Anni Harry asserts the purpose of parenting is about something greater than her children -- and greater than herself.
This month, my oldest child started kindergarten at our local public school. As I waited to pick him up on a seemingly endless first day, I thought about the journey of motherhood -- how the mother I am today is not the mother I imagined years back. I am not worse, but I am also not better. My children see me slip and fall on a regular basis. Because they are my family, they routinely see me at my best, and at my worst. I figure it is part and parcel of motherhood, and each day I strive to start fresh, no matter what the day before held, and begin again.
Within a married union, the primary vocation is that of being a spouse, which will hopefully get both individuals to Heaven. Yet, when there are little ones in the house, it can be so difficult to keep a focus on the primary vocation. Between middle-of-the-night feeds, kids heading to school while at least one parent (if not both) heads to work, and after-school extracurriculars, it can be so easy to lose sight of the primary vocation. Couples get bogged down by the gravity of the secondary vocation -- of parenting -- that we struggle to maintain a sense of priority for the primary vocation.
And I truly believe that God understands that particular struggle. He knows that the focus temporarily shifts to the more immediate urgency of forming small children in the ways of the world, and the ways of the Faith. Sometimes, in a sleep-deprived state of life, the best we feel we can do is hold on with two hands and say a prayer to our Guardian Angels to keep us all safe and on course.
Yet, during the time in which our focus shifts a little, our search for Heaven is no less important. We are still charged to continue growing in holiness, and continue searching for a passionate, deep relationship with our God. In fact, as the ultimate parent, God offers us such a valuable of the parent we should strive to become for the sake of our children, and for the sake of our souls.
“Children in turn contribute to the growth in holiness of their parents. Each and everyone should be generous and tireless in forgiving one another for offenses, quarrels, injustices, and neglect. Mutual affection suggests this. The charity of Christ demands it.” Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2227, emphasis mine
Parenthood is demanding, and when we take a moment to consider the gravity of the calling of parenthood, it can seem downright overwhelming. Not only are we tasked to work on having our own strong relationship with God, but we are also challenged to lead other little souls to our Lord, to introduce them to Him, and to encourage them to seek Him. In some families, this can shape into some pretty obnoxious battles between the parents and children. Yet, as I spent time reflecting on my own motherhood while my oldest was at school, I realized -- motherhood is not about me. And, in the same breath, motherhood is not about my children.
Instead, motherhood, fatherhood, parenthood is about God. So much of our society runs on the concept that everything should be about the individual. When we have children, some parts of society tell us the children should adapt to their parents’ lifestyle. Then, there are advocates who would say the alternate is true, that the parents should completely shift their lifestyle to mold to the baby’s needs. However, the more I contemplated my role as a parent, I realized neither camp has it completely right. What much of our society misses is the true purpose of parenting, as a secondary vocation. While it may not be the primary way to get into Heaven, as my spiritual director pointed out once, it should enhance my primary vocation. My role of mother should enhance being a wife to my husband.
At the end of the day, the purpose of parenting is to draw us closer to Christ! So, during the middle-of-the-night nursing sessions, when stillness has settled over the rest of the house, I have the opportunity to talk to God uninterrupted, even if it’s a simple acknowledgment that He is with me. In the middle of the day, when the clock drags by because the children are studying -- whether at school or at the kitchen table -- I have an opportunity to give thanks to God for the day we are having, or to plead for His intervention to change the course. At the end of a long, arduous day, instead of complaining about the children not eating the prepared food, or my husband working long hours, or the dogs tearing up the house while we were out, I have the opportunity to recognize that the way I responded to the hurdles either took me further away from God, or led me closer to Him.
As parents, we are tasked to lead our children to Christ, and we do that by teaching formal prayers, attending Mass as a family, but also through our daily actions, and the interactions we have with each other. Contrary to society’s messages of a shift in priorities, perhaps we as parents should go back to the original purpose of these important relationships in our lives. Rather than struggle through our primary and secondary vocations, the ultimate focus should be on the underlying purpose in all our lives -- to draw closer to God.
As this school year kicks off, perhaps parents everywhere would benefit from an evaluation of how they are doing in both their primary vocation and secondary vocation. Perhaps we should remind ourselves, and our spouses, that at the end of the day, we are trying to get each other into Heaven, and right now, this is the way to grow closer to God. We aren’t there yet in my house, but someday, there will come a time when the little ones aren’t so little, and the challenge will shift to letting the children fly on their own. That poses its own obstacles and difficulties.
Yet, with the reminder of the purpose of parenting firmly in our hearts, we might be able to draw more strength. Because, at the end of the day, parenting isn’t about the parents. And, it isn’t about the children. Parenting is about God!
How will you find God through the thick of parenting?
Copyright 2018 AnnAliese Harry
Images created by the author using Canva.
About the Author
AnnAliese Harry is a proud Army wife to her husband Chris, and a mother to their young children. She has a BA in History, a Masters in Social Work, and has worked with disabled veterans, troubled teens, and in early childhood intervention therapy. AnnAliese volunteers with several military chapel communities and serves as a lector, EMHC, Adoration coordinator, and Catholic Women of the Chapel (CWOC) chapter president and vice president. She blogs about Catholicism, parenting, and military life at A Beautiful, Camouflaged Mess of A Life. Follow her on Twitter, on Instagram, or on Facebook.