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Baptism by Parenthood

Amanda Tipton

Cari Donaldson - published on 01/21/14

Parenthood offers nearly unlimited chances to be transformed into a new creation.

There’s a lot of talk about baptism in the Gospels. Baptism by water, baptism by fire, baptism by the Spirit. Lots of ways to get yourself baptized.

It’s sort of like being a parent. If we take the notion of “baptism” in its broadest sense, one of becoming a new creation due to the transformative nature of the event, then parenthood is rife with baptismal opportunities.

Baptism by fluid: any parent who has survived cold, flu, or allergy season with a child understands this. To say that there is something transformative about a child using your hair as a tissue would be an understatement. Also included: any breastfeeding mother who hears a crying child in a public place and whose body involuntarily offers some food for the baby. Human beings are shockingly watery creatures, held together by nothing more than a skin balloon, and a leaky balloon at that.  

Baptism by blood: papercuts, skinned knees, lips busted wide open during Mass because for some reason the back of the pew in front is an irresistible taste sensation. Bike crashes, broken arms, stitches, trips to the E.R., calls to Poison Control. We once had a child lean against the front of our gas fireplace and melt his diaper to the glass. Melted his diaper. The number of ways children find to injure themselves is truly breathtaking. The fact that we survive them along with our kids is even more so.

Baptism by humiliation: Mass, grocery store, school carpool line, library, doctor’s office, soccer practice. The more public the place, the more horrifying the thing that will come out of your child’s mouth. To the man at the seafood counter at the store the other day, I apologize for my son’s loud declarations that the octopus salad is the “grossest thing in the entire store and only a zombie would ever eat it.” We didn’t see you with a pound of it in your hands. But in my son’s defense, it is kind of visually off-putting.

Baptism by heartbreak: the first time you have to explain death to a child. The first breakup. All the other breakups. Moving. Navigating social waters. Failures. Defeats. As a parent you walk that line between wanting so badly to shelter them from all the pain, and knowing you can’t, so you have to help them learn to bear it. My daughter takes ice-skating lessons, and every week my husband comments on the younger kids wearing helmets to class. The older skaters don’t wear them, and there’s no transitional helmets to be seen, so it always makes me wonder: at what point does a parent decide to take the helmet off their child? There’s that same temptation to put a helmet on your child’s heart, too, ostensibly to protect your child, but really to protect yourself from having to undergo that baptism by heartbreak.

Baptism by joy: that feeling you get when your child makes you so proud your heart actually hurts. It’s a kind of baptism by heartbreak, but this is the fracturing of a heart filled to bursting. When you overhear you older children lavishing great tenderness on their younger siblings. When your six year old brings down his life savings to donate to the crisis pregnancy center. When those flickers of the adults your children are going to become stop being flickers, and become the new normal.  

Having children has done more than any other thing to drag me out of myself, to make the notion of God and grace and eternity more than an abstract one. Like the constant invitation for baptism in the Gospels, parenthood offers nearly unlimited chances to be transformed into a new creation.

Cari Donaldson is the author of Pope Awesome and Other Stories: How I Found God, Had Kids, and Lived to Tell the Tale.  She married her high school sweetheart, had six children with him, and now spends her days homeschooling, writing, and figuring out how to stay one step ahead of her child army. She blogs about faith and family life at

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