Editor's note: Please join me in praying for Marissa and her family as they welcome a new baby into the world this week! LMH
Don’t worry, this isn’t another guilt-trip-the parents for that one time you Facebooked on your phone while they played at the park kind of post. But it is a reflection on what kids will ultimately remember from their childhoods, just a bit narrower in its reflective scope (that way, we can all skip the part about feeling bad about not being superwoman or superman in every category of parenting all of the time.).
These modifications to the “What will your kids remember?” question may help us more thoughtfully evaluate our parenting:
What will your kids remember… about how present you were when you were with them?
There’s a way of being fully present to your kids even if you are a working parent and there is a way of being completely distracted away from them even if you stay-at-home (see reference to Facebooking at the park above). Ask yourself, when you have the chance to be with to your children, how fully present are you?
Do they get adequate face-time with you or are you always doing something away from them such as house projects, sleeping, working out, hanging out with friends etc. so that most of your time is occupied with your own interests?
I too struggle with this. Childrearing is hard, tiring, isolating and monotonous. We need to get things done around the house and do things for our mental health. And it’s easy to feel unduly put upon by kids’ simple requests in the midst of the million obligations that come with being a responsible adult.
I take great comfort in knowing that no one is born an expert at balancing their kids’ needs and the needs of the universe with their personal needs. But if it helps, one rule I set for myself is this: give the kids as much time as it takes to accomplish tasks. If I clean and email for an hour, I then make sure I give them an hour to do whatever they want. Also, at all meals I sit down and talk to them and ask questions. It seems to be working and I hope they remember our time together. They better.
What will your kids remember…about how you treated others?
Telling the kids to love their neighbor and then talking smack about those noisy, inconsiderate buffoons in front of them is more that a contradiction wouldn’t you say? Apply this now to family members, cashiers, your fellow parishioners and the other drivers on the road and then ask yourself, what will they remember about how you treated God’s beloved humanity?
What about serving others? I'm convinced that families a.k.a domestic churches each have a charism for doing a specific type of good work together. It differs for each family- some are very involved in the pro-life movement, others with the poor, others with helping the sick. In any case, mission is an indispensable aspect of being Christians. We would do well to remember that this piece is kind of the essential component for getting into heaven. If it is missing, it makes our Christian witness a bit incomplete, wouldn't you say? While we all want our children to be compassionate, teaching them in a practical way how to be Christ-like is still done best by example. How we've given charitably, loved, served and treated others is something our kids will most definitely remember about us.
What will your kids remember…about the importance you placed on material things?
Whether you are blessed with riches or as poor as church mice, there’s a way of placing too much importance on things. One big mistake we frequently make as parents is equating family happiness with material comfort or financial robustness. We all do this to a point (I once pined for a stroller I felt was an ‘investment’ for instance) and I am not saying having nice things is bad, but whether you had the latest and greatest or you were a charity case, were you grateful and generous with what you had?
Were you miserable all the while having the nicest and finest things in life? Well, that’s what they will remember. Were you happy and joyful while driving around in an old jalopy, wearing second hand clothes the same shoes you wore in college? They might not remember the shoes but it’ll make for a good story later. Bottom line: how important is your stuff to you and is that what you want them to remember?
What will your kids remember…about your faith?
One of my very first memories is that of a framed picture of Pope John Paul II (now Bl.) in my grandparents’ house. I grew up during the 1980s feeling like he was one of the family and loved seeing him in the news (in that pre-EWTN world). Why not? He was so familiar because his picture, with his serene smile and hands clasped in prayer, always hung on the wall. It’s one of the earliest examples of the Faith becoming personal for me and it has convinced me that Holy Images have the power to do this for everyone.
Look around your house. How many images do you have up? Your children will remember them or note their absence as they are growing up.
Outside of displaying holy images do you have a family prayer time? I’m not referring to anything extravagant, just a time to pray together. Do you attend mass? Do you sing at mass? Trust me, the kids are taking notes.
I’m not suggesting we do these things volunteeristically, but out of love for Christ and a personal relationship with God. By the way, how is that going for you? And please keep in mind, the answer to that question is what your kids will remember.
People do the best they can with what they know, but what they need to know is that sometimes our image of what the “best” is doesn’t matter at all. Notice in everything I’ve mentioned, I haven’t placed any importance on worldly notions of success.
For kids, it’s not about how about how many miles we clocked in on the treadmill, or how popular we were at church, or how nice our toys were, and how many vacations we took (wherein we missed mass again). It’s not even very important how many bread loaves I’ve baked, shirts I’ve ironed or organic foods I’ve purchased (record so far: almost none). These things are all important to us, stupid adults. I know I often want to go to the gym, have girls’ nights, buy nice things, splurge on healthy food and to ‘get away.’ None of these are bad, but are they what really matter?
What’s truly important to kids is how we’ve loved and lived and were patient and forgiving and fully present to them. Ultimately, if this post shows nothing else, it is that we would be hypocritical to call ourselves ‘good’ parents if we never really spent time with our children, considered ourselves and family superior to the rest of humanity, were occupied with amassing material things, and ignored God. Surely no-one wants them to remember that.
My kids will never be able to say I was perfect mom, but I do want them to say they remember me, the real me, as someone who was always trying to do the best by them (though failing often, hopefully improving over time). I want them to say I was kind to others, that I never sacrificed family harmony for the sake of acquiring fancy things, and that I tried to make the Faith alive for them. This is what I am trying to do and what I hope that they remember. They'd better.
Copyright 2013 Marissa Nichols
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