As the Family Goes

JP II Quote

"As the family goes, so goes the nation, and so goes the whole world in which we live." John Paul II

Monday, May 18, 2015

Love. I can do that.

Does anyone else get sick of hearing the latest parenting labels?  There's Attachment Parenting, Gentle Parenting, French, Finnish, British or whatever international Parents that are all doing it better than us.  There's Helicopter Parenting (which of course we DO NOT want to do!) and Tiger Parenting - and all of it, to me, seems to slot Moms into a box.  All checklists of things to subscribe to that make parenting a set of goals to achieve, goals which often times seem so far out of my reach, and drive me further into despair over the things I wish I was but am not.

I wrote in my last post about my husband calling me at supper time in the dead middle of a terrible afternoon.  When he asked me how I was, there was of course a split second when I wanted to say I was good.  But I knew I wasn't, so I was honest.  And that honesty quickly spiralled into an on-the-phone meltdown complete with yelling at children, crying, and hanging up to compose myself (not a regular occurrence, but one I felt safe in sharing with my husband because I don't want to hide things from him.)  That evening he was a super hero. He met me where I was, took care of the four youngest while I took the older two to their violin practice, and had all the kids in bed and the house in order by the time I got home.  Once the last of our crew was tucked in and I was sitting, browsing social media, he came over to me and said, "I know that you know this, but I feel I need to say it anyway - you can't yell at the kids like that."

There were a million things I wanted to say in that moment.  All things that run through my head when I despair.  It's so hard to be 35 weeks pregnant, to always have somewhere to go, some deadline we can't miss, some appointment we can't keep putting off.  It's hard to keep on top of the housework and the schooling, and the general care of our children, and to have disaster strike when you only have a half hour before it's time to go.  The constant weight of this life feels so, so heavy sometimes.  And yet, by the time those words finished formulating in my head I knew what a poor response they really were - none of that matters. He is right.  I CAN'T yell at my kids the way that I did that day.  So I just didn't say anything.

He stopped what he was doing and wrapped his arms around me.  He told me he understands that things are hard, and we prayed together that we help each other become better parents.  And then I sat there, thinking of all the ways I fall short.  I had just come home from an amazing experience at some Spiritual Exercises three days earlier.  I had just been to confession.  Shouldn't things have been different?

And I realized that no, not in the way that I expected.  Confession and retreats, those are good things that help us build up grace and strengthen our souls.  But they don't change our personalities, who we are and the things we struggle with.  Looking back I realized that it was foolish for me to think that because I had done these things, I would return a completely patient mother who could bear all things with a smile on her face - that would be too easy.  The real change comes when we put the work into it, and there is no quick fix for that.  It is a constant dying to ourselves, a constant choosing of good over evil, a constant calling out to God.

I can very clearly remember the first time I really lost my temper with my first child.  He was a little over two, and I was completely horrified that I could be this way with him.   I remember thinking that if I could just get this under control now, before he was old enough to remember me this way, that he wouldn't even know me like that and it could all just be a bad memory that I closed the door on, and kept only between me and the Lord.  As my oldest approaches his 11th birthday, I know his memories are full of times when his mother has lost her cool, and that makes me sad.  It is much more of a part of my daily life than I wish it was, and while I do my best to be honest with my kids and ask their forgiveness, there is still that part of me that so desperately wishes I wasn't always falling into this exact same sin.  That I could practice "gentle parenting" and hit all the benchmarks.  That I could be calm and serene like the Duggar mother.  Knowing how far away I am from these things made me feel even more defeated, because I know my kids deserve better.

And then, like a gentle caress from the Lord I realized that there was something greater that I do have - love.  All this time I have been reaching for a patience which I don't have, putting it on a pedestal and then being horrified at myself for not doing perfectly what it takes so many mothers so many years to master.   But love, that's something that exists from the moment a child is formed in my womb.  From the time I saw those two little lines telling me I'd be a mother, there was an outpouring of love so deep it could not be matched by any other.  

In the very early days of my parenting, what bothered me most of all was my lack of compassion with the kids.  If someone fell and got hurt while I was in the middle of a million crazy things, my first reaction was often anger - "WHY NOW?"  So many times in those early days I was not a soft a soft place for my kids to land, and that broke my heart.  But it didn't take long to correct this, thank goodness.  Why?  Because love is present in abundance - it just takes a change in perspective for me to tap into it.  While patience seems an unreachable goal, love is not. One thing that brought me comfort as I looked back on that crazy day that led to my most recent undoing, was the way I was able to love in spite of it.  My son, who was in the ditch where he wasn't supposed to be and threw a rock that hit his baby sister in the back was in fact throwing a "wishing rock" into the water.  When he related that story to me, his disposition of complete wonder was so moving and ministering to me that I could not get angry at him. It was clear he had not tried to throw a rock at his sister, and I didn't want to crush his spirit.  So I told him instead about making sure that even when he wants to throw a wishing rock it's important not to break the rules.  I could tell he felt bad about hurting his sister, and that was all the discipline he needed. In the days since his disposition has been so healing to my soul, because whenever I think of that horrible day I think of his sweet face, of the way he approaches life, and I know that I want to be that way too.  It's beautiful.

I realized that instead of praying for patience, I need to pray for love.  To love my children the way the Lord created me to, the way He constantly pours out on me and builds on with each passing day.  I know in this way that patience, which is a fruit of love, is bound to follow.  And yet by changing my focus, it helps me to not feel like I'm fighting a losing battle.  Patience is the kind of thing that can only be tested in negative situations but love, love is in everything.  It's in the little hugs and kisses given throughout the day, the simple teaching moments, the look of wonder on a child's face.  When I think of the times I've failed at love, they are far fewer in comparison to the times that I've experienced true love.  And in this way, I don't feel like a failure.  I know I can do it because God has created me to.  It's a gift given to us, that we have been growing in and building on since the day they took their first breath.  Patience is hard work.  But love?  I can do that.

"I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in  love,eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." (Ephesians 4:1-3)

1 comment :

  1. Another honest reflection Natasha! Thank you. I think your reflections on family life help me to see anew into my own vocation of priesthood. The situations are different, even vastly so, but the struggles and - better - the way through them seem similar. I'm glad you shared. Keep writing!