A Catholic Parent Takes on the Challenges of Parenting

Every day, the cross, with joy!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Enjoying the Consolations of Parenthood

I once had a confessor ask me if I was "mortifying" myself with respect to the beautiful weather. Given that the theme of this blog is parenting mortification, I obviously have given some thought to the topic of mortification. But I was still a bit surprised by his question, and I informed him right away that enjoying beautiful weather was one of the main perks of my job as a mom, and hence I had been indulging in the beautiful weather, not mortifying myself by avoiding it.

There are many mortifications involved in parenthood. So far I've only written on a few of them. But suffice it to say that in many ways, parenting is hard. It provides many challenges and a constant push for parents to die for themselves and live for God by serving their family. But let's be honest...most parents don't take on the parenthood endeavor with fantasies about sleep deprivation, having our possessions destroyed by children, getting insulted, and so on. Those mortifications are blessings because they draw us beyond selfishness to a happier and holier way of life...but they weren't our main aspirations when we became parents.

Mortifications are great, but on the other hand, there are also consolations of parenthood, and these too have the potential to draw us beyond selfishness. By consolations I mean those things for which parents hope before even  having children: snuggling with a newborn, seeing a child's first steps, comforting an injured child, listening to a toddler explanation, sharing fun activities, and yes, spending most of the day outside enjoying beautiful weather rather than cooped up in an office behind a desk.

It sometimes happens, however, that we parents let these consolations of parenting pass by without our notice. I know this from my own experience. Standing in front of me is a cute little toddler wanting a hug (who will only be this size for a tiny fraction of his life), but I'd rather get him out of the way so I can finish vacuuming. Sitting next to me at lunch is a beautiful and funny girl who will soon spend the bulk of her time in elementary school, but I'd really like to glance at the news headlines on my iPad. And here's my chance to listen to a little boy's reprise of a story I told him earlier in the day, but I really need to outline a blog post. And I'll get another chance tomorrow to enjoy his creative stories, right?

Occasionally it seems that it is easier to appreciate blessings when they come in the form of mortifications than in the form of consolations. Mortifications seem to require an active embrace. Consolations can be passively ignored or postponed.

Yet when we ignore or postpone the consolations of parenthood, we miss an important opportunity for gratitude. In our children, God has given us the most amazing gifts...little people who often look like us or talk like us. Little people who depend upon us and love us. Little people who seek our comfort and attention and affection. Little people with bright smiles, warm hugs, and funny remarks. If we can thank God for the challenges of parenting, we ought certainly to thank God for these consolations. Likewise, our gratitude should extend to the other benefits of parenthood, like having an excuse to be outside at a park on a nice day or getting to go sledding in the wintertime. There's also the joy of sharing our children with others, and seeing the delight on their faces as they appreciate the cuteness that we as parents so often take for granted. And then there's the wonderful consolation of sharing our hobbies (sports, music, fossil-hunting!) or favorite books, movies, and music with our kids. It's so fun to have children taking an interest in our interests! And one other great consolation is certainly that of sharing the faith with our children, sharing in their sacramental life through baptism and first communion.

These consolations truly are wonderful blessings that can help us to die to ourselves in order to live for God. We know that we have done nothing to "earn" our children, nor can we ever do more for them than has already been done for us by God. The experience of God's generosity in these consolations should temper the mortifications of parenthood, strengthening in us a sense of awe for God's goodness.

So let's not allow these consolations of parenthood to pass us by unnoticed. Take a moment to enjoy the snuggles, the warmth and cuddliness of children. Don't miss that funny story because you're worried about a household chore. Put down the phone and pick up your toddler and a favorite book. Admire your daughter's new roller skating skills. Spend less time criticizing and more time smiling. Worry less about your career and care more about how quickly childhood passes. Stop trying to capture the moment on a camera and instead store this memory in your heart.

Though parenting mortification is valuable, so also is parenting consolation. Both should bring us beyond our own narrow concerns and increase our gratitude for the blessings of parenthood, helping us to love God more each day and grow closer to God through our daily work as parents.

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