Saturday, October 13, 2012

Introduction: The Catholic Church as the Ultimate Mother

“Then Jesus said, "Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11: 28

Let’s face it – parenting can be a heavy burden at times. It’s one of the most difficult and challenging undertakings that life has to offer. The Catholic Church does understand this, as She has parented millions of people the world over for over 2000 years, raising them up to be children of God and to be a benefit to all of society. However, I will say I didn't always see things that way.

I was raised marginally Catholic by a mother who did not really understand the Church. My father wasn't in the picture and was Protestant anyway. I grew up, therefore, with a love-hate relationship with the Church that had been passed down to me. I saw the Church as good, but smothered by old men who simply didn't understand modern ways and modern women. I had a lot of trust issues and so obedience to authority did not come naturally to me.

As I grew older, though, I came to a startling conclusion. Every time that I was obedient to the Catholic Church, I grew healthier in mind and body and became a more agreeable person. Every time that I disobeyed the teachings of the Catholic Church, I hurt myself and everyone else around me – including those who were innocent of any wrong doing. I noticed that during my times of disobedience, the Catholic Church remained serene and patient, awaiting my return, hand outstretched to help pull me back onto my feet. She would then dust me off, patch me back up, and guide me a little further along the path of growing closer to Christ.

In studying the teachings of the Catholic Church, I realized that much of what she does for us as believers is equally applicable to everyday parenting. In fact, many of the techniques I will outline I have applied to my own son with results that – so far, anyway – are quite pleasing to behold. He is nearly 17 and we do not have the knockdown drag-out fights that I recall from my own teen years. He is, for the most part, obedient and respectful, yet is unafraid to question and is strong in his own personal identity. He knows what he believes, knows why he believes it, and isn't shaken when others challenge him. He isn't afraid to stand out in a crowd and feels no need to give in to the pressures of his peers. He is, in short, content to be himself. He also talks to me about his life without me having to drag it out of him.

This is in high contrast to where he was in life just 9 years ago. Nine years ago this fall, he was standing in my bedroom telling me not only that he was going to kill himself but exactly how he was going to accomplish it. Although one counselor we saw tried to brush it off as his efforts to manipulate us, I knew my son was deadly (no pun intended) serious about this. I also realized that it was OUR FAULT. As hard as we had tried to be good parents, we had failed in a big way. Things had to change, but I really didn’t know where to begin.

We implemented a once-a-week family day, but he was surly and unresponsive. We were determined not to give up, but I was starting to fear that our failure was too big to overcome. The second effort at finding a counselor was more successful. We found a play therapist, and our son seemed to enjoy his sessions. One of her observations was that our son was a thinker. He needed time to process change, to process the meaning of things, before he was ready to adopt anything. Still, as much as my son seemed to enjoy the sessions he didn’t seem to be much improved by them. He still told us quite often how he wanted to die, he wanted to go see Jesus. His pain was so palpable it cut me to the quick, and I felt helpless in the face of it.What changed everything was a series of dreams I had in March of 2004 that clearly and undeniably were calls from God to come back home to the Catholic Church. I responded to the dreams, and I brought my son with me to Mass for the first time in years. My son also pleaded with me to go with him to a Catholic small group my mother attended called the Apostolate for Family Consecration. I consented only because my son wanted me there and wouldn’t go without me.

Over the next few months, my son’s progress made leaps and bounds forward. I heard less and less about him wanting to die and go to heaven, even after we made a major move to a small town in Wyoming. He began to open up and developed his very first best friend. He even made friends with other kids in the neighborhood – something he hadn’t done before.

The profound changes that have come as my son has gotten older have all come as I have grown in my faith, learned more at the feet of the Catholic Church about how to parent, and applied it to my life. I share the lessons I learned with you, not because I think you are as awful at parenting as I was, but in the hopes that you can apply these things and avoid ever having such problems in your own home. If you’re already waist high in problems with your children, I offer these as hope for a better future and a means of transforming what is broken into something whole. Some of these things may seem radical on the surface, but they work.I have only one natural born child and three that I took in at age 18. It’s not been easy, but I apply these same things to those children and I have seen improvement even if it is slower in coming because the heads are a little harder at age 18 than they are at age 8. If you’re a parent of multiples, the Catholic Church certainly understands your struggles. She knows what it’s like to try to cater to multiple different personalities with multiple needs all at the same time. There’s help and hope in here for you as well.

The bottom line is that the Catholic Church does have a lot to teach us about parenting effectively, and a lot of experience in doing it. She has parented the poor and the rich, the ignorant and the most educated, the weak and the strong in every culture and every generation. She knows the pain of every mother whose child has run away from home never to be seen again, or whose child has run away from home and come back broken. She knows what it’s like to have to say “no” to a child who comes asking for help who isn’t also ready to change their ways. It’s a tough job, and she’s seen all sides of it. That’s why she’s the ultimate mother, and the best example of good parenting in action.

Thank you for reading this introduction to Catholic Parenting: What the Catholic Church Teaches Us about Parenting. I hope you'll come back again for tomorrow's topic: Rooted in Love.

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