(I didn't ask my son to get in the tub in his pajamas. It just happened.)
It’s not unusual for parents to learn new things about themselves when they become parents. If you’re like me, many of these revelations are negative. You may have never struggled much with anger, but faced with a toddler and an empty ketchup bottle (contents on the floor), you realize that your face is about the same shade as the ketchup and that you are about to explode like it did when you inadvertently stepped on the misplaced bottle.
You may have thought you were the self-giving type, ready to make any sacrifice possible for your kids, until that third night in a row dealing with a screaming, crying baby suffering from an ear infection.
You may have pictured a harmonious household, compliant children bustling about assisting with chores and then snuggling up with you on the couch for some quiet reading time or fun family game time. Now however, brief moments such as these seem to do little to assuage the constant sibling squabbles, defiant protests against almost anything, and, of course, the non-stop messes that young children and even older children are so astute at making.
At times, you may feel like your kids are simply working against you. You have great goals for them – for their education, for their exercise, for their recreation, for their social lives, and above all for their sanctity. But they seem oblivious to these goals and frankly uninterested. Developing virtue isn’t top on their list of things to do today, nor is playing quietly while you make dinner.
It’s easy to get frustrated when your expectations for your children’s behavior or for you own parenting skills aren’t fulfilled the way you hoped. Your kids may even appear to you as a near occasion of sin, detracting from your sanctity rather than leading you toward holiness.
If you should ever feel like this, take a step back, Jack! Take a moment to reflect on what it means to be on God’s team and how you and your spouse are right now training your children to contribute to God’s team.
First, assess the situation. How many of you are on this team anyway? Take your family size, e.g. six total, and then double it, e.g. 12. Right, so with a family of six people, the team consists of at least 12, when we count our guardian angels…as well we should. If your spouse is gone at the moment, leaving you home with four kids, then there are 10 present, and you know (if you’re on God’s team) that at least six of those present are working together. Six vs. four. You + five angels vs. four little children. The odds are clearly in your favor.
Now, about those “vs. four.” Is there any way to re-narrate their actions such that even the meanest insults and purposeful destruction of property can actually be a cause for an increase in your holiness? Of course, my answer is yes. That’s what parenting mortification is all about: being willing to embrace those challenges as a way to die to yourself and live for God. Yes, your son is actively and knowingly breaking a house rule by munching on pita chips behind the rocking chair in the living room. He may even be purposely antagonizing you by this action.
But it doesn’t follow that HIS behavior must cause YOU to sin. Even if he thinks he’s working against you, you can see his action as a frustration to embrace and a learning opportunity for both of you. It’s not what you want – a mess on the carpet behind the chair, a disobedient toddler trying to spite you – but it’s what God has given you at this moment. So you can thank God for reminding you of your lack of control and God’s ultimate control, and score one point for the team. You can score another point for God’s team when you don’t yell or spank or mutter a sarcastic comment, but rather deal with the situation calmly, enlisting the help of both your and his guardian angels. Say to yourself and to all angels present, “This child is not antagonizing me. This child is sanctifying me.”
So, after all this, you’ll see that what seemed to be your kid’s detracting from your holiness and the harmony of the household has actually contributed to it, at least supernaturally, if not naturally. On God’s team, we make mistakes – we sin – but we also seek forgiveness from God and each other. And so long as we don’t give up the struggle, we can’t help but win, especially since Christ has ultimately already won the victory for us and will always give us the grace we need to persevere in our own struggles for our sanctity and our children’s.