I was so busy trying to give Eddie what I thought he wanted and needed that I wasn't giving him what he really needed and wanted. I wasn't giving him my time. He told me this, repeatedly, but I ignored him because I didn't see how spending time with him was going to give him what I felt he needed and I was sure that I was right about his needs. Rather than communicating my love to him, I was communicating to him that he wasn't important to me, that he didn't matter to me, that he was in the way of me getting what I wanted.
Things began to change when I came back to the Catholic Church. Slowly, gradually, as I spent more time with my Holy Mother, the Catholic Church, she transformed my view of things. I began to understand that a secure home wasn't a place. The earth, and life in general, are not secure. Disasters happen, deaths occur, jobs are lost, and things change. A secure home is created when our parents are unfailing in their love for us and teach us by example that these storms do not change the core of who they are or how they behave.
During one particularly profound moment of prayer, I discovered that happiness was not something that came from what I had but from the relationships that I formed. I began, on that day, to understand that the happiness I wanted for my son would only come when I was there to teach him how to fully and truly love others and love God as the Church called us to do. Money and possessions would all pass away, but true love would remain.
I have since realized that the most important thing I can give to my son is the same gift the Catholic Church gave to me – to spend time with him. The Catholic Church provides her children many opportunities and means by which they may spend time with her, learning from her how to grow closer to their father in Heaven and to develop that close personal relationship with Jesus Christ which all hearts long to possess. From the Liturgy of the Hours, which teaches her children how to engage in conversation with God their Father at morning, noon, and night right on to the offering of Daily Mass and even in Perpetual Adoration where it is offered, the Catholic Church draws her children close to her to speak to their hearts and to guide them on their journey toward Heaven.
Spending time with our children means that we make them a priority. If we have a busy schedule, we must schedule times throughout the day when we will spend that time to connect with them. It may be a phone call in the afternoon to ask about their day and tell them that we love them. It may be a few minutes over breakfast in the morning before we leave for the day. It may even be a letter that we take the time to write the night before and leave where we know they will find it.
The benefits of parents spending more time with their children is not just spiritual. There are measurable benefits available. A study published in Child Development shows that children whose parents spend more one-on-one time with them have better social skills and higher self-esteem than children whose parents do not. As children hit adolescence, the study found that children do still want the attention of their parents but in concentrated doses.
If you haven’t been spending much time with your child, expect initial skepticism. My mother was a working mother for most of my childhood. When I was 10, she became a stay-at-home mother for a while. It didn’t go very well for either of us. She was hurt because I didn't seem to want to be around her. I was upset because I’d been running the show on my own for 5 years and then suddenly here she was trying to tell me what to do and when to do it. I resented having my freedom taken from me.
When you make a conscious effort to spend more time with your child, you have to realize that this is going to necessarily require that you interrupt routines and habits that they have established to fill the role you weren't filling. They may resent the loss of freedom. Be gentle, and start out by making the time you spent with them time that isn't focused on chores or tasks but on just being present with them.
And to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law, though not being myself under the Law, that I might win those who are under the Law; to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, that I might win those who are without law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men that I may by all means save some. And I do all things for the sake of the gospel, that I may become a fellow partaker of it. – 1 Cor. 9:20-23
Find out what they enjoy doing, and see if it’s something you can join them in doing. I don’t particularly enjoy first-person shooter games like Halo, but that’s what interests my son. That’s where he lives, and if I want to enter into his world, I have to go where he’s going to be. This is something the Church tells us, too. Go where the people are and reach out to them. You can’t wait for them to come to you or it will never happen.
The truth is your child wants you in their lives. They want you to be involved and they want to you to care enough about them to make the time. They may be skeptical of what you are doing when you start out – our son certainly was – because they don’t understand why you are doing this or because they aren’t sure you really mean it. However, once you have proven to them by continuing to be there for them and continuing to show them that they really do matter that much to you, they will relax and enjoy the changes you are making to your life.
Spending time with our children is one of the more important ways we show them just how much we love them and how much they matter to us. I hope you enjoyed today's chapter of Catholic Parenting: What the Catholic Church Teaches Us About Parenting. If you are just joining us for the first time, you can follow the link above to find the introduction and other chapters. I hope you will join us later today for chapter 21: Celebrate Often.