That little verse from Genesis 3 sticks with me. I reflected some in my previous post about the pain of losing children, and of heartbreak in raising them. This week, we had some time with a psychologist who repeated (not in so many words) one of the key lessons I am learning in this great adventure of parenting: it’s not intuitive.
Bearing children may be a perfectly natural event. But raising them is an art. Doing what comes naturally, unless we are near-perfect in our virtue, isn’t usually a good idea when responding to the various provocations of our beloved (and utterly infuriating) offspring. Most parents come to realize this, so I am not saying anything new there. And I am not qualified to give child-raising advice. All I can say for certain is that losing your temper is always going to end badly, but keeping it perfectly is impossible, at least in my experience.
The counter-intuitiveness of parenting, though, has theological significance, I believe. Because having children is something good. It’s God’s plan. “Be fruitful and multiply,” God tells Adam and Eve. God repeats the instruction when Noah and his kin disembark from the ark. The propagation of the species matters to God. And the psalmist remarks that children are a blessing from God.
But it certainly doesn’t always feel like that. Of course there is joy as well, and the work of parenting is meaningful perhaps above all other work. Human beings are precious, and powerful creatures, capable of great things–some very good, and some very bad. Some days the responsibility seems overwhelming. And doing it properly just doesn’t come naturally. So it’s painful. It’s part of the discipline that yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness (Hebrews 12:11), or so I hope.
For the grace to get through it day by day, Deo gratias.
I didn’t think I could do it, today. It has been one of those days–a spiritual and psychological sluggishness has dogged me all day. But the story of Elisha and Naaman inspired me, and reminded me why I am doing this. Hint: it’s not fame or money… See the post at thinking coram Deo.
Today’s reflection is at thinking coram Deo–another page of the devotional. Yesterday I spent a bit of time with the Mass readings, but didn’t manage to blog. Whatever I might have said, though, would have been less straightforward than the message of Pope Francis’s homily: ‘listen to Jesus!’
Words to live by.
I was very glad to read a post about parenting that draws on St John Chrysostom and St John Bosch–and recommend it in the very highest terms to all parents, actually. Not only can Christians (especially Catholics, perhaps) learn from the wisdom of the saints, but the advice is practical and makes good sense. Reward good behaviour; it’s more effective. Remember that a ‘reproachful look’ communicates censure as well as a blow–if not better. And never resort to ‘the birch’ out of anger; that’s not disciplining the child but giving way to temper.
Excellent stuff. And it helps me especially, because I have long been slightly uneasy with St Benedict’s advice: ‘If a brother has been reproved frequently for any fault…yet does not amend…let him feel the strokes of the rod’ (RB 28). What? Finding that recommendation took me by surprise, and I have wrestled with it as a parent who looks to St Benedict as a guide in prayer, Christian practice, and parenting. The qualities of the abbot and the cellarer seem desirable for parents as well. But this counsel–not so much.
The counter-argument from St John Bosco is most welcome: ‘force, indeed, punishes the guilt, but it does not heal the guilty.’ Good parenting advice from those whose ‘parenting’ was spiritual rather than biological.