I started this post days ago. A discussion at the 4Real forums called my attention to this article, and I quickly typed up some notes — things I wanted to cover in response. That very night, with this post still in my drafts folder, I got a long email from our daughter, detailing how she was in a slump physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. She was still going to daily Mass, but she was starting to buckle under the weight.
We went on a dad-mom-daughter date at the first opportunity. She is now back on the mend, making changes — general and specific — in her life. She’s a young adult and adult things are still new to her, so we’re here to nudge when she starts going off on a tangent, to bring her back to the main road.
As our kids grow, the parent-child relationship becomes even more essential to their developing relationship with God as ultimate authority in their lives. I’d like to propose that this giving over of themselves to God comes so much easier when their heart has been molded in the home. Holding on to my children’s hearts has been my guiding principle these teen years. (I currently have three, ages 13, 16 and 18.)
Every family, every parent-child dynamic varies from home to home. We’ve always tried to keep our hearts open to each other. We’ve had the one-on-one and the two-on-one talks behind closed doors, in the car, in a café, in the parking lot of the church. And I’ve done everything I can in these moments with our children to express exactly what’s in my heart and mind, holding back nothing. I’ve also encouraged the hubby to do the same, though I know it can be hard for men to do that, and that it’s really only necessary in the rare case when a child has no clue where dad is coming from. Our talks always work best when dad remains the unemotional, rational, cool and logical one, even if I dissolve into tears.
So many young people today struggle with living in this world. I don’t want to take Melody’s post apart and say well, she could have done this instead of that, or did more of this than that. Raising Catholic children today *is* hard, and we’re all just trying our best.
When I got my daughter’s e-mail, I was reminded that we are not exactly out of the woods yet, and that my journey as parent isn’t over and won’t be until I leave this earth. So I may offer some words of wisdom here and there but the best that I have is “take all these with a grain of salt”, because while I know the answers up to this point with this particular child in this particular instance, something may happen next week, next month, next year, that will bring me back to “I know nothing.”
But isn’t that how God works? You think you’ve mastered a game, but then you find that there’s a more complicated game surrounding it. You think you’re in an adventure, and then you take one step further and you find that you were actually wrapped up in another, bigger one. Further up and further in, Lewis said in The Chronicles of Narnia. When Lucy thought she was playing hide and seek, and then ended up in that Wardrobe, that’s when the real adventure began. And then for the reader to find out that Narnia isn’t THE world but part of a bigger world, and even one of many worlds… that’s what parenting Catholic teens is really like.
And so we can talk about practicalities, and dos and don’ts, but as long as we don’t forget the big picture of why we’re here, and why we picked and stuck with homeschooling, I believe we’ll be fine. Homeschooling doesn’t completely immunize us from the effects of the culture of death, but I think we get a running start from being aware in the first place that there ARE things out there — some of them very dangerous, and no, we won’t ever be able to shield our children from these 100%, but I don’t think that’s what we’re all about anyway. I would say it’s almost a necessity for them to experience some of these things, for them to be the light that they need to be.
We’re not being helicopter parents — whatever that means — when we give our children the tools that they need to navigate the world they live in. I make my opinions known on just about everything — their clothes, their friends, the activities they choose — but around high school that’s when I gradually let go and let them make those decisions for themselves. So they stumble, and they get hurt, and it does get very painful especially when our hearts are tethered so tightly to theirs. But keeping them away from mistakes and pain only hurts them in the long run. They will be the beautiful testaments to God’s plan that they ought to be, when they’ve also been tested by fire.
The thing about community is that you find it where you are able, but in those times when you can’t, then maybe it’s the season for online friendships, and for cocooning with the family. We’ve homeschooled and raised kids in several states and briefly in the Philippines and Italy. I can’t say that there’s one ideal place to raise kids because they’d be surrounded by faithful Catholic friends and community. Sure, some areas were better than others, but we always had to come back to how we lived and loved in the home. As long as I’m able to know each child deeply, know where his or her heart is, know where he or she is spiritually at any given time, then I’m at peace. Yes, there have been difficulties, like the one time I didn’t think a child would stop lying to me, or that one time I thought one of my kids would grow to be an atheist because of personality/behavioral flaws, or the one time a child was getting too close to people that I couldn’t exactly call Godly…. but we need to take these things in stride. The reason those things are allowed to happen is so that we know exactly how to pray for each one.
We do a lot of bouncing thoughts off of each other at the dinner table. We share views of the world, of people, of relationships. Through this they absorb more of our world view, how we look at things, how we handle what happens to us, how we struggle to keep our eyes and our feet directed towards True North as much we can. Each child gets the benefit of hearing from parents, older siblings, younger siblings. We hash out a lot here.
Would that our faith and our children’s hold as steady and ever-bright as the sun, but we know that too often they’re more like the flicker of a candle. We tend to it and try to protect it from getting blown out, but we have limits. As we grow older, we kinda need to lose our faith — the faith planted in us by our parents — and then find it again and own it. We cannot set our kids purposely on that path. There might be times when they’ll have to touch that darkness with the tip of their finger, to figure out that they want no part of it. Through circumstances or through their own mistakes, or through ours, they will let go of pieces of the whole that we’ve imparted to them, but like pieces of a puzzle long disappeared into basement storage boxes, when found, make us feel like it’s Christmas in July. Sometimes things — pleasant and otherwise — have to happen, for them to realize that they have the faith to sustain them through everything, including the trials. It was kept in store, maybe even hidden from their own consciousness, a treasure buried inside them that they aren’t always aware of, but it surfaces right when the need is there. This is how they learn how to hear God’s voice in their lives, in their own ears and in their hearts.
Prayers for all of us parents!!