There’s a framed school portrait on our guest bathroom wall of kindergartener Liam smiling happily with a big blue Bob the Builder Band-Aid pasted between his upper lip and nose. Liam’s eyes are twinkling and he is apparently unbothered by having a large swath of plastic taped on his face on picture day.
Something about that picture has always spoken to me, and even though Liam is now in sixth grade, the picture remains, and I notice that guests occasionally leave our bathroom chuckling.
Liam’s smiling Band-Aid photo captures for me the essence of the journey of parenting. It’s not the smooth, untroubled times that form us and our children—it is the difficult times that we work through, cry through, and finally emerge from, somehow stronger and more joyful.
And every family has them.
A friend of mine got divorced from a man who had a substance abuse problem, and shortly afterward one of their three young sons was diagnosed with leukemia. At the time I remember wondering how she could possibly make it through this. It looked crushing to me. Yet the community rallied, bringing her meals and praying for her and with her.
She, in turn, approached the illness rather matter-of-factly, spending long days at the hospital and at home nursing her son through the chemotherapy, believing he would get better. Now, seven years later, he has been in remission for about five years and is a great athlete. I see her in Mass with her three big boys. She is not crushed. She is strong and whole.
Difficult sections of parenting are terrifying because we fear they may either never end or may end badly. Because of this, some parents choose denial during the difficult periods. I have seen parents of children who are clearly bullying others at school make excuses for their child, blame the victim for overreacting, or otherwise shrug off their child’s behavior. These parents are afraid that they have made mistakes that led to the bullying; or perhaps they fear that measures they might take to stop it won’t be successful; or perhaps dealing with their child’s poor behavior will require energy and time that they don’t believe they have.
Their fear causes them to freeze. They ignore the problem, hoping that a happy ending will build itself. But in doing so they miss out on the joy and satisfaction that comes when a family acknowledges a problem, works through it, and after maybe weeks or months—or even years—solves it. They miss their smiling Band-Aid moment because they refused to acknowledge that stitches were needed in the first place.
We need only to look at the gospels to see that Jesus is all about acknowledging sickness, failure, or sin in order to bring about new life and healing. He steps into problems rather than away from them. He heals the hemorrhaging woman, brings Lazarus back to life, and gives the blind man sight.
When he sees people making bad choices, his relationship with them brings about change—the woman at the well with many lovers starts living a moral life after meeting Jesus; Zacchaeus, who cheated people out of taxes, gives half his money to the poor when Jesus comes for dinner at his home; Saul stops persecuting Christians and transforms into St. Paul after meeting the risen Christ.
If our faith calls us to become Christ to others, the first “others” we must heal and transform are our children. We must recognize that the most difficult aspects of parenting aren’t evidence that we’ve failed, but rather are opportunities to become more than we thought we were capable of.
But this requires us to first acknowledge the hemorrhage, the immorality, the sickness. Being Christ to our children requires us to step into problems rather than away from them. And it requires us to stick with the problem until there is resolution—to believe that through Christ there will be healing and transformation.
by Annemarie Scobey, from the pages of At Home with Our Faith, Claretian Publications’ print newsletter for parents on nurturing spirituality in the home. Winner of the 2010 General Excellence award from the Catholic Press Association. Here’s a sample issue.
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