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Catholic Adoptive Parenting Columnist Heidi Hess Saxton

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“Crummy” Parenting
by Heidi Hess Saxton

Over Italian sausage and spinach quiche, our whole family (Dad was home for dinner last night, so as Sarah says, "It's a PAH-tee!") bowed our heads and thanked the good Lord.

God is great, God is good
Let us thank Him for this food;
by His hands we all are fed,
Thank You, God, for daily bread. Amen.

Just as I started to pinch off a bit of the crust (my favorite part), Sarah spoke.

"Now I wanna say special grace."

I had offered a prayer like this the day before, when extended family gathered to celebrate the completion of our new deck. "OK, Sarah. Go ahead..."

"Thank You God for ... for sausage and Popeye spinach ..." There was more. Lots more, much of it unintelligible as Sarah conversed with the Almighty with her own special prayer language.

My husband opened one eye and looked at me as if to say, "Can we eat yet?"

"... and thanks for everybody here. In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen!"

Everyone breathed a sigh of relieve and started to dig in. Then, just as I started to take a bite of my rapidly cooling sausage, Sarah spoke again. "Can I say another one?"

Christopher's sour expression reminded me of the time he shoved a jalapeno up his nose. Now, Christopher’s reaction was doubtless prompted by hunger than a lack of faith. At the age of six, Christopher already has a firmly entrenched faith. I’ll never forget the time I found Christopher handing out Cheeze-Its, one at a time, to his preschool friends, intoning "The Body of Christ, the Body of Christ." At that moment, he looked as though he was going to go rifling through the cupboards for a handful of those cheesy little crackers unless I did something fast, so I intervened.

"Let's save it for bedtime -- or for supper tomorrow night, OK Sarah?"

Still, I had to smile at my daughter’s first unprompted extemporaneous prayer offering. It's those unguarded moments when we are reminded how closely our children watch us, and how thirsty they are to know what you REALLY believe so they can incorporate it into their own little lives. This is the daily grace of parenting, a lifetime of spiritual booster shots.

It happened last Sunday, too, when it was my turn to do the first reading. Just as I approached the lectern, I felt a little hand go in mine. Now, I should preface this by saying that the first time she saw me go up to read, Sarah pitched the mother of all hissy fits: "NO!!! You can't go up there! It's for FATHER WILL!" For a time I considered stopping this particular form of service until Sarah got to be a little older and could understand what was happening, but our liturgist cautioned me against it. "What better way could Sarah learn that everybody has a job to do than to continue what you are doing?"

And so, we continued. And today, when I felt that little hand in mine, I had a brief instant to make a decision: Return to the pew and hand her off to Craig, or take her with me?

I'm not sure how liturgically sound the result was, but I can guarantee it was the quieter option: I climbed the alter steps with my daughter, and she stood there listening intently while I read from the passage in 2 Kings that prefigures the feeding of the five thousand. "Cast your bread upon the waters, and it shall return a hundredfold."

This, in essence, is parenting. We throw out a few crumbs, and watch the loaves grow. Recommends:

Finding the Right Spot: When Kids Can't Live With Their Parents, by Janice Levy (Magination Press, 2004).

Kids who can't live with their parents -- both those in foster care, and those who live with other relatives -- have big feelings. This book, appropriate for kids 6-12, handles them all with tact and empathy through the figure of "Aunt Dane," the Mary Poppins of foster parents.  Foster parents will relate to the buxom caregiver, and wish we had her unflagging optimism and wisdom. In the meantime, we can learn from her, too.

A special section in the back of the book coaches foster parents on how to help the children in their care to cope with the realities of their lives by following Aunt Dane's favorite truisms: "Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift."


Heidi Hess Saxton and her husband Craig are adoptive parents of two children Christopher (6) and Sarah (4). is the editor of Canticle magazine, the “voice” of  "Women of Grace". A convert to the faith since 1994, Heidi is also a graduate student of theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, Michigan, and a frequent contributor to  Read more of Heidi’s writing through her website or visit Heidi's blog at

Would you like to receive Heidi's column by email?  Send a message to Heidi.

8/09/06 Recommends:




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Adoption Resources:
These resources have been recommended by our readers.  To suggest a link or book, email [email protected] with your suggestion.

Helpful Links:

*Several readers have recommended local DHS and Catholic Charities for adoption resources. 

Little Flowers Foundation

Catholic Charities USA

National Council for Adoption

Priests for Life Alternatives to Abortion Resource Page

US Department of Health and Human Services

National Adoption

Information Clearinghouse


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