Parenting with Humility
Life of Christ (Week 12 of 27)
“It is a not a mark of greatness always to affirm one’s right, but often to suffer an indignity.” – Life of Christ, Chapter 24, Paragraph 18
Parenting with Humility
Something about this quote made me think of successful parenting. Some of the families we most respect seem to have a more humble approach to parenting. Boundaries merge with compassion; humility with direction. They don’t take the “Might Makes Right” approach, but rather suffer many indignities that ultimately result in great honor and respect. In other words, even in parenting, great sacrifice – particularly the sacrifice of one’s pride – seems to reap great rewards.
I don’t know about you, but I have a little trouble with humility and gentleness. As a parent, I’ve been known to err on the side of authoritarianism. Much less at 45 than at 25, but the trouble still rests there, just beneath the surface.
The truth is, this apple didn’t fall far from the tree. With parents who each served over 20 years in the United States Air Force, I did not exactly grow up in a democratic home (that’s democratic with a small “d” – as in the system, not the party).
When my father said “JUMP,” I think he actually did intend for me to ask “How high?” When my mother left a list of chores, they would be done by the time she came home from work, “Or Else…” (What was the “Or Else?” – we never found out. We did our chores.)
When it came to parenting, I believed my parents had it all figured out. Control your children and don’t take any guff. After all, it worked for me. I was a pretty good kid (meaning I may have been far from perfect, but I certainly wasn’t rebellious).
In my twenties, I would see parents stand there while their little ones threw temper tantrums and think, “My child would never get away with that.”
Fast forward a couple of decades.
Today, my child got away with that (at least to the naked eye). You’d think as the sixth child, she would be above that. But no. My youngest daughter is quite a pistol. And she was unbelievably naughty in the grocery store – we’re talking screaming at her mother naughty.
Yes, we left the store with her wailing and pulling on me; at home, we dealt with the situation. But to bystanders, I’m sure I looked like a total pushover.
Maybe I’m just tired. Or maybe I’ve gained a little wisdom over the past twenty years. I don’t know. One thing I have learned is that my goal isn’t to force my child into obedience today, but to have a generous, compassionate, kind, respectful, disciplined and value-laden child in the long run.
This is getting harder and harder to do with each passing day. The world expects perfect parents, but then undermines our ability to best serve as parents to our children.
Don’t you often feel like you are parenting with both hands tied behind your back? Television and movies make parents out to be fools and kids to be geniuses. The Internet is the spawn of Satan if your kids look in the wrong places for the wrong things. Social Media can consist of peers cultural icons encouraging – through example if not directive – bad language, disobedience and disrespect.
As parents, everything seems to conspire against us, making it more and more difficult to raise good children. Just as devastating, it is becoming exceedingly rare for children to remain active members of the Church after leaving home. [According to Pew Research, the ratio is now 1:6. For every one person brought into the Catholic Church, six are leaving.]
The fact is that our authority is undermined in this culture and our kids know it. I’ve met people who took their kids to counseling and the counselor told them that Mass should be an option because their child may not share their religious views. Recently, parents in New Mexico were reported for making their teen spend his days in a tent in their backyard because he wouldn’t follow their rules (he was permitted in the house at night).
We are raising our children in a new world. There is no way for us to even know what effect the information age will have on this generation of children. Try telling your kids they will or else, and they’ll have ten friends instantly chime in, advising them to ask, “Or else what?!”
The authoritarian methods our parents used will not work with our kids. My kids may not listen because “I said so.” But there is hope. It occurred to me when I read the above quote that we are not parenting for today. We are parenting for a lifetime. The steps we take to form our children may not have an immediate affect. It may be years before our children realize the value of what we’ve been teaching. Lessons may stick for some sooner than for others. But just because they don’t stick today, doesn’t mean the seeds aren’t germinating.
The fact is that the world is promising all kinds of things that will not fulfill our children. Those temptations may glisten and glow, but when our kids get too close, they are bound to get burned.
And perhaps they will return to us for the healing salve offered by our Faith. By our values. By our love.
Once I heard Bishop Barron declare that love does not fight back against anger or defiance. Rather, as demonstrated through Christ’s death on the Cross, love absorbs anger and violence through meekness and humility. It suffers indignity. Love does not force a beloved into submission, because the submission will be temporary and often insincere. Think of the iron bars that control a prisoner who is not contrite. Once the bars are gone, the crime will most certainly continue.
Maybe never, but definitely in this day and age, there is little room for authoritarian parenting to work.
As parents we are meant to teach our children what it takes to thrive physically, emotionally, financially and – most importantly – spiritually. We can use force to control behavior for a while. We can wield ultimatums, use absolutes and require submission without consent – whether our children are five or fifteen. But most likely, those methods will not take.
Perhaps there is another way.
Meekness was the method Jesus used with the apostles. He put up with their ignorance and roughness and even their infidelity. He treated sinners with a kindness and affection that caused some to be shocked, others to be scandalized, and still others to gain hope in God’s mercy. Thus he bade us to be gentle and humble of heart. – Saint John Bosco
One thing many of us have already learned is that we cannot control other human beings. We can demonstrate, encourage, advise and lead. But we cannot force our wills upon another soul. Successful parents have figured this out.
Many times we may suffer injustice in the name of love. We may suffer countless indignities along The Way.
But the mark of greatness is not always to affirm one’s right…
1. Are there any lessons you’ve learned as a parent that would help the rest of us to become more Christ-like in our approach?
2. Feel free to comment on anything from our assignment this past week!
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