I think if someone had told me 19 years ago when I discovered I was finally pregnant (it was a grueling two years of trying) with our first child that raising children in this day and age would bring gray to my hair faster than any gene mutation could dream, I might have been more afraid to bring more children into this world.
If I had known the culture would pull on them harder than I or my husband could hold on to, I might have been more afraid.
If I had known the "new" pressures to fit in would include devices I can't even hardly afford for myself as an adult, or clothing that looks like something I madly took scissors to and all that was left was shreds of material, I might have been more afraid.
If I had known how painful the roll of an eye, or the yell of an 'I don't like you,' would cut deep into my soul, I might have been more afraid.
If I had known the trouble a boy could get into, the demands a teenage girl could place, the point blank lies told to my face or any of the other ten million struggles we've faced, I could easily see how having one or even no children, might have entertained my thoughts.
But I didn't know. How grateful I am for that as well.
Raising children in this day and age is anything but easy. I have quite the age span. A daughter graduating HS and a baby who intermittently decides sleep is ok enough to go a few hours in between feedings. To say I'm exhausted is an understatement.
But it's not just sleep exhaustion. It's mental and emotional exhaustion.
To cheerlead your children day in and day out only to be yelled at and told we are too strict.
To have your children call you when they're done with after school activities and although we live a little over a mile away and the weather is usually spectacular for walking you pick them up (which is terrible wear and tear for a car mind you...) only to be told we don't let them do anything or have anything. No one, and I mean NO ONE makes their kids buy their own cars, or pay for their own insurance....No one else's parents are like us, we are told.
I could go on and on, and frankly the list is endless and I'm tired and feeling extremely emotional already and just read this so far, and I sound kinda like Eeyore- but I think I've made my point.
Yesterday was probably the worst day of my life. On record (even with nearly dying after the birth of my 7th child). Yesterday was the point I realized that my children, despite my husband and I trying our very best to steer our children away from some of the harmful things they are sometimes (some of them ALL the time) attracted to, they are going to be stubborn and insist on their own way regardless. I often wonder if God didn't make teenagers this way on purpose- to be so openly disobedient, or defiant, because there is some purging that must be done by we the parents....
I've gone to bed the last two nights with my heart so heavy, and the tears so freely falling at where I possibly could have been a better mom. I know my short temper is definitely a part of the problem. How could these children even begin to want to consider what God wants for them when their own mother gets so angry at times. I've not been the best Christian example by a long shot.
I know I've tried working on being less reactive and a more proactive parent. I have caught myself on several occasions actually stopping, and talking. Which is huge considering how I was raised. But teenagers are excellent for pushing buttons and my instinct to react is sometimes a painful sword that I wish would just cut my mouth off. Or tape it off to be less violent I suppose...
Perhaps we have been too overprotective. I could blame my husband and his work. He's seen children die at the hands of predators. That affects a person deeply. He has also arrested more than his share of people who probably could have made better decisions in their lives but because of free will and choice, they didn't. He wants better for his kids. As a teacher, I witnessed first hand the affects of 'hands off' parenting, and the results I saw at a young age left an indelible scar that I didn't want my kids to just 'do whatever they wanted.'
Unfortunately, but fortunately, we are a large family, so actually buying every whim each child dreams of is honestly just impractical for us. We must be frugal with our purchases and really pray about what we are buying them for birthdays and Christmas. Even with that said, I spend way more money than most do because I do try to fulfill at least one of their wishes....
Sadly, many children in this culture do not even understand the word sacrifice. And see children like mine, who don't have iPad at 5 years old, or their own personal computers by 10 years old, as poor children. Heck, a few times, I've actually had some of mine return from school once or twice and actually ask if we were poor because we didn't have the same things as their friends. POOR? Do our children even understand what that word means? POOR?
So let me get this straight- because we don't have ipads, tablets, ipods, computers for every human in our home, take fancy vacations every three months, buy every trendy gift that comes across the Amazon HOT Christmas toy list (Hatchables, FIDGET SPINNERS? WTHeck...) we are POOR?
