When we had our first child, I had no idea how to be a parent and I am sure that echoes and resonates with many others who started out on this fascinating but rather frightening adventure that is being a parent…
… and obviously in my case being a father. However, it’s not just about being a good parent but being a good, dedicated, intentional Catholic parent raising Catholic children and that’s a whole different ball game as I am discovering day in day out with a 6 year old son and 2 year old daughter! Sure I have bit of theology I can draw wisdom from, and some pastoral experience of supporting others that I can dredge my memory bank for when I need it. But if I’m honest raising children continues to baffle me. Is there a method to becoming a good parent? I don’t think so because parenting isn’t like creating a perfect assembly line product— each child is different. And thank God they are for that’s what reminds me that we’re all unique, made in His image and likeness and that my children (though they share mine and my wife’s traits, our genes, my looks – God help them – though they are blessed with hers) are destined for eternity with Him and not to be my/our projects.
Although I don’t follow any parenting approach in particular, there are helpful hints to be found in the way that God parents us. I figure if anyone knows how it’s done, it’s God. These lessons aren’t limited to parents with strong faith though — they’re just grounded in common sense advice from child-raising experts.
Our family hasn’t endured an adolescent (can’t abide the word ‘teenager’) yet, so we’re not in the slamming doors phase where the kids swear they’ll never forgive me for not letting them go to the party/disco whatever, but even our youngest can test my ability to patiently love her. Nevertheless it can be tough even now (no matter how cute they can be) to not return their naughty behavior by withdrawing my affection (though I’m a big softy really and I don’t withhold it for long – barely a few seconds a times!)
As a parent, it’s natural to want to reward good behavior with affection because it might promote good behavior in the future, but one expert. Alfie Kohn, writes that it is far better to love children, “for who they are, not for what they do.” He goes on to list all sorts of subsequent issues that children develop when their parents love is conditional. When it comes to God’s parenting example, it is heartening that he never gives up on me.
Another emphasizes unconditional acceptance and patience, saying; “God loves first, even when love is not returned.” My children might be ungrateful at times and fall short of my expectations, as they struggle to individuate and find their place in the world, but no matter what, my job in my own imperfect fatherly way is to love them as patiently as possible because that’s the way God the Father loves each of us and as the venerable Fulton Sheen said: “Patience is power.”