Monday, October 15, 2012

It Takes Two

Divorce Hurts

I grew up the child of divorced parents, and I keenly felt my father’s absence. More importantly, I wondered if the reason that he didn’t come to visit was that he didn’t love me and didn’t want me. It was devastating to my self-esteem. When he remarried and had a new family that was a new hurt altogether. I felt replaced and forgotten. These wounds I carried and my feelings of abandonment bled into my relationships with other people, and especially other men.

When I got married, it had an impact on how I handled my marriage. I feared my husband would leave me, too, so I pushed him away. I feared that I didn’t have what it took to be a faithful wife, so I experimented with an open marriage hoping it would keep us together. It took a long time and a lot of work before those wounds had healed enough that our marriage could become what it is today: happier, healthier, and better for both of us. Our marital problems throughout the first half of my son’s life were a large part of the reason he was in so much pain at such a young age.

It took a lot of years even after that for us to work out and resolve our problems, and we’re still not perfect, but we’ve come a long way since then. Almost everything I have to tell you about marriage comes from what I have learned about it through the Catholic Church. As I came to understand the Church’s teaching and – just as importantly – have witnessed her own marriage at work, I have applied this to my marriage.

The Church on Marriage  

“The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring; this covenant between baptized persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a Sacrament.” Catechism of the Catholic Church: The Celebration of the Christian Mystery, Article 7: The Sacrament of Matrimony, Paragraph 1601 

Model of Sacramental Marriage and Parenting

If we use the Catholic Church as our model for parenting, we see the Church never goes it alone. All of the children who are born into the Catholic Church – whether they are newborn infants or elderly on their death beds – are born into the marriage of Christ and the Catholic Church. Through this union, they are educated about their Heavenly Father, God, and their spiritual mother, Mary – the parents of Christ. The marriage between Christ and the Catholic Church is eternally present, always fruitful, and is one of unconditional love, a love that so totally fills the Church that it cannot help but spill outward onto others.

Always in the Church we see that parenting is done in twos, a male and a female: Christ and his Bride, the Catholic Church, God and Mary. It is not that God could not do the job all by himself were He to choose to do it that way. It is because God chose to do his parenting this way that tells us how important it is. Science bears out the importance of doing it this way, as well. 

Science Speaks

Numerous studies have shown that children fare better in two parent, biologically related households than they do in the households of single parents and stepparents, although the benefits begin to evaporate if parents are fighting frequently during the years a child is at home. Children also fare better in two parent, biological households than they do in two-parent lesbian or gay households. The effects of divorce, no matter how amicable, affect the child throughout their entire lives and not just at the time it happens The bottom line is that children need both a father and a mother, as the Catholic Church has modeled for more than 2000 years.

The Logic of Dual Parenting

It makes logical sense as well. Children contain ½ of the DNA from their father, and ½ of the DNA from their mother. When God said that what He had joined together no man could separate was absolutely true – just try removing your spouse from your child. It’s an impossible task! They need both parents to help them put those genetics into perspective.   

Furthermore, a man is the only one who can teach a boy how to be a man. A woman can try, but she cannot do it as effectively because she hasn’t lived through that experience. She may know academically about the embarrassment a boy faces as his body begins to change and his voice along with it, but she has not been there and doesn’t know the ins and outs of puberty for a man. A man cannot teach a girl how to be a woman. He will never understand what it’s like to have a period. He may know academically what is going on inside her body but he does not know it experientially.

A man is the only one who can teach a girl how to have a healthy, non-sexual relationship with the opposite sex. A woman simply cannot do it for her. This is something that must be modeled for her. The same thing is true about boys. A woman is the only one who can teach a boy how to have a healthy, non-sexual relationship with women. Together, a married man and his wife are the only two who can teach children of either gender how a healthy, loving, marital relationship should look day in and day out – something that is absolutely essential for children to witness if they are to have healthy, loving, marital relationships themselves.

Hope for the Future

This chapter is not intended to rob single parents or stepparent families of hope for the future of their children. It is, however, to stress the importance of being aware of the problems and the reason for those problems and then finding ways to fill in the gaps so that your children get all that they need for healthy, happy futures.

Although it is true that the Catholic Church models a two-parent family, it is a two-parent family with a host of aunts and uncles who are ready and willing to step in on the child’s behalf whenever necessary. I am speaking here about the communion of saints which surrounds the Catholic Church, acting as guardians and mentors of the children of God, providing help in times of crisis and examples to follow.

When your child is missing a parent or doesn’t have a loving marriage to model after, it is important to reach out to members of the surrounding community and find role models for the child. Organizations like Big Brothers and Big Sisters can have a tremendous impact on that child, helping them to fill that father hunger or that mother hunger that naturally exists in every child. Encouraging your child to develop closer ties with some of your married family members such as aunts or uncles, grandparents, or even cousins can help them to fill in the gaps in a healthy way, so that they do not feel the need to turn to another child to fill the hunger they feel. 

Don't Quit

If you’re in a marriage and are considering divorce, I urge you to seek help for your marriage. WorldWide Marriage Encounter and Retrouvaille are two programs that can help you resolve marital conflicts peacefully. No matter what age your children are, a divorce will have a negative impact on them and on their ability to form happy and healthy marriages for themselves. Do everything you can to reconcile with your spouse, and remember that in the Catholic Church you are not alone. No matter how bad things may be, God’s grace is greater than the problems you face.

Thanks Again!

Thank you for reading the second chapter of Catholic Parenting: What the Catholic Church Teaches Us About Parenting.  If you're just finding your way here, you can follow the link above to the Table of Contents where you will then be able to read the earlier portions.  Join us tomorrow for our third chapter, Trusting and Respecting Your Spouse.

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