I need a smile and there’s no sweeter smile than Convos with My Two-Year-Old.
So I was steam-cleaning the shower; giving the house it’s Thanksgiving go-over.
I have an industrial-strength steamer that, when it’s fully rigged up, looks a lot like one of the bugs in Starship Troopers. It produces hot, hot steam in violent jets that dissolve dirt and slay bacteria with a single hiss.
I was running it with the squeegee attachment, going up and down the shower walls, steam coming out in an angry zzzzzzzz, my laboriously straightened hair collapsing into tight little curls, when my youngest son popped his head around the bathroom door.
“Whachadoin’?” he asked.
“Cleaning the shower.”
“I want you to come do that to my shower,” meaning, the shower in the house he shares with his brother, a shower so dirty that there’s no way to be sure what color the enamel might be; a shower so dirty that self-respecting bacteria moved out months ago; a shower so dirty that I wouldn’t use it to bathe a dog.
“Nope. But you can borrow the steamer.”
“But I want you to come do it.”
“All right then,” he said, wandering off.
I guess I’m responsible. After all, I raised him.
When he marries, I plan to begin my relationship with my new daughter-in-law by apologizing.
You can not control what other people do. That includes your adult children.
However, if you are lucky, and you’ve done a good enough job raising them, chances are that the things your adult children end up doing will be consistent, at least in an overall fashion, with the values you hold yourself. That does not mean that your adult children will always make the choices that you would make in the same situation. It also does not mean that they are going avoid all the mistakes you wish you’d never made.
One of the hardest lessons any parent has to learn is that you can’t always save your kids from the hard knocks you gave yourself when you were their age. You can’t — and this is hard to accept — impart the wisdom you gained from getting your nose bloodied to keep them from getting their noses bloodied.
Sometimes all you can do is sit back and watch and be there later with a cold wash cloth and an abundance of love. A lot of times what you will see when you do this is that your children are more like you than you would wish.
The best you can do as a parent is to give your children the tools to manage their own lives productively when they grow up and love them passionately, no matter what, after they do grow up.
My husband and I decided when I was pregnant with our first baby that the tools we could give that mattered the most were, (1) a stable and solid marriage between their mom and dad, (2) a strong grounding in faith in Jesus Christ, (3) a good education, (3) the security of knowing that we would always love them, no matter what mistakes they made in life.
My greatest fear as a parent was that I would lose one of these precious little ones that God gave me to the larger culture. I can’t imagine how anything else in life could matter if you mess up your own kids, and for me, messing them up would mean that they lose their immortal souls.
The trick to child rearing is to do such a good job giving them the right tools that they can manage their own lives and make the right decisions for themselves. This should begin long before they fly the nest. In terms of my Christian faith, that means I wanted to teach them to love Jesus and to give them some basic tools for discernment in matters of faith. The rest, I knew, was between them and the Holy Spirit.
I think it’s important for parents to raise their children. I don’t mean that it’s important for parents to send their kids off to daycare or school and let the people there raise their children. I think parents should do it.
That means a lot more than being your kids best chauffeur and activities manager. When my kids were growing up, they each had one organized activity. At some times, it was chess club. At others, it was swim team or Boy Scouts or Little League. They picked and my husband and I came up with the scratch for the uniforms, lessons or whatever. We also went to tournaments and swim meets and games, etc.
But that was it. I did not want to spend all my precious years with my kids driving them from one activity to another. I saw parents who did this and in my opinion, they weren’t raising their kids. They were scheduling and chauffeuring them.
Kids need time with you. They need time in their own homes where it is safe and they can just play. They need unscheduled down time in which you are just with them and they are free to be.
Families need this, too.
So, the first thing I would advise is don’t-overschedule your kids. Let them be kids. And be there with them.
This business of being there with them leads to the single best way that I know of to raise your children in your faith. Do it as a natural part of interacting with them on a daily basis.
Read Bible stories to them, say prayers with them, take them to church. But don’t think that those are the ways you teach them the faith. Those things model faith in action, but teaching faith is something else.
