We’ve been listening to Mike and Alicia Hernon’s podcast called Messy Families. One of their recurring messages for parents is: stop worrying about getting your kids to heaven – parenting is about helping you get there!
When we first heard them say this it stopped us in our tracks. Mike and Lisa go on to explain… the reason motherhood or fatherhood is a vocation, is not to make our kids into saints; it’s about making parents into saints.
Said differently; raising kids is a lifelong lesson in our journey of holiness. Motherhood and fatherhood forms us as parents, and we in turn form our children. What God is trying to teach us through the challenge of parenting is to love like Him – as God the Father – and raising children teaches that. God works on us through the difficulties of raising children.
When our kids push us to the limits of our patience, when they demand more than we are prepared to give in time and attention, when they challenge our rules or rebel against our values – they are blessing us with a lesson in what real, unconditional love means. In doing so, they provide us with some small human insight into God’s immense love for us.
Problems are Opportunities
This idea is a complete reframing of parenting challenges. Rather than seeing our misbehaving toddler or rebellious teen as a problem to be fixed, we need to see them as God’s invitation to growth.
As we suspect is the case with many parents, we had completely missed this way of looking at our parenting, especially when it comes to passing on the faith. Lamentation and self-recrimination are common among Catholics the world over when we parents discuss our children’s lack of faith practice.
The Hernon’s are not saying we don’t have any responsibility here, but rather that we need to understand and embrace what is really happening through our parenting. The family is often referred to as the ‘school of love’ and in this school our children are as much our teacher as we are theirs.
Raising children has taught us a dimension of love that is different to what we experience through each other and from our own parents. It comes in a particular form of unconditionality with no expectation of reciprocity.
Of course, parenting also teaches us to pray, to pray often and with more heartfelt desperation! Nothing drives us to our knees faster than one of our kids suffering or stuffing up.
Through every challenging incident we are being forged in holiness. We also gain insight in some small way as to how God the Father delights – just as we delight – in our children, even over the smallest of things.
Reframing our difficult moments of parenting from a ‘problem’ to a ‘holiness growth opportunity’ does not make them easier, but it does help us resist the temptation to sidestep them or become overwhelmed by them.
As we grow in maturity and into a deeper relationship with God, we in turn become better teachers of the faith to our children. Faith is caught not just taught; and it must be freely chosen by our children and cannot be compelled.
Our children will be influenced in their faith journey as much, if not more, by how they observe and experience us travelling through our own. As the wise parenting advice goes “worry not that your children don’t listen to you. Worry more that they watch what you do”.
Let us be the example of virtue and holiness that our children need.