Monday, November 19, 2012

Courting the Heart

How beautiful are you, my love, how beautiful are you! – Song of Songs, 4:1

It may sound like a strange idea to put a chapter about courtship in a parenting book, but the Catholic Church teaches us that God our Father does exactly this with each of His children. He courts their heart, seeking them out wherever they are and drawing them to Him. He doesn’t wait for them to come to Him, He pursues them, enters into their world, and then draws them into a relationship with Him so that He can show them His world and His vision. His overall message to His daughters and sons is that “You are lovely” and “You are worthy of pursuit”.

There are many people who find the crucifix, that image of Christ dying on the cross for the sake of humanity, to be gruesome and horrifically morbid. Sadly, this includes some Protestants. However, this image is quite possibly the most beautiful of all the images the Catholic Church presents. Our God loves us so much, desires a relationship with us so much, that He was willing to not only be born of a human woman but then to allow His own creatures to put Him to death so that He could build for them a bridge strong enough and long enough that they could walk across it to Heaven.

Why Courting Matters 

Courting your child’s heart matters because kids who are filled up with love at home will not go seeking it in the bedroom, in the bottle, or in the medicine cabinet. Drugs, alcohol, and promiscuity at their core are all efforts to fill a void created when a child feels unloved. They are self-destructive behaviors that are an expression of their feelings of worthlessness and their fear that they are not lovable.

It also matters because your child has a thousand different voices in their heads giving them a thousand different instructions on how to live their life and how to find happiness. These voices come from school, from friends, from the television shows they watch, from the books they read, and from the video games they play. The voice they will listen to, the voice that will reach them and stick with them, is the voice that sounds the most like love. If that voice isn’t yours, they will not listen to your warnings or heed your advice because they won’t believe that you are acting with their best interests at heart. They will see your efforts to guide them as efforts to control them and will reject the things you say. Courting your child’s heart ensures that when they need to make a decision on what to do, it’s your voice they listen to and not someone else’s. 

As Catholic parents, we must imitate God our Father in how we handle our children. We must court their hearts. What does courtship look like? Think back to your dating days. Here are some of the things we all do when we’re courting someone.

Study your child

One of the first things we do when someone has caught our eye as a potential spouse is to study them. We find out everything we possibly can about them. We learn what they like and what they don’t like. We learn what their favorite things are – favorite foods, favorite places, favorite games. We do all of this so that we can speak their language and know how to please them. The same thing can be applied to our children. We need to begin the courtship process by studying them. We need to find out everything we can about them, and the older they are the more we need to do this.

If your child likes sports, that’s where you can begin to enter their world. Make an effort to watch games with them and let them teach you about the sport. Take them to see a game with you if at all possible. You don’t have to like sports. You can hate them, but take interest in them because that is what has your child’s attention. If your child enjoys playing games, let them teach you to play with them. Find multi-player games that you can sit down and enjoy with them. It’s not a waste of time, it’s a tool for building a relationship.

When your child is very young, they are often eager to share their interests with you. If we court the heart from a very young age, they won’t lose that eagerness. However, if we’ve failed to do it, by the time they are teenagers and young adults it can be as difficult as pulling teeth to get them to open up and share their world with us. They may be afraid you’ll insult them or put their interests down. However, if you are patient and persistent, they will eventually open up and let you in. Don’t waste the opportunity.

Give Good Gifts

One thing we do for our potential spouses is to bring them gifts that are meaningful, for no reason at all other than to see the pleasure it brings to the one we love. My husband, for instance, back when we were dating once made me a mixed tape of songs that made him think of me. I played that tape over and over again, taking delight with each song, knowing that these an expression of how he felt about me. It was something that I had longed for someone to do for me since I was a young girl.

Small gifts every now and then for no reason at all, tailored to the interests of your child, are another way to court the heart of our children. This isn't bribery. This is taking all the information you've gathered while studying your child and showing them in a physical format that you understand them, that you care about them, and that you appreciate them for who they are where they are.

Write Letters

When my husband and I were first dating, we wrote to one another two and three times a week. Those letters then became a record of our love for one another that we could turn to when we were arguing or when we were feeling unloved to remind us that the other one really did love us. Writing a letter to let your child know how you feel about them and how much you love them is one way you can begin to court the heart.

These letters do not have to be long, but they should be sincere. They should also be specific. Don’t just tell your child that you love them, but tell them what it is about them that you love. Tell them all the ways that you are a better human being because of their presence in your life. Share with them what you admire about them and those qualities they possess that you wish you could.

Be Affectionate

When you are in love with someone, you want to touch them. You can’t seem to help it. Touch is a natural expression of love. So, touch your kids. Don’t be afraid to hug them as often as they’ll let you for as long as they’ll let you. Let them touch you. Caress their backs or their hair. Give them kisses on the cheek. This kind of physical affection feeds the need a child has for love.

A word of caution on this topic. Do not force yourself on your kids. If they aren't used to being hugged or touched very often, this can feel awkward to them. Go slowly, gently, just like you would with someone you are dating. Don’t rush things. Be patient and in time you will win them over.

Conclusion

I hope you have enjoyed this chapter of Catholic Parenting: What the Catholic Church Teaches Us About Parenting.  If you are just finding this series, you can catch up by following the link above to find the introduction and earlier chapters.  I hope you will join us tomorrow for Chapter 38: Sending Your Children out Into the World.

Thank you for taking the time to read this chapter. Please leave me a comment below and let me know what you thought.

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