit more ministry here and there. I still don’t serve as crazy as when I was single or married. But I realized that it ain’t about serving crazily. It is about building a strong relationship, first with Christ, then with Wai Jia, and then with my children. Then the outflow of that is serving. If I put serving first, my relationship with Wai Jia and my children will suffer. Ultimately, I won’t be serving as much or as effectively or at all.
I don’t complain about my children getting in the way of serving these days. I wouldn’t say never, but it is a lot less. Wai Jia and I still juggle between serving and looking after them. But it is no longer a chore. And we spent a huge portion of our time and energy with them. Wai Jia has been spending a considerable time teaching know about spiritual truths.
I am thankful for God leading me to this stay-at-home dad path. It exposed me and helped me to focus on what is truly important.