This chapter is mostly geared towards parents with children who have reached an age where they know better than to run in front of cars or other things that might kill them. If your child runs toward a busy street, I would certainly hope that you would run after them as fast as you can so as to prevent them from dying or being seriously injured.
So many parents are so afraid that if their children leave they won’t come back that they spend a lot of time and effort chasing after them. The only result is that the child runs further and gets upset that you don’t respect their decisions. The child doesn’t feel loved. They feel smothered.
If we are parents who are learning from the feet of Holy Mother Church how to raise our children, and this includes adult children, we need to learn to treat them like cats. Give them enough time and enough distance and they will eventually come back to you. The truth is that your children need and want you in their life, but most of them need and want you on their terms. Forcing the issue isn’t going to help, it’s only going to increase the distance between the two of you.
Why Cats (and children) LeaveCats, like children, leave for two reasons. The first reason is because their needs are not being met by you. We once had a cat named Priscilla. This cat jumped up on our counter to eat a tuna fish sandwich my mother had prepared for her lunch. My mother discovered the cat only after the tuna was mostly eaten, picked her up, and threw her. The cat smacked into the wall and landed on her feet, headed out the door and found herself a new family across the street.
Cats do not tolerate much abuse. They have an innate sense of their inner worth that tells them to get out when they aren’t appreciated, and get out they do. Children may stick around longer for more of the abuse, but eventually they will get up and walk out if their needs aren’t being met. You don’t have to hit a child to abuse them. Neglect and verbal abuse are every bit as painful to a child as being physically hit. If you aren’t showing them that you love them, they will find someone who will. Chances are that someone isn’t going to be a healthy choice.
The second reason cats leave is that they want to explore and master the world around them. They love to seek out new smells and find new places. They are natural born hunters and you can’t hunt if your territory is restricted to a house. So, cats leave to find interesting things and interesting places. They come home beat up sometimes, but they do eventually return to you on their own.
Your child, like a cat, needs room to explore and master the world around them. As hard as it may be for you to let go, this is an important part of their development into healthy adults. For you, as a parent, provided that they are still children, establish for them a boundary where it’s safe for them to explore.. For example, telling them that they can explore anything in the yard as long as they don’t go out of it is a good place to start. For a teenager, you might restrict them to going over to a friend’s house only if you have that friend’s address and telephone number.
Once they have reached adulthood, though, it’s time to allow them to roam freely and explore the world. Now, as long as they live in your home you still have the right and they should have the expectation that they will check in with you at regular intervals. They still should expect to obey the rules of the household. That is about as far as it goes, though.
For our adult foster children, our rules for them have been very simple. One of those rules is that they have access to everything in the common room, but they can’t do anything with it or on it that God wouldn’t approve. The second is that they can go where they like, but they are to call me by 11 pm so I know whether or not to expect them home. A third rule is that they must be actively seeking full time work, be full time employed, or be going to school full time. A fourth rule is that there is to be no unsupervised visits or overnight visits of anyone with whom you might be tempted to be sexually active unless you are married to that person. The only exception to that rule is if the person is in danger or homeless temporarily. A fifth rule is that everyone helps with chores, including cooking and cleaning.
Say no to I told you soYour kids do not need to hear from you, “I told you so” when they return home, especially if they return home because of a failure. They know you told them, that’s why they are returning. They need you to accept them, accept that they are in pain, and help them work through it all without rubbing it in their face that they failed. I told you so benefits absolutely no one – not even you, though it may feel good to get that out there, it’s defeats every effort you have made to establish a trusting relationship with your child.
Gloating over the fact that your child failed is like celebrating someone going to hell. It’s entirely inappropriate. When you are tempted to say, “I told you so”, I advise you to reflect on this passage from 1 Corinthians 13:1-6
“If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. If I should have prophecy and should know all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I should have all faith so as to move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And if I should distribute all my goods to feed the poor, and if I should deliver my body to be burned, and have not love, it profits me nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind, love envies not, deals not perversely, is not puffed up, is not ambitious, seeks not her own way, is not provoked to anger, thinks no evil. Love does not rejoice at wrong doing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, hopes all things, believes all things, endures all things.” -
Tuna and ChildrenNow, having said all that every wise cat owner knows to keep a can of tuna nearby. Cats LOVE tuna. It is amazing how quickly a cat will find its way back home or back to your lap if there’s tuna involved. The same thing is true about your children. Find their particular “tuna” and keep it handy. If your child has gone astray, it’s time to bring out the tuna.
I hope you have enjoyed reading this final chapter of Catholic Parenting: What the Catholic Church Teaches Us About Parenting. You can find the introduction and earlier chapters by following the link above. If you have enjoyed this series and would like to be placed on a mailing list to receive notice when this book is available to purchase in stores, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with a subject line of Catholic Parenting and include your name, phone number, mailing and shipping address.
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