A Catholic Parent Takes on the Challenges of Parenting

Every day, the cross, with joy!

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.

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