A Catholic Parent Takes on the Challenges of Parenting

Every day, the cross, with joy!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Family-based Lenten Resolutions

Coming up with a good Lenten penance is often challenging for faithful Catholics, including busy parents. We might have high ambitions, but choosing and sticking with a Lenten sacrifice can be difficult. In part, this difficulty stems from the individual nature of Lenten penance as currently practiced. Prior to the Lent of 1967 all Catholics in the U.S. abided by the same Lenten practice of fasting every day of Lent (excluding solemnities, such as Sundays). This provided built-in social support. Lenten resolutions are not meant to be tests of individual willpower demonstrating heroic self-control. A Lenten resolution should be part of the shared endeavor to embrace penance as a preparation for Easter. 

It's not about YOU, but about US, the Church.

Though the Church no longer has the strict Lenten observance that provided unity in penance, the family provides a setting that makes possible the practice of social penance - a penance that is not simply about individual voluntary mortifications, though those are also good! By deciding on and practicing a Lenten penance as parents (or as a family, if you're children are older), parents can promote the idea that penance is not about YOU, but about US and OUR relationship to God. Here are a few suggestions for family-based Lenten resolutions:

Food-based resolutions can be good ideas to implement as a family.
1. Abstaining from meat during Lent (excluding solemnities). This is a traditional Lenten penance still observed in many places.
2. Abstaining from eggs and dairy during Lent. This is another traditional Lenten penance.
3. Abstaining from dining out or ordering in food. This penance might also provide some extra change that can be used in almsgiving.
4. Abstaining from processed foods such as boxed cereal, and replacing it with non-processed or minimally-processed food such as oatmeal.
5. Empty the pantry. Commit yourself to using up as much food in your pantry as possible while simultaneously limiting the food you purchase in your regular food shopping trip. Again, this should provide extra change that can be used in almsgiving.
6. Abstaining from sweets.
7. Giving up certain beverages, such as soda or alcohol, or limiting intake. Possibly even abstaining from all beverages excepting water or milk (and coffee for adults who need it!). 

Entertainment resolutions can also present possibilities for family-based Lenten resolutions.
1. Abstaining from or limiting time on the Internet, television, games, movies, etc.
2. Consider using the time normally devoted to entertainment/technology for activities like writing letters to people.
3. Not listening to music while in the car.

The above practices should decrease spending and make possible additional almsgiving. Contributing to the usual Rice Bowl donation box is a good way to indicate to the whole family the monetary result of the above sacrifices.

Choosing a family prayer practice to add into the regular schedule can also be a great family-based Lenten resolution.
1. Such practices might include praying the Rosary, the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, attending Eucharistic adoration together, attending daily Mass, reading aloud the daily Mass readings at dinnertime, and praying the Stations of the Cross. For young children, presenting one Station of the Cross per evening and saying an Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be before dinner might be the most you can do.
2. A variation of this is to invite friends or family over to pray the Stations of the Cross, followed by a simple meal.
3. (With older kids) As a family, commit to a more regular reception of the sacrament of confession throughout the season of Lent.

Depending on the age of your children, you might want to consider the possibility of donating your time as a family to a charity, e.g. volunteering in a soup kitchen. There are other ways to engage directly in the corporal and spiritual works of mercy; be creative. You may be able to take a meal to a family mourning someone's death or to visit a homebound elderly friend, for example.

"Spring cleaning" can certainly be a mortification, and Lent also presents itself as an ideal time to have family members clean out their rooms, go through their clothes and their toys, and donate or get rid of items they are no longer using. Lent is a good time to take on home-organization tasks that might involve the family. This cleaning can also be a helpful metaphor for the preparation undertaken for Easter.

