Image by Brian Turner.
School holidays have ended and I am relieved. Not for the reason you might think; I love having the children around. We also hugely enjoyed the long break we had from the whole lunchboxes, uniforms, homework, and basketball routines.
No, one big reason I am happy to be getting them off to school is because it means we all get a break from all the sugar!
All of those treat-laden playdates and parties, movie nights and baking sessions, which, despite their parents’ best efforts to promote a healthy diet, means that they eat an awful lot of sugar in various forms for the several weeks of Christmas holiday time.
Every parent has their ‘thing’, by which I mean the idiosyncratic thing that they stress maybe a bit disproportionately over in regards to their children. I have a few such ‘things’; and the eating of sugar- and fat-laden sweets is one of them.
I think I am not as bad as I used to be but I used to get terrible attacks of scrupulosity over our sins of omission and commission in our parenting roles.
The biggest thing I spent a lot of worrying about and talk with my husband about ad nauseum was how best to pass on our Catholic faith in its glorious entirety to the children. But I could get equally anxious about things like their diet, sleep, TV-watching, choice of extra-currricular activities, friends, or illnesses.
I’m sure that God, however, would want us to be peaceful and confident in our parenting. It’s hard to be peaceful when one is worn out from obsessing over the endless ways one might be failing the children, or will fail them in the future. It’s hard to transmit the peace of Christ when you are jumping at every newspaper headline about the latest dangers to our children’s health or wellbeing, or all the crises in the world they are growing up in.
The most important thing, the passing on of the faith, requires the children encountering, learning from, and living with, people who love Jesus Christ, people who know him and who try to consciously imitate him.
In our supreme task of raising children for heaven our job is as much about keeping a close eye on ourselves, our conduct and our values and motivations, as we do our children’s. And we constantly need to exercise fortitude, hope, and trust: “Jesus, I trust in you!”
We can expend all of our energy providing good things for our children (including good teeth and waistlines!) but the single most important thing we can do as a Catholic parent is to love God and try our best to be holy. Not just concentrating on being good, because as Jesus pointedly asked, which one of us is truly, really, good, but nevertheless, really holy. And fun to be around.
As St Mary MacKillop of the Cross famously said, we all want to be delivered from ‘sour-faced saints’.
Our job is to carefully make the big decisions for our family and realise that there are only a few that are extremely important – decisions about our openness to having more children, about our children’s education, where we will live, and what kind of employment we will take, for example – and treat all the lesser details with the proper perspective.
This is the way to joy – although I will still enjoy getting us all a bit healthier before the Easter chocolate starts appearing!
This originally appeared in The Catholic Weekly.