You teach them the faith by being there when they have questions and giving them faith-filled answers. For instance, I have never been troubled by questions of evolution vs the Bible. I know people who have actually lost their faith in God over this quibbling nonsense.
The reason it never troubled me was that when I first had a question about it when I was little, I asked my mother. She explained to me that God’s days were not simple 24-hour solar days. God’s days were infinite. Later on, I realized that if God created time, that meant that God was outside of time. It all just fell into place from there. The result: No religious crisis over evolution.
The same thing happened with the story of Abraham being called to sacrifice Isaac. My mother told me that God asked Abraham to do this to make it absolutely clear to him and his descendants that God did not want human sacrifice. I learned later that there were other meanings to this story, but I’ve always thought my mother was basically right about this.
The point here isn’t that my mother is a great theologian. The point is that she was there to answer my questions and she did answer them in simple ways that insulated me for life from a certain set of attacks against the faith. All this took place as part of the casual give and take of daily life and living. It was not scheduled.
That’s the way it is with kids. The best and most important moments; the ones that determine who they are going to be, are not scheduled. They just happen, and when they happen, mom or dad need to be there. If you don’t want the larger culture or the mixed up kid from down the block raising your kids, then you’re going to have to step in and be there so you can do it yourself.
I made the decision to homeschool my kids. I think that was one of the best things I ever did for them. All the things people claim will happen to homeschooled kids — bad education, unable to associate with others, etc — did not happen to my kids. You have to work at it a bit, but the payback for protecting your children from the evil that’s out there until they are old enough and their personalities are formed well enough for them to handle it themselves are on-going and enormous.
My husband and I have somehow managed to raise a couple of fine young men who are good people and who have never caused problems for us or for themselves with their behavior or attitude, not even during the dreaded teen years.
How do you pass on your faith in Christ to your children? As nearly as I can tell, you do it by being there in their lives to answer the questions they have when they ask them. You do it by protecting them from being drafted into the sicko values of our larger culture when they are too young to fight back on their own. You do it by reading the Scriptures aloud with them, beginning with Bible story picture books when they are little and working up to the real thing when they are a few years older. You do this with a readiness to put down the book and chat about what it means at any time.
Pray for your children. If you’re like me, you’ll find yourself praying for them and for wisdom to be their mom or dad in the way that God wants you to be their mom or dad several times a day. Pray with your children. Take them to church. Protect them from the world. Put them in places where they will have the opportunity to make friends with kids from families with values similar to yours.
Most importantly, enjoy them. Have fun with them. And love them with all your heart.
Then trust God with the rest. After all, they are His children, too.
Dr Gregory Popcak, who blogs at Faith On The Couch, wrote a fascinating post discussing the whys of our hook-up culture.
Babies and young children aren’t getting the love from their parents that they need. Specifically, they don’t get the cuddling, kissing and touching love they need when they’re little and so they spend their young adult lives trying to feed the resulting hunger for affection and touching through endless, mindless, destructive sexual hook-ups.
Dr Popcak theorizes that little boys have historically been deprived of this cuddle time. He says that moms and dads have tended to withdraw physical affection from little boys when they reach toddlerhood in a misguided effort to toughen them up and make men out of them.
I think he’s onto something here. I can’t count the number of times someone scolded me when my two or three year old little boy ran to me for comfort over a skinned knee or whatnot. “He’s too attached to you,” they opined. “He’s got to stand on his own two feet.”
I thought they were nuts. Little children need to attach absolutely and deeply to their parents, moms in particular. They need that safe place of momma’s arms and momma’s lap to cuddle, get rocked to sleep and loved. I am not saying that fathers should withhold affection from their little boys and girls. Far from it. Babies need to be doted on by both their parents.
This makes them feel safe. It insulates them from the world and its craven values, its cruelties and its indifference. That gives them the space to grow up into the people God meant them to be when He created them.
Dr Popcak says that the reason for the hook-up culture is that little girls are now also being deprived of the cuddling and physical closeness with their parents, I think their mothers in particular, by being shipped off to daycare at young ages.There’s no surprise here. Institutions do not and can not give the kind of nurturing and bonding that young children get from their own parents.
