Tuesday, August 28, 2012
Better Parenting through Saint Martha, Saint Monica and the Blessed Mother
The past week, I met a lot of new people because of school starting and some social events that happened over the weekend. The question of "How do you do it?" when people were faced with the reality of "the number" kept popping up. I usually give a flippant answer like, "Some days I don't." (true), or "I haven't finished yet. I'll get back to you." But the question itself kept presenting itself which meant, it was time to try and grope at an answer to this, "How do we raise ten children?"
For the longest time, I flailed against Saint Martha. I tried everything but remembering, she was a beloved friend of Jesus. When I would get anxious about managing finances, housekeeping, homework, health forms, school supplies, chores, bedtimes, you name it, I would think I was suffering from "the sins of Martha." I wanted these things done, I just wanted other people to take them on. I didn't want to always get "the crummy jobs" that no one else wanted to do. You know what I mean, the sink of dishes that everyone walks by EXCEPT for one person, same with the laundry, the schedule, the bills, the assignment deadlines, the paperwork (I hate hate hate hate), the bank statement, all of that crammed in my brain and I would revolt and head to the blog.
So I took a two week break to try and get everything done and while I didn't last the two weeks (10 days but hey, it was close and I didn't write on the weekend), I did notice, I still found ways to avoid the work where possible, so it was the blog as a vehicle of my sloth, rather than the source of it. I need to write daily. It is important to my psyche, it lets me see patterns and identify issues that if I didn't write even if only to myself, I wouldn't fully recognize. My favorite priest pointed out to me, "Martha was still a saint." and once I allowed myself to relax about things, I found honestly, things did work out even if I didn't always see how. It just took me being willing to look at the "crummy tasks" as signs of love and to teach my kids to occasionally pick a crummy job and do a decidedly Not crummy job doing it.
Saint Martha and I have an understanding now. Upon reflection, her life points out that I need not to be anxious about all these things, and also need not to fume when I am giving or guess what, I am not giving. So first and foremost, everything is a gift or not, that is the freewill choice of raising ten kids. I either will do it or not. So I'm reminding myself nightly to climb the stairs and give kisses to each of those who will let me. It's part of what should be baseline. I shouldn't do a crummy job at the best job, and fuss over the need to do better at the crummy jobs involving things. I can wash the dishes as part of washing their feet. I can also teach them the same. But I can't do that if I'm humphing about getting it done.
So the first part of the answer is "Serve with love."
Saint Monica and I have become friends since I have teenagers, because no matter what I say, sometimes I'm just not what people want to hear. I have found a new source of anxiety that isn't related to domestic daily routine, the doubt of my words and action as well as my silence and inaction. Too much scheduling. Too much pressure. Not enough. Should I push? Should I pull? Should I rescue? Should I double check? Should I sign him up? Should I not? Check. Check. Check and triple check...and then be really annoyed when I didn't check and of course if I had checked, I would have found the critical paper/error/problem that now has snowballed.
It's not that I want to worry, but having teens is always about seeing the various paths before them and hoping hoping hoping they choose wisely and figuring out all the points before now when you dropped the ball or hogged it making their choices harder to discern. It isn't a case of false guilt or fake humility, it's a case of knowing...that should have been handled better, and still knowing what you do next will probably be over correction.
It is hard to surrender. It is hard to trust trust trust beyond your own ability, in the deep deeper grace that God has to give if we ask. This will look like a mess but it will work out. The grace is to trust enough to accept that you cannot see all ends and you're not supposed to, you're only to love and to serve and to pray. The rest of it, is that pesky freewill. Trust trust trust. And then with the teens, verify, verify, verify. Not because they're bad but because they're inexperienced and so they make choices that they do not know the consequences of as they do them. Like my son who put red pepper flakes on his hand to sprinkle on the pizza. When I told him that was spicy and to wash his hands, he naturally asked, "Why?" and when I said it would hurt his eyes if he touched them, he had to really work to NOT touch his own eyes...or his brothers in a moment of mischief. I followed his hands to the sink to make sure they were properly rinsed.
The second part of raising ten: wise as serpents, gentle as doves. There's a bit of vigilance laced with mercy in that saying, but it has a spine. It's all necessary.
Finally, we come to the Blessed Mother, where we fall down and say "How?" or "Why?" or my personal favorite, "Help!" My grandfather used to say, "Sooner or later you just have to fall on your knees and bawl like a baby." and he knew of what he spoke, trying to raise nine. So Mary gets a goodly chunk of my prayer life. It's almost a daily lament/call, like my daily chat with my own earthly mom. I need it as part of getting through all of this with some degree of poise and humor and sanity.
And do you know what?
Mary always answers. Even more, Mary always intercedes. Mary always comforts. Mary always is there, leading us closer to her son, pulling us out of our comfort zones to a zone of peace which is much greater and richer than the pseudo serenity of control.
The other day, I was at the park while five of mine had swimming lessons. I'd taken the youngest two with me as well to let the oldest girls have quiet time to get their homework done. My daughter tripped on the stairs and whacked her head. Holding her, rocking her, kissing her forehead and saying, "It will be okay. It will be okay. It will be okay." she snuggled into my arms deeper. My words and kisses soothed the pain.
Mary is like that with us, except she is even more effective. I could have hovered and perhaps stopped the trip, but the next time she took the steps, my daughter held onto the railing. She'd learned a touch of caution and was back at going down the slide with a fully joyful face each time after the initial bump faded. Wisdom through suffering, even at 19 months is a part of our reality as hard as that is, but I got to comfort and that was a grace too.
So the third part was prayer. Pray. Pray. Pray.
No one ever wants to fully recognize how intimately God answers our prayers because that would be almost outrageous, almost too much for our human fallen hearts to bear. But I know it is true, that God answers our prayers, our deepest hearts cries, even on the stupid stuff. What He answers is always "I love you." and designed to bring us and as many as possible back to Him, like a parent being willing to fly everyone of her children back to her home for Christmas on her own dime because she wants all of them near or it isn't as full as her heart longs to be. It's why we want to be as lavish as possible at weddings or why we want to celebrate and we're always looking to see if everyone we invited came and to make sure we invited everyone our heart could think of when something is important. And our hearts ache when we forget or we mess up or we can't somehow make it happen. We want that luminous feast with everyone, and we want it to go on and on and on.On Earth, this is as close as we come, we get slivers of understanding of the infinite heart of God come through the process of serving others, and the surest way to guarantee that we have someone to serve, is to be responsible for somebody else's future in addition to our own. So How do you raise ten kids? The same way you raise one, two, five or 19 or however many you've received. You raise them with love, wisdom, prayers, service and you do it...forever, even when they're grown, because part of you will always be responsible for their souls, just as they are in part for yours.
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