“Your Best” Catholic Parenting

shutterstock_162020819When it comes to parenting, I see a lot of Catholic moms and dads falling back on, “Everybody has to do what works for them. We all just have to do what works best for us.”

Of course this is true on a certain level.  All we can do is our best.  But that begs the question, “What does doing our best as Catholic parents really require?  What does ‘doing our best’ mean?”   Does it mean, “do what comes naturally?”  Does it mean, “do what’s easiest or most familiar?”  Does it mean, “Do what my parents did?”  How do we know what doing our best as Catholic parents really entails, and how do we know if we’re really doing it?

Embrace Love: Leave Behind the Guilt

Here’s the thing.  I don’t ever want any parent to feel guilty about the choices they make in good conscience. But I do want parents to make choices in light of their mission to bear witness to the Catholic vision of love. We should all want that.  As Catholic parents, we can’t just settle for getting through the day. The Church counts on us to show the world that there is more to family life than mere survival.  The Church counts on us to show the world that life is made joyful through heroic acts of self-donative love.

Granted, some days,  all we can do is survive, and we should be proud of what we’ve managed to accomplish even on those days–because, sometimes, that can be a powerful witness too–but we can never forget that, for the Catholic, the goal isn’t just getting through the day however we can.  The goal is getting through the day in the way that allows us to be the best example of responsible, self-donative love to our spouse, our kids, and yes, the world.

Again, the point is not to flog yourself because you didn’t do this and you didn’t do that.  If that’s you’re approach to personal growth and walking the path to spiritual perfection, then you’re looking at it entirely the wrong way.  The truth is, God loves you just the way you are–but he loves you too much to let you stay that way. There’s nothing to feel guilty about in that. Likewise, God may be grateful for the parent that you are, but he loves you too much to want you to settle for that.  However good a parent you are, God wants to give your family even more  love.  As parents we’re going to have to stretch our arms wide to even begin to receive it all.  Asking your self if you can do better as a parent isn’t about guilt.  It’s about opening our arms wide to receive the love God wants to transform our homes with.

Parents: More Insecure Than Ever

Leslie, a commenter in the Mommy Wars thread, wrote,

“We are more insecure about parenting these days because most of us have so little experience with children. We grow up in smaller families, where olders aren’t often expected to care for youngers.  No self respecting teenager spends much time babysitting. They have social, sport, and academic pursuits to fill their ore college resume. In college, we train to become professionals, doctors and lawyers and such.  On the whole, we don’t think about children until we are pregnant–and then, as you note our thinking of ourselves, a significant part of our worry is our own bodies. In the end, when our first child won’t sleep or throws her first tantrum, we have little perspective to figure out if this is a typical tantrum or something of deeper significance.  So we fret and are susceptible to every expert theory. We have to figure everything out from scratch.”

That’s a terrific point.  But here’s the good news. Catholic parents don’t have to figure everything out from scratch. The Church gives us a beautiful vision of family life rooted in a radical example of self-donative love.  All we have to do is keep that vision in the forefront of our minds and strive for that.  Some days we’ll hit it, some days we won’t but we can never take our eyes off the vision.

Cling to the Catholic Vision of Love

We especially need to keep that vision in mind when we choose what expert theory to follow. As Lisa and I point out in Parenting with Grace, there’s a reason  every parenting expert says that their way is the “one, right way” to parents and then goes on to contradict every other parenting expert who says that their way is also the “one right way to parent.”  The reason they do this is that each parenting author is spelling out the methods that have been shown–through research and just good old fashioned, life experience–to be most likely to raise a kid that matches that parenting author’s value system and worldview.  Dobson teaches parents to raise kids with an Evangelical Protestant worldview.  Brazelton teaches you how to rasie kids who have a typical suburban, middle class American worldview, and so and and so on.  They’re all “correct” ways of parenting because they are all catechetical programs for passing on the author’s unique views about life, morality, relationship, and values. In Parenting with Grace, Lisa and I spend the entire first chapter presenting what the Catholic vision of family life is and why we think our methods have been shown to serve that vision.  You don’t have to agree with us, but at least you know where we’re coming from.  Other parenting authors aren’t so honest.  They’ll tell you theirs is the “right way” to parent, but they won’t tell you what value system they think is the right one to parent toward.

Parenting Style is Catechisis for living—Whether or Not You Mean It

In choosing the experts you listen to, as a Catholic parent, you can’t just settle for asking, “How will this expert help me solve the immediate problem in front of my face right now.” You have to ask. “How does this expert’s views of family life mesh with the Catholic vision of self-donative love I am called to be an example of?”  Why?  Because, presumably, you want to raise a kid who will grow up to be a faithful Catholic.  If that’s your goal, it makes no sense to teach your kid Catholic prayers and Catholic catechism but raise them to exhibit the values and worldview of a Evangelical Protestant or secular American capitalist.

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Dr. Gregory Popcak

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Dr. Gregory Popcak is the Executive Director of the Pastoral Solutions Institute, an organization dedicated to helping Catholics find faith-filled solutions to tough marriage, family, and personal problems.

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  • Lee

    I do believe this has happened to me and the family I helped raise. What a shame that I missed out on this focus back some forty years ago. It has taken me all my life to be where I am today, in love with our Lord. Now, when I would love to express the need for my family to “wake up and smell the roses” I feel like I will be the preacher instead of the teacher I should have been all those lost years. I pray that my family observes my continued walk with our Lord; and just maybe I will have a time with them for the talk yet before I leave this earth.

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