1. There are many other possibilities for family-based mortifications, such as lowering the temperature of your water heater or thermostat.
2. Make sure that you and your spouse agree and have a plan for implementing the Lenten penance.
3. Try to avoid choosing anything that will make life particularly difficult for one particular person in the family.
4. Be willing to reevaluate each Sunday if necessary; don't let the sacrifices make your kids hate Lent. It might be best to change the resolution.
5. Consider the possibility of adding another penance each Monday.
6. Consider taking on your own individual Lenten resolution in addition to the family sacrifice.
7. Remember that your modeling of Lenten penance is crucial. It's ok to admit it's challenging, but complaining or being nasty to your family is not a good witness to the penitential power of Lent. If you recognize that you are consistently failing, reevaluate and choose a different penance.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Big Picture: Living in the Moment, Dying in the Moment

(Sometimes you need a photo so you don't forget that moment...)
One of the aims of parenting mortification is to help parents keep the bigger supernatural picture in mind. It's so easy in the midst of busy family life to fail to integrate a spiritual perspective. We often tend to let the challenges and difficulties of life bog us down in stress and a sense of failure rather than seeing these challenges and difficulties as opportunities to grow closer to God. The big picture of our parenting - from a Catholic perspective - involves being a part of a narrative that includes creation, the fall, redemption through Jesus, and the gift of being able to participate even now in that paschal mystery of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

Just as it is difficult to keep that supernatural big picture in mind when faced by a particular parenting issue, it can also be hard to see the bigger picture as it pertains to the lives of the children we're raising. I still remember the pie chart pictured in one of my pregnancy books from nine years ago. It was entitled something like "The Pie of Life" and highlighted that infancy is a very, very short period in the life of a person, a tiny sliver of the pie chart. We all know that, but it is easy to get caught up in the challenges of the moment and fail to appreciate the brevity of infancy and childhood.

Most of us parents with younger children have probably encountered someone with older or adult children who smiles sadly and says something such as, "It goes by so quickly." In my early parenting years of stress and exasperation, I often secretly thought, "I wish it would go by a little quicker!" The feelings of inadequacy, too much to do, sleep deprivation, etc. combined for a lack of consistent appreciation for that brief period of infancy. Now that I have my fifth baby, and my first baby is now almost nine years old, I find myself nodding in agreement when someone comments about the time going by so quickly. I am constantly mourning the passing of my kids' babyhoods, toddlerhoods, and childhoods.

There are two ways to "live in the moment" when it comes to raising children. The first is problematic: it is the form of living in the moment that is characterized by stress and anxiety: being "stuck in the moment." We agonize over our parenting failures and worry excessively about our kids' behavior. We seek escape from the difficulties and sometimes find it in unhelpful outlets, such as entertainment that involves a screen (television, Facebook, etc.). We feel desperation and lack of energy and turn to yelling, sarcasm, or unkind words toward our children and spouse. With this perspective, everything in the whole world centers on us. We are not living the moment so much as stuck in the moment with a very limited viewpoint. It is a burden to live this way, and a greater burden still because we see no end in sight, no way out of the difficulties and stress.

Being stuck in the moment like that means we are unable to appreciate it for what it is. I've been there, and I now regret it. It goes by so quickly. If I had it to do over again, my early parenting years would involve more smiling and less yelling.

In contrast, living in the moment with a bigger picture means recognizing that childhood is fleeting, that the "slice of infancy" in the pie of life is very, very small for each one of our children. Living in the moment with the bigger picture, allows us (usually) to laugh off the totally irrational toddler tantrum in response to being denied a popsicle for breakfast. It enables us to treasure the nighttime wake-ups snuggling with a newborn and to enjoy the early wake-up call from a kiddo in fuzzy footsie monster pajamas. It helps us to appreciate the chaotic family dinner with spilled drinks, rice on the floor, and recaps of the day at school or trip to the doctor.

Keeping the bigger picture in mind can be a powerful aid for parenting mortification. If we can truly live in the moment (rather than being stuck in the moment), we can also better die in the moment. We can die to ourselves, embracing the sacrifices and challenges of parenting knowing that these particular difficulties will not last forever. These are opportunities given to us in the present day; these little mortifications are ways of loving God now, at this moment. We are given by God these little people with their own minds, their own wills, their own souls. They are sometimes silly, sometimes snuggly, sometimes messy, sometimes loud, sometimes rude, sometimes dangerous, sometimes cute, sometimes smelly. God gives us the capacity to love them as they are and to guide them to Himself. It goes by so quickly. Don't miss the opportunity to live and die in the moment.