The Parent Trap

150 150 St. Mary St. Catherine of Siena

Recently I enjoyed a conversation with the parents of school-aged children. The parents were explaining their concern about the busyness of the life of their home and being exhausted by juggling so many after school activities which contributed to the hectic lifestyle of their home. The experience of such loving parents struggling to find balance and make the best choices for their family makes me wonder if something is amiss in our culture these days.

It is the case that every Mom and Dad wants to provide the very best of everything for his or her children. An interesting question that may not be asked too much is who decides what is
the very best? The dominant culture serves up countless new trends of programs, activities, educational initiatives, and resources. Indeed, research and development are extensive regarding educational development yielding new insights about how children learn best and prosper in learning and social environments.

The relationships between sports and theatre, dance and swimming, hockey and music and so many more combinations have been studied and debated. Which combinations are best for a child’s healthy development? How is the best way to understand each child’s gifts and developmental needs?

Sometimes it seems that somehow, someone has decided that the definition of a really good parent is the one whose child is continually scheduled into activities of every kind. Conversely, a “bad” parent is one whose child is not enrolled in numerous activities. God forbid that a child might need to entertain him/herself and maybe even complain of boredom.

When did parenting become a verb? How did we end up defining excellence in childhood as busyness? Because adults have become convinced that our busyness defines our self-worth, do we believe we ought to put the same value on our children? And, when all is said-and-done, is this really “the best” we can offer the children in our families and in our community?

I think we can do much be;er. I think our families are suffering from the uncritical acceptance of a culture that emphasizes “doing” over “being”. From bumper stickers to refrigerator post-its, it is about doing, completing, getting there, schedules and deadlines.

In all of this, what are the principle values we are teaching? Looks like the emphasis is on efficiency, responsibility, punctuality, hard work and perhaps competitiveness all of which are important values. Of course, there are others. But in the eyes of the child, these might seem the most important.

Where in this scenario, though, does a child learn and absorb the values of patience, kindness, thoughtfulness, generosity, fairness, humility, thankfulness and so much more? Certainly some of these values are learned on the ball field and during the music lesson. But they are mainly learned in and through relationships, especially in the home, at the dinner table, in
the car, and in conversations and family activities with their parents. Most importantly, children need the “down time”, the unstructured quiet time to absorb and reflect on these values.

Children have an astonishing openness to God and an amazing capacity to grasp the reality of the supernatural. I think this is because a child is so untainted by the world, so innocent, and that God is so very close to every child. How do our children learn about God? How does each child come to recognize his/her special dignity and recognize others also possess this dignity? What is the basis through which children learn forgiveness and honesty?

The answers to these and similar questions ideally should frame what “giving the very best possible” to our children would look like. I think this fast-paced, competitive, and self-serving culture has trapped many parents into a belief that can end up being hollow and lacking in what truly constitutes the very best.

Fr. Ronan