Pope Francis, in a recent gathering of the Pontifical Council for the Family, “asked parents to ‘waste time’ with their children, so that they can realize that love is always free” (quote from this article). For those of us who spend a lot of time “wasting time” with our children, this statement is very encouraging! When we sit on the floor with our 3 year-old to assemble a puzzle, snuggle on the couch to read “The Yellow Tutu” for the twentieth time, or simply spend time singing songs to our newborn child, we are not accomplishing any specific purpose other than spending quality time with our children. I vividly remember my own mother sitting with me for hours on end in front of the record player, singing songs over and over again. I could not have been more than 3 or 4 years old, but I remember. In the eyes of some, this may be “wasting time” that could have been otherwise spent doing tasks that have a tangible outcome, but for our children, this time spent with mom or dad is priceless. I often tell other people that they are the only mother or father that their children will ever have – they are irreplaceable. While other people could take your place on the PTA or in the workplace, no one can take your place as mother or father of your children. As we so often hear, parents are the first face of Christ to their children, and this is a beautiful responsibility.
At the same time, Pope Francis’ words issue us with a challenge: to show our children that our love for them is free, unconditional, and unaffected by anything that they say or do. The Pope is challenging us to spend time with our children so that they can see that we love spending time with them just because they are who they are, and on some days more than on others, this can be difficult! I immediately thought of all of the times that I am checking my emails on my phone while “spending time” with my children, and how frustrating this must be for them.
Pope Francis’ words resonate with me especially today because we just returned from our first camping trip as a family. Actually, the girls and I tagged along on the Cub Scout campout, but it was still a great time for us. Despite a very cold night and some other discomforts, our children loved camping – my daughter woke up on Sunday and said, “That was the best, most funnest night ever!” (She must have forgotten that she basically cried throughout the entire night because she was freezing.) Camping provides many opportunities to “waste time” – literally, when we arrived at the campsite, the Scouts and their families were sitting on their chairs in a circle, some reading or drawing, some napping, some just sitting contentedly and “doing nothing.” Yes, there is a lot of hard work that goes into preparing for the trip, setting up the campsite, and cleaning up, but once all of this is done there is plenty of time just to be together. We took walks, played on a swinging vine that hung from a tree on our campsite, roasted S’Mores, and told silly jokes and scary stories. For our children, this was heaven!
So, go ahead and “waste” some time with your children today – you’ll be glad that you did. Mary, Queen of Families, pray for us!