I'm sorry, I'm getting ahead of myself because it just sounds so ridiculous. But these are things my children question me about. At least in the younger years. Some of my older ones know better, but still question. Some of them actually see the affects of children who are never denied and they don't like what they see.
But to get back to being poor and making a sacrifice.....
What ever happened to wanting something so badly you really worked for it? What ever happened to seeing that Liz Claiborne purse in JC Penney's and working extra hours and spending your ENTIRE Baskin & Robbins Ice Cream check to buy it???? ($87.00 people....how insane is that one.....) Whatever happened to getting a job and saving up money to buy your first car because you knew mom and dad weren't buying it and you sure knew your friends were as dependable as the wind....although, I will admit, I had one friend who would drive to the moon and back for me and she did and I am forever indebted to her friendship and rides....
My children don't understand what poor really is because all their lives they've literally heard that what makes a person POOR is NOT HAVING MATERIAL THINGS.... and mind you, these "material things" are not NEEDS, but actually WANTS and DESIRES....
I digress.... I am preaching to the choir.
There are things I certainly could have done to prevent this.
Yes...I could have homeschooled. But honestly, I've heard stories with homeschool families and their teenagers. They don't seem immune to the pull.
Yes....I could go back to work to send them to Catholic schools, but honestly, I hear the SAME things from many parents who feel as I do and I'm not spending 10's of thousands of dollars (well, minus my property taxes up here in the great white north.....) for that education....dealing with the same yucks....
Honestly, I wish I had taught my kids the faith better. I wish I had sat down with each one of them and really delved into religion with them. Talked about the persecutions people who were just like them faced. Now saints, these young people didn't stop believing or learning or trying to bring the light of Christ to others.....
I think the thing I regret the most is not praying and trusting more. Padre Pio is known for a quote that we see everywhere. Pray, hope, don't worry. I do the first two somewhat ok, but the third I don't do well at all. As evidenced by last nights tear fest. Worry brings fear.
As I clutched my cord rosary (which I've discovered is the only painless rosary I can sleep with without hurting me or my husband), I just kept asking God to please help us. I couldn't get the words to form into any prayer. Just 'Please, Lord. Help us.'
We can't do this alone. My kids can't do this alone. Although, at this point in their lives they certainly think they can.
I can't do this without my husband. We can't do this without our God. He has been showing us His love since the beginning of time. He wants us unconditionally. He loves us unconditionally. He's been teaching us all about his love and all he wants is us to love HIM! I guess that's all I want my children to do as well. Love Him enough to really give Him their lives and trust He will guide them.
And show them that life is not always going to be happy. It's not always going to be about getting our way, or getting things, or being popular, or being wealthy, or having everything your heart desires. Sometimes, life, when truly lived through Christ, is going to be HARD. The right way to do things is going to sometimes be very unpopular. The better choice is going to be the road less traveled on. Living a life for God doesn't always smell like roses, but there are certainly roses along the way. And as much as I want to protect my children from making the same stupid mistakes I made because I didn't have a cheerleader in my ear, I too, must learn that I have to let go and trust. I want to protect them so badly. No one warned me about my choices. I wasn't discouraged to do things, I certainly was never told to bring it all to God and see what He wants from me.
This life is hard. Raising families is hard. Raising large families is really hard. Some days I just want to quit. I literally just want to throw the covers over my head and pretend I am asleep....There are times when I truly convince myself that if I had "only prayed more, or gone to daily Mass more, or just been a more holy person," than my kids wouldn't make such dumb choices, or do things that make my head hurt, or just treat us so unkindly.
If I had just gotten a hold of my temper, my anger, and really worked on the opposite virtue. If I had just stopped being so scrupulous and blaming every single thing I didn't do right....
I could go on and on....but God doesn't want me to. I know that. Although, sitting here in my little pity party, I certainly could.
