This morning Liam, our 10-year-old, was upset because I wouldn’t let him eat Cocoa Krispies for breakfast. Despite a long-standing rule that sugared cereal is for weekends only, Liam thought this should be the morning that I made an exception. I said no. Liam, overtired from staying up past his bedtime the night before, was soon a wailing mess on the couch. I held my ground and went about my morning routine matter-of-factly, deciding that ignoring Liam was the strategy that made the most sense.
When he still didn’t calm down after a few minutes, I was struck by how ridiculous this was—we had several other kinds of cereal, along with yogurt, fruit, and toast. Calling Liam into the kitchen, I googled “starving children” on my laptop and showed Liam pictures of children who really had something to cry about at breakfast time.
It didn’t phase him at all. He had no comment about the starving children and just launched into another tirade about the Cocoa Krispies. I sent him to his room, angry at his selfishness, unreasonableness, and lack of compassion.
It’s easy to love our children when they are sleeping or being sweet. A cuddly 3-year-old; a helpful, smiling teen; an 8-year-old who writes us a love poem—these are the parenting moments that keep us coming back for more.
But even in the most healthy and stable of families, children can challenge us to love them. They fight; they sass; they break rules we have set for their own good. How do we live Jesus’ command to love with those moments when our children are acting particularly rotten?
Love is a decision and an action, not an emotion. While being “in love” is an emotional feeling that may be more accurately described as infatuation, love itself is deeper. When you love your child, you do what is best for that child at that given moment—and that doesn’t always mean hugs and kind words.
“I used to hate to give our 5-year-old time-outs,” says Julie, a mother of two. “She would get so upset, and I’d feel like she didn’t think I loved her. But when I gave in to her, I realized that I was teaching her to become a person who always needed to get her way. I didn’t want that for her. When I looked at who I wanted her to become, long-term, I realized that giving her a time-out was indeed showing that I loved her.”
Loving them enough to stay in control. Sandra, a mother of four, had the opposite problem. While Julie had trouble correcting her daughter, Sandra found herself yelling at her children too often. “I realized that I was losing control with them,” she says. “Yes, they had done something wrong, but they needed a mother who loved them enough to stay rational. They needed me to be calm and assertive—not scary.” Sandra says that she started to go to Confession more often and credits God’s grace with giving her the patience she needed to discipline without the volume.
Love knows children are works in progress. Like the lifelong commitment of marriage, the commitment of parenthood must be approached with the understanding that there will be smooth times and times of struggle. Samantha, mother of two older teens, looks back on her daughter’s 16th year as one of the most difficult of both of their lives. “Now, looking back, I wish I wouldn’t have ridden her so hard about some of the things,” Samantha says. “I see now that she was under a lot of stress at school, and I wish I would have been a little more understanding. She was in a phase, but I was reacting to her as if this was who she’d be forever.”
—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.
We offer very low rates for parish use, as well as our free Moms’ Night Out monthly discussion guides.
And don’t miss our popular single-page parish handouts on handing on the faith, helping kids understand the Mass, Lent, and Advent.
Follow Homefaith on Twitter.