Family Graces: Joy in Parenting

familyDespite the message our culture sends, marriage and parenting aren’t the frightful things they’re often made out to be. The hardships that come in family life are outweighed by true and lasting joy, when we keep the proper perspective – perspective being the key word here.

Parenting isn’t easy, but it makes us into the people we ought to be, as co-shepherds with Christ. God designs not only marriages, but families. It’s a great adventure, one that is eschewed today by so many who seek false fulfillment in temporary, material goals or selfish acquisition.

Ten years ago, our family lived in a small town in Pennsylvania, and we’d go on monthly shopping trips to New Jersey for Asian food. On the way there and back, we’d play games in the car, listen to audio books, and sing together. We also bickered and yelled. But what I miss most about those drives was when my husband and I could talk quietly as the kids napped in the back of the car. We engaged in deep discussions about life, hashed out plans, refined ways of handling issues, discussed our goals for the kids, and set the goal of getting them and ourselves to heaven.

Through homeschooling we’ve embraced a lifestyle that allows us to spend time with our children. Since we don’t operate on “quality time” mentality, we don’t have to cram “the perfect” into a few choice moments – time together can be spontaneous and organic even when there’s stress involved.

As the kids grew up, we developed our own disciplining style and found a good balance between rewards for good behavior, and punishment via curtailing of privileges. Heart-to-heart talks are priceless life-savers for us. Because we try hard to be in tune with the Holy Spirit, we are able to identify when we are beset with spiritual attacks and other distractions from our mission. We often remind each other to go back to the basics: kindness, silence, Eucharistic adoration, Confession, Mass.

Family traditions have also sustained us. My husband started us on our first family journal after our second child was born. These journals, which we reread now and then, serve as reminders of how blessed we are.

Prayer life is another essential, though our routine has evolved through the years. At night, we either pray the rosary or Night Prayer from the Divine Office together. There are many days now when the older kids are out of the house because of school or work, but when we’re together we make this a priority. We also do a lot of praying in the car.

For birthdays, my husband usually takes the day off from work. We go to Mass as a family to thank the Lord for blessing our loved one with one more year of life, and then go out for a nice meal. Gift-giving is kept low-key; we write letters instead. Dad always has a special letter recapping the past year for the birthday celebrant, with pictures of special events and accomplishments.

We do our best to encourage and maintain sibling connections. Because my husband and I will not be here forever, we want them to have a built-in support group that will last a lifetime. When we notice that resentment is starting to build between any of them, it’s time for a 2-on-2 talk, to get to the bottom of the issue and find a solution that works for all of us.

There have been tough times. We’ve dealt with unhealthy attachments to toys and video games. We’ve had to warn them about pornography. We help navigate friendships and social media. Raising kids today isn’t simple, but knowing and holding on to their hearts keep us strong and hopeful. My husband has shown our boys what manhood should look like in the 21st century, by living a life they can emulate. I hope I’ve done the same with our girls in terms of womanhood.

Through it all, my husband and I have remained each other’s biggest cheerleader, and try not to undermine each other. They don’t have to look for role models out there; they can find them at home. Though there are no guarantees, and we don’t know our children’s future or the crosses they’ll be asked to carry, we hope that we’ve done enough and shown them that as long as they remain Christ-centered, they will be given all the necessary graces to become the people he’s called them to be.

Reprinted with permission from FathersForGood.org.

Stephanie Patag is a homeschooling mother of five children who lives in Ohio with her husband, Alfredo.