Out of Exile
Picture the scene: It’s around 5 o’clock in the evening and my family and I are wrapping up a weekend visiting grandparents with a birthday party for my nephew. Life seems relatively idyllic – family, friends, contented children… birthday cake!
However, as any parent will be able to relate, the tide can turn in a second. Within moments, I had my introverted twin shying away from the boisterous party, his brother throwing a tantrum on the kitchen floor because he couldn’t go outside to play in the mud and their older sister battling post-nap grumpiness.
My husband and I are not dummies. We can take a hint.
Hurriedly, we began to pack up to go home. I had two kids in and out of time-outs and a weekend’s worth of luggage to organize.
“When you are finished crying, you may have birthday cake.” I would say to my three-year-old as I hurried past, throwing armfuls of clothes into the open suitcase.
Throughout the whole ordeal, I found myself uncharacteristically unflustered. I credit this to remembering Pope Francis’ address on May 20th, 2015:
“And you, parents, do not exasperate your children, asking them to do things they cannot do.”
Despite the loud cries of my children, I found myself reflecting on these words. That night at the family farm, I knew that my kids were tired – we hadn’t slept well the night before and there were missed naps, in favour of spontaneous fun with cousins. They were hungry – it was dinnertime after all, but they were too tired to find anything appetizing. It had been a long (albeit, wonderful) weekend, but these toddlers had reached their limit .
To have tried to extend the stay would have been, well, exasperating to them. To ask them to do anything else but cry out their exhaustion, hunger and frustration would have been a fruitless war to wage.
Besides, when your kids are not happy, you are not happy. Nobody wins.
Pope Francis didn’t just leave it there, however. His whole discourse was directed towards the proper education of children:
“It is time that fathers and mothers… reassume fully their educational role… And this must be done so that the children grow in responsibility for themselves and others.”
As I was hurrying to leave the party, I realized that it was still necessary for me to have my tantruming toddlers in a time out. I knew what the cause of their frustrations were and I was sympathetic. However, I want my kids to learn that it is never okay to express their frustrations through screaming, kicking and thrashing on the floor. Sure enough, after a few minutes, all three of the kids had settled down enough to return to the group and eat a few mouthfuls of dinner before we left.
“Therefore, the relation between parents and children must be one of wisdom, of very great balance.”
Pope Francis offers this encouragement to us, the parents of today. We have it in us to be wise and to raise our children well! It is so difficult to ignore so-called “experts”, to stick to tough love when it would be easier to just give in to avoid a scene.
Truly, we have the best encouragement that heaven can offer. Our own parenting should be modeled on the relationship we, ourselves, have with God, our Father. He knows when life is challenging us and causing us to struggle, but we are still held to responsibilities of our Christian life. And when we throw our tantrums when we don’t get our way, our Father quietly and patiently intervenes, correcting us in order to help us grow in maturity. He, as the ultimate parent, sees the bigger picture – He sees how kind, but firm discipline will ultimately result in a more fruitful faith in us.
In this world that seems to be spiraling out of control fast, this small but growing revival of faithful parenting with Christ and the Church is the witness society needs to see. Pope Francis sets the stage in Rome for us through his discourses on the family and many people, including myself, find great comfort and inspiration from his words.
I can’t help but wonder, however, how much of his words are so often only reaching the proverbial “choir”. I suppose this means that the meat of his and the Church’s calls to the renewal of the family has to come from the choir – that is, from us.
That’s the beauty of our faith, though, isn’t it? The seeds are often planted at the grassroots level – in our parishes, in our schools, in our families. We, the parents of today, are the labourers in the Christ’s vineyard and our unique mission is this: to teach our children how to live in the world and to live for God, so that they are able to one day go out and do the same. We, the parents of today, don’t build the Church with physical bricks! We are building the Church by raising members of His body!
When you struggle through praying a family rosary after dinner while your toddler is hitting his brother over the head with a foam baseball bat – you are building the kingdom!
When you literally juggle children in the pew while missing every single word spoken at mass, Sunday in, Sunday out – you are building the kingdom!
When you enforce a time-out as you desperately try to leave the party in a hurry – you are building the kingdom!
It sounds wonderful, but make no mistake – it’s certainly not easy. As parents, we are called to be more than just “best friends” with our kids. We are called to be their protectors, comforters and nurturers, yes. But, possibly more importantly, we are called to be their teachers. Sometimes it takes a firm, gentle hand. Sometimes, love isn’t so cuddly and idyllic.
Remembering all the while that the correcting, the not-exasperating, the seeking of wisdom to discern the difference is truly love lived out.
Even considering all of this, the question for all of us continues to be: How can we guide our children into becoming responsible, respectable, loving and faithful adults in this world today?
According to Pope Francis, “only love, tenderness and patience can do this.”
And, God willing, as little exasperation as possible.