A Catholic Parent Takes on the Challenges of Parenting

Every day, the cross, with joy!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

An Introduction

Before my husband and I were married, we looked forward to all the joys of family life. We were eager to start a family as soon as God blessed us in our marriage. And indeed, we have found children to be a blessing...

But not always in the ways we anticipated. It didn't take long (just a few months into the first pregnancy) to realize the difficulties and sacrifices that come with being a parent. In some ways, we were ill-prepared to deal with these challenges. Of course, we were first-time parents, and we had a lot to learn in terms of caring for an infant and juggling two busy academic work schedules without any childcare assistance. Much of parenting these days is by nature a learn-by-yourself-as-you-go kind of ordeal.

We would have been better prepared for the challenges of parenting, however, if we had had a better notion of mortification. Now, granted, one of the songs at our wedding was the "Servant Song," and we did enter our marriage with a sense that we were intending to serve each other and sacrifice for the other person. That idea, however, was merely a seed that only really could germinate when the demands of parenting began. 

So what is mortification? These days, most people have heard this word (and variations of it) used in reference to embarrassment. For example, "I was so mortified when I realized I was wearing mismatching shoes!"

In fact, the word mortification has its root in a word that indicates death or killing. We can see why mortify would come to signify a feeling of humiliation or shame. For example, you may have heard someone say, "I was so embarrassed I wanted to die!"

My use of mortification on this blog is slightly different. "Dying to self, living for God" might be the best definition. There is a long Christian tradition of valuing discipline in the spiritual life; this is most evident, perhaps, when we consider the professed religious - nuns and monks, for example - who followed (and many still follow) a strict schedule, ordered by prayer. Mortification can be seen as a part of this asceticism or discipline.

Sometimes, mortification is voluntary, as when someone gives up chocolate for Lent. Such a mortification is not meant to be a mere test of will power, but rather a way to die to self in order to live more fully for God, while uniting these little sufferings to the passion of Christ.

At other times, mortification is involuntary, as when your child suddenly vomits on you in bed at 4:00 a.m., and you have to clean up a big mess, try to care for him, and then be tired for the rest of the day. This, too, can be a way to die to self in order to live more fully for God, while uniting these little sufferings to the passion of Christ.

Those who have embraced their vocation for marriage and been blessed with children often find themselves faced with unexpected challenges. Even in the midst of the joy and rewards of raising kids, there are difficult moments. These moments can be met reluctantly with resentment and even anger, or they can be embraced with a spirit of generosity as an opportunity to die to self and live more fully for God. And strangely, enough, when we strive for the latter approach of generosity in embracing the sufferings of parenting, we end up happier than when we nurse resentment and anger.

The task of this blog is to aid Catholic parents in living a spirituality wherein the demands, challenges, and sacrifices of parenting are not setbacks to happiness, but rather, they become opportunities to grow closer to God. In other words, this blog aims to explore how the ordinary unpleasant aspects of parenting can bear fruit for eternal life. The premise is that marriage and family life can - and should - make us holy. Parenting mortification is one important way that we advance in virtue, happiness, and sanctity.

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