A mom recently emailed me a complaint.
“You never share stories anymore! I always loved your stories.”
Orthodox. Faithful. Free.
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It’s true that I regularly used to share stories from my real-life experience as a Catholic mom of many children. It turns out that misery really does love company, and the woes of nighttime teething and tantruming toddlers are a bonding kind of experience that just begs to be shared.
But those babies I blogged about? They are growing up. And the stories about that growing up are theirs to share. Or not.
It’s a tricky thing, this parenting of older children. In our culture, it seems, we begin dreading the teen years early on. I remember my younger sister, when she was pregnant with her first child, became incensed when an older woman at her church wagged a finger over her swollen belly and appeared to curse her.
“Just you wait…” the woman said ominously. “Just you wait until this one is a teenager.”
As if there really is some terrible thing that automatically happens when your child becomes a teenager, we laughed to each other at the time. Now that I am a mom of three teens and counting, I can attest to the fact that, no, there is not, in fact, some terrible thing that automatically happens when your child becomes a teenager.
Unless you count the heartbreak.
The heartbreak, of course, comes when you read old blog posts and realize that the tiny toddler who once sang love songs to you from the back seat of the van is gone forever. The melancholics among us might be tempted to wallow in the loss, but it’s equally important to recognize the gain.
The gain is that the tiny toddler has morphed into a larger, more independent and capable person before your very eyes. The process is overwhelming, astonishing, breathtaking, and more than a little bit terrifying.
Because with each new skill they gain, each new responsibility these growing kids take on, we parents must relinquish a little bit more of what we thought was our control. The only way to get through this process with your psyche intact is to not only learn to let go, but to begin to recognize that the precious control you’ve been clutching so tightly all these years was never really yours to begin with.
We don’t raise our toddlers up to be faith-filled teens. We don’t raise our teens up to be faith-filled grownups. God does.
I considered this the other night when I managed to get myself to adoration at my parish for a few precious minutes.
As I drove to the church, my mind was spinning with all the things with which a mom’s mind spins. Carpools and dinner plans, deadlines and laundry, phone calls and…sticky conversations. The kind you have when big kids wrestle you to give up some more of that precious control, and you are reluctant to let it go just yet. You’re not sure if God means for you to. Or if you even have it anyway. Or who can tell you if you don’t.
I entered the church and the heavy door clanged shut behind me.
There He was.
When I knelt in the pew before Christ in the Eucharist, I was struck by the simplicity of His presence. His waiting. His silence. His love.
We make things more complicated than we need to sometimes. I can see that now about the baby years. All those outlet covers and cloth diapers? The prenatal Mozart and fruit-juice-sweetened whole grain muffins? There was nothing wrong with them, but they weren’t magical ingredients that added up to good parenting.
We worry sometimes about how we can reach today’s teens with the message of Jesus Christ. How can we form meaningful connections with these foreign creatures who once fit in the crooks of our arms but who now look down, pat us on the head, and call us “Little Mom”? Should we use Facebook, YouTube, and iPhone apps?
I think we should use Jesus. We should use His presence, His words, and His grace at work in their hearts and ours. Parenting is about love, building relationships, and real presence. Jesus tells us this with His steady, silent example in the Eucharist, with the patient gift of Himself.
That night at adoration, kneeling before the King of Kings with my mind and heart full of this world’s complicated wants and worries, I begged Him for more.
Fill me — fill them — with You, Lord. Fill us with Your love, Your words, and Your grace. Where we are lacking, pour Yourself in. Strengthen us where we are weak. Heal us where we are hurt.
Fill our minds and hearts with You. More of You. Only You.