I want my kids to have better than I did. But not in things. None of that stuff matters. We can't take a U-Haul to Heaven. It just.won't.go..... (I do have a teenager who might be slightly disappointed in this fact....)
What I want my children to have?
1. A firm and solid faith foundation.
God is real. God is really REALLY REALLY real. I've had too many crazy, take my breath away, did anyone else see that, things happen to me to not believe it. HE.IS.REAL. Our amazing earth should prove that. Nothing comes from nothing. A great book is written by a great author. A beautiful painting is painted by an amazing artist. A masterfully built building is designed by a great architect. A delicious meal doesn't just appear out of thin air, it is prepared by a great chef. Same with us. Same with our world. We did NOT come from nothing... There IS a great designer...
2. God loves us so much He gave Himself to us in Jesus Christ His Son.
Not only is God one in three, not only did He come to earth as a tiny cute little baby, but He DIED FOR US. He was brutally beaten and practically dragged to His death on a cross. We can't look at most crucifixes today and see that because they're all polished and shiny and clean, but His body was literally hanging skin and blood. Bruised, swollen, dripping blood, dead.... He died so that we might not perish but have LIFE IN HIM....
3. John Chapter 6 is not a symbolic gesture.
If we don't teach them anything else, I want my children to understand that Jesus Christ is truly present in the Catholic church under the species of bread and wine and that God Himself has been teaching and preparing people for it since Genesis. Literally. The only acceptable form of worship for God was an altar with a sacrifice.....a bloody sacrifice. He taught them over time that it would be Jesus that would give us this one true form of Worship in the Eucharist. HIS body, HIS blood. We would be instructed on how to receive it, and the priests would be instructed on how to DO it. It's all so completely fascinating.
4. Our faith comes from Jesus.
Too many people have left the Church because of what they 'thought' we believed. I almost did. But I didn't want to leave it until I had exhausted myself in finding the truth. And what I found? Was glorious. The depth and beauty of our faith is beyond what I can adequately put into words. The love I have felt from God after going to confession. Or the love I have felt after sitting in Adoration. Or the love I have felt by just sitting with my bible and soaking up His word. It's all real. We can trace every aspect of Catholicism back to the beginning. It's truth. Study it. Learn it. Lead by it..
5. That while 'things' bring fleeting happiness, the love we have for our children is rooted in a deep, mystical connection with God.
We prayed for each one of our children. Whether they were planned by us, or by God. Not one of our babies was a 'mistake' or an accident. Life is hard. Too many people are trying to make our time here on Earth as painless as possible and while in theory that sounds delightful (seriously, no pain at all??? Does that include all the pain of getting old and getting out of bed in the mornings???) it's actually a horrible idea. Too many of us don't know how to handle tragedy or heartache or pain. We want a 'quick fix' for illness, a pill to take to end lives of those we deem "suffering" and surgeries to remove those "mistakes in the womb." Don't fall into the trap of needing life to be easy. Struggle is good. Heartache reminds us that in heaven there is none. Tragedies teach us to appreciate all life all the time and love one another with an unconditional love because we know not the hour or the day when we will be called home.
6. We don't make decisions lightly.
We don't make decisions about our parenting lightly ever. Despite how it might seem that you never get to do anything, we actually pray and discuss every decision made in our home. Are there some things we absolutely unequivocally don't allow or don't say yes to? Yes. There are. Are there decisions we mess up on? Absolutely yes and that's why some decisions change (like phone issues and other electronics...) some are just not mature enough to handle the responsibility or some just have no self control...But we never decide on things merely to torture you or exude our power over you...we want the best for you and as you get older the decision making process does involve you and we take your thoughts about things into consideration, but that doesn't mean you get the final decision on things...we are still the parents and ultimately we have to answer to everything we do for or against you as well....
