At a party, three months before my daughter was born, in front of twenty-five of my friends, most if not all, who had experienced the thrills and adventure of rearing children, I calmly remarked, “Having this baby will not change my life.” Momentary silence was followed by an eruption of deep belly laughter. A few were even rolling on the floor in gut-hurting, tear-streaming buffoonery. The smirks and giggles and hounding went on for what seemed an eternity. I wanted to crawl under the sofa.
Three months later I discovered the reasons for my friends bellowing at my off-the-cuff comment. This wonderful and beautiful child that I had a partnership in conceiving, cried, had fits of rage, lacked proper etiquette and culinary skills. Because of her entrée into my world I rarely slept through the night or slept in on Saturdays. Watching a ballgame or my favorite television show uninterrupted became impossible. Discretionary money for golf games and dates with my wife was limited. Going to the mall on a moment’s notice was totally out of the question.
I had to eat my words, again and again. Having a baby does change one’s life!
The reality is having a life changes one life. The only constant in this world is change. “Everything flows and nothing stays,” Heraclitus proclaimed. He added, “You can’t step twice into the same river.” To be alive, whether having a baby or not, means perpetual change.
Change is often a frightening word. It creates a lot of stress and concern and worry in our lives. And, since no one likes change but a wet baby, we often react to change in less than positive ways. For example:
- We resist. “Our dilemma,” wrote columnist Sidney Harris, “is that we hate change and love it at the same time; what we want is for things to remain the same but get better.” We all resist change at some level and on some issues.
- We recoil. Like the animal whose nostrils flare and muscles tighten at a sudden sound or movement, we have primal nerves that tense in the face of sudden change. Our first instinct is not, “Good, we’re going to have constructive change.” Our first reaction is often to panic and run away from change.
- We fear. The innovations, improvements, and intrusions in our world often alarm and concern us, if not, downright scare us. But, often with our propensity toward variety and newness it’s not change we fear. We are afraid of the unknown.
- We resent. The threat of change implies the giving up of certain rights or privileges or at least the arousing of our lives from comfortable ruts and routines. We resent the inconvenience and the frustrations brought on by the changes. Or we resent the traditions and heritages of our past sacrificed for that which is modernized.
Reacting, unfortunately, allows change to dominate and control. It puts one on the defensive. A more positive and effective way exists of coping with change: Adapt and Respond. My daughter experienced this firsthand, literally, when the doctor’s hand pulled her from the comfort of her mother’s womb—her world, into a new and scary environment—my world. Every succeeding day after that was one change after another (and I don’t mean her diapers, either). In fact, if she did not adapt and respond, I would be a worried and concerned parent. In her case, change was not all bad. In fact, it provided the stimulus for her growth and development.
Change often brings a sense of unsettledness and unreality; everything nailed down seems to be coming loose. I would propose an exercise: we would do well to write down the things in our lives that we are confident that will not change in the next twenty years—for example, our marriage and our children. Then list the other things that probably won’t change in the next five years—like, the car we drive and the house we live in. Next, list the things that will stay the same for the next twelve months—our friends and our job.
While everything else is flying loose in unprecedented fashion, we’ve nailed down probably 80 percent of our lives. These are our islands of stability, the relatively stable parts of our existence. By being aware of that stability we can help keep our balance and equilibrium. We can also develop an appreciation for the things that change very slowly.
Change need not be our foe. It can be our friend. I learned that from my daughter. She has indeed changed my life. But I would not want it any other way.