Mortification does not come naturally. Most of us prefer to eat what we like, do what we like when we like, spend time with people we like, and well, generally, we like to live our lives for ourselves. But of course, Christian life is precisely about living for Christ, and hence, for others. It is not about doing our will in accordance with our preferences, but rather discerning and doing God's will in order to express our gratitude and love for God.
Those of us who live out the vocation of marriage have the beautiful opportunity of serving God each day primarily through our family members. While it is a beautiful opportunity, however, it is often a wasted opportunity. In the midst of a busy family life, it can be easy to miss or mishandle the challenges we face in this context. In the heat of the moment, we may not always turn our thoughts to God and embrace mortifications with a cheerful disposition and generous spirit.
Saying the traditional Catholic prayer of the Morning Offering is an important practice for making parenting mortification work. What is the Morning Offering? Basically, this is just a prayer that is said upon awakening, or upon getting out of bed in the morning. The purpose of the Morning Offering is simply to offer that day to God, to bless your day by directing it, in its very beginnings to God. It is a way of recognizing God's past work in your life and your desire in gratitude each day to work for God.
There are numerous set prayers for the Morning Offering, such as this one:
"Almighty God, I thank you for your past blessings. Today, I offer myself - whatever I do, say or think - to your loving care. Continue to bless me, Lord. I make this morning offering in union with the divine intentions of Jesus Christ who offers himself daily in the holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and in union with Mary, his Virgin Mother and our Mother, who was always the faithful handmaid of the Lord. Amen." (taken from the Catholic Prayers app for iPad).
There are also much longer ones. During March, I often turn to the sung English version of "The Breastplate of St. Patrick."
In reality, however, most parents of young children don't usually have time thoughtfully to recite a long Morning Offering, or to look up a new one and dutifully and reflectively read it out of a book. If you don't already have a Morning Offering memorized, it would be a great idea to learn one. But don't feel that you have to wait until then to do a Morning Offering. In the past I've often used my own words as the kids are crawling on me or attempting to snuggle with me in bed when I'm trying to get out, and so I've said something like this: "O God, I offer to you all that I am and all that I do this day, in reparation for my sins, for the good of the pope and my family and friends, with the help of the angels and saints and most especially with the guidance of your most holy and blessed Mother." Then I add one more sentence: "I will serve you, Lord!" That's the rally cry for getting out of bed on God's team for the day.
If you are just beginning to incorporate this practice, even the one sentence, "I will serve you, Lord!" might say it all and get your day off on the right track. You have started on your way and now just need to renew your effort throughout the day.
As a bonus, here's a related prayer practice that makes parenting mortification work. I call it the "Night Offering." It came to me when I was going through a rough patch in terms of nighttime parenting and really struggling with not wanting to "be on duty" at night after spending a long day with the kids. I was having a hard time sanctifying my nighttime parenting, and having a hard time being loving and kind both with my spouse and with my kids.
As you can probably imagine, the Night Offering is just like the Morning Offering, only you swap out the "day" for "night." I suppose really our night actions are also covered by the Morning Offering, but for some reason, I found it really helpful to make this prayer before bed. I was more likely to view my nighttime activities as opportunities to grow closer to God, to mortify, to die to self and live for God.
Ironically my spiritual director at the time, a wonderful priest, had suggested I say a variation of John XXIII's nighttime prayer, "It's your Church, God, I'm going to bed" in order to sleep well. But of course, my problem wasn't sleepless nights as a result of lying awake worrying about my family. Rather it was trying to take care of my family during the night that was leading to sleeplessness. The Night Offering was for me a much more effective prayer in terms of recognizing the importance of my actions even during the night. I might even say that it helped me to feel supernaturally rested the next morning...or at least to feel that my night had been supernaturally beneficial, rather than detrimental to my earthly journey toward my heavenly destination.