7. It really does take a village to raise kids...
I used to laugh at that idea, but as my children grew, and my concerns for the worldly view on things grew, my 'village' my group of friends, became my source of consultation. Bouncing ideas off of them and asking for advice. Knowing if my kids were with my friends that not only would they be safe, but they would be corrected when wrong, too. It's important that our friends/family work with us on raising kids. My friends have helped us more times than I can count when it comes to making decisions involving our children and their lives. Having another perspective is also important when you might be upset about something and can't really see clearly. That other voice of reason can help calm your soul and help see a reasonable solution. Parenting is not easy.
8. Parenting is not easy.
I can think of no harder job. It's not just physical, but emotional, spiritual, mental, you name it. Parenting is not for the faint hearted. It's a full time job. All hands on deck. We've gone from playing man-to-man defense to just doing a zone defense and hoping for best at times. It's a struggle and it's an all out war. No one wants to destroy the family more than the evil one and he's going to pull out all the stops.....
You not busy enough? Let's add another activity. You only eating one meal as a family a week? Let's throw in a private lesson or two. It's never enough. There has to be more more and more. All in the name of passion. Let kids find their passion. Let kids explore their world. Let kids activities dictate if we attend church together as a family or eat a meal together even just once a week (even though studies after studies show the vast difference in children and the effects of attending a religious service of some kind and eating at least one family meal together a week). We are playing right into those hands of conquer, divide and destroy. Slowly but surely.
9. We do need time to be husband and wife.
This is a tough one. I've got kids who actually seem to be bothered by my husband and I spending time together. I understand. I love my kids. I hate being apart from them. But our relationship is first in this family and we must nurture that often. Too many couples find after children leave the home they don't know each other anymore. They have grown apart either with separate activities they do with others or just the wear and tear of the family over time. I've seen it. It's so sad. Our time together is already so limited with his work and our afterschool activities that time together is sometimes literally grocery shopping. And that's more of a "let's hurry and you get this, this, and this, and I'll get this, this, and that..." But time together, alone, is essential to refuel our own relationship and discuss life and things we can not discuss in front of our children....
10. No matter what you believe, we will never, ever stop loving you.
I don't know how we haven't proved this to our children yet. As a parent of kids whom the POLICE have called on, I can't really prove to them just how much I love them. I prayed for them. I carried them for almost 10 months (40 weeks - you do the math), I nursed them for the better part of a year, six months exclusively, I changed diapers, all kinds, I potty trained, I held when hurt. I kissed booboos, I hugged, I helped with homework (when I could) I practiced spelling words, I cheered at sporting events and marching band and concerts. I don't think I can express just how much we love each one of our kiddos. Honestly, it's why the last two nights have been so painfully emotional for me. I love them so much it makes my heart hurt. Imagine how much more God loves them...His heart must hurt, too, when we do things to hurt Him....
I've rambled a lot here. Probably more than I should. But there is a whole lot on my mind. I'm no theologian. I've never claimed to be an expert at anything and certainly when people say, "oh you must know what you're doing by now..." I don't. I feel dumber and dumber the older my kids get. We certainly have learned that we make mistakes. Lots of them. We freely admit that. We do dumb things. We say we're sorry when we've lost our tempers. We try to do our best and frankly, that's probably never going to be good enough for some, but we keep going.
Parenting in this day and age is not for the faint hearted. I've said it here several times and I'll say it the rest of my life. There is so much against us. So many forces pulling on our kids and trying to teach them the "right way." Sometimes that ok, but lots of times, it's really not. But it's also sometimes some of the most rewarding moments of our lives. Truly. To see a child discover his/her talents/gifts. Hear about a great score on a test they were convinced they'd fail. See them work hard and buy that first car and understand the effects of hard work and determination. Seeing them fall, but not quit, get hurt, but keep fighting. There are little grace moments I call them. God gives my husband and I little nuggets that things are going to be ok. That yes, this is really, REALLY, REEEEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAAAAAALLLLLLLLLLLLLLYYYYYYYYYYY hard, but here is a little taste of Heaven for you to see that He's got this. He's got all of it.
He's got our children. And we must pray, hope, and not worry. Even when all we really want to do is not pray, lose hope and worry.....
There is always hope. Do not be afraid.