When they reach their teens, they go searching for the cuddling they missed by engaging in repetitive hook-ups. They are searching for love in all the wrong places.
I left a great career in the legislature where I was chair of a powerful committee and flying high to stay home and raise my kids. This thrust our family into one-income poverty for years. It also loaded the whole responsibility for supporting our little clan onto my husband’s shoulders.
My husband and I both paid a price for our decision to provide 24-hour, non-stop Mommy attention to our babies. He had the enormous pressure and oftentimes misery of having to stay on a job no matter what because he was the only one bringing home the bacon. I had to give up the prestige and power of my former position. Our whole family was stripped of all the little things that money can buy.
We didn’t go hungry, but the kids wore a lot of garage sale clothes, and we used the library instead of buying books. I bought food once a month and made every meal from scratch. There was no eating out, the only movies were at the dollar movie theater and that was once in a while and we sneaked in canned drinks in my purse. (I lived in fear of my youngest blurting out in his baby voice — Mommy, make sure no one sees the Cokes in your purse!)
There is a price for putting your children first and all the things you can buy last. But there is also a pay off. That pay off is: No drugs, no promiscuity, no teen-aged rebellion, no self-destructive kids, no eye-rolling dissing of parents, and adult children who actually like their parents and come to us to talk over their problems with an absolute trust that we will be there for them and that they can tell us anything.
Parents are starving their children emotionally in order to buy them things. The payback in terms of messed up kids is enormous.
It is not absolutely necessary for mom to stay home for the kids to turn out ok. I have friends who managed to do the two-income hop step and still raise children who turned out to be loving, non-promiscuous adults who could marry and raise children of their own.
However, not one of them divorced; mom and dad stayed together. And not one of them put their kids in a daycare. And not one of them engaged in other activities when their babies were little. The ones I know also had strong support, including child care, from their extended family. They worked while family members cared for the kids, and they came home and were a tight little family that absolutely adored and doted on their child. Also, all of them were well-educated people who rode the wave of good jobs that this country used to offer. They all had positions that paid enough that they could support their families without working more than 40 hours/week.
I do not know one family on the lower income rungs who has been successful at both parents working and raising their children. I’m sure they are there, but I do not personally know of one family where this has worked out.
Jobs at the lower end of our society are hard, often humiliating, and do not pay enough to really support a family. The upshot is that when both parents work, they come home exhausted and beaten up. They are not physically capable of providing cuddling, nurturing time with their babies. They are too tired.
Also, the tsunami of divorce and family dissolution has swept over working class families with disastrous results. Live-in boyfriends and parents with revolving beds are more the norm than the exception.
Rather than create homes for their children, these bed shifters raise their kids in chaotic environments that are isolating, neglectful and oftentimes dangerous. The children have no one they can trust, since their parents are living the lives of perpetual adolescents, and maladjusted adolescents at that. They often end up abused and battered by the various live-ins.
Ironically, working class parents with their reduced options can only provide the kind of nurturing environment that kids need if they ignore the trends of the culture and get married to one another, stay married and put their kids first.
I believe that it is far more important for lower income mothers to stay home with their children than it is for wealthier mothers who can get easier, more rewarding jobs that leave them with the energy to be a real mom when they get home. However, if they want their children to survive their job intact, the wealthier mothers need to forgo most other activities and really be a loving, cuddling, there mom when they go home.
I have friends and family who went the other way, and fell into all the cultural traps of putting their kids in daycare, and then ignoring them once they got home. I can tell you from watching them, once you mess up your kids, you can’t undo it later.
It is the misery that only gets more miserable as life spins forward. If you don’t want to raise your own kids right, then get ready to raise your grandkids. Make plans for crying all night about the things your teens and your adult children do to themselves and others. Spruce up your speech for the courtroom custody battles and the parole board. You’re going to need them.
With children, it’s ignore now, pay forever.
It’s Saturday. I’m going to enjoy my day and I hope you do, too.
Here are three quick videos to help you get started.
Click here throughout the Year of Faith, as the Catholic Channel at Patheos.com invites Catholics of every age and stripe to share what they are gleaning and carrying away from this gift of timely focus.