"Daddy, I'm pregnant."
My unmarried daughter's announcement last February forever changed our family. No longer could "unplanned pregnancies" or "single mothers" be spoken of in abstract terms, as things that only happen in other families.
This was a flesh-and-blood reality that challenged us to renew our commitment to Christ and to our beloved firstborn daughter.
The early weeks of 2006 had some remarkable twists. On New Year's Day, hours before heading to Boston for my annual Ignatian retreat, my wife Maureen gave me the surprising yet wonderful news that she was pregnant. In February we learned that she was carrying twins, but the joy tuned to sadness as one died in utero, then the other. While Maureen was still recovering from her seventh and eighth miscarriages, we learned that we were to become grandparents for the first time. Over the course of the next several months, we had our ups and downs, but we've come to see in a more profound way God's providential love for our family.
Like all Catholic parents, we strive to provide all our children with a solid formation in the Christian faith. While parents might disagree on the exact amount of "sheltering" that needs to take place, clearly during our children's formative years it's crucial to maintain some control over their environment and activities. Yet when our children become adults in their own right, we can't exercise the same type of control. We desire good things for our adult children, but we can't make decisions for them.
Maureen jokingly says, "I hate free will" when our children make bad decisions. If it were only up to us, our children would always choose Christ and His Church, and they would always choose that which is morally good. Yet they are all on their own journey home to God, and we have to trust that the Lord in His time will lead them to repentance and conversion.
In this particular situation, we obviously could not undo the sins and bad choices our daughter had already made as an emancipated adult. Even more importantly, going forward we could not "control" the outcome, despite my conviction that "Father knows best" how to handle the situation. Maureen and I had to learn that what was needed was not control and coercion, but love, support, and wise guidance. Our daughter had to make her own difficult decisions, and that was scary.
In the weeks following this "bombshell," my daughter was inclined to choose to place her child in an adoptive home. There is substantial irony in this, as Maureen and I have had several experiences of adoption as the adoptive parents.
I affirmed my daughter's inclination to go the adoption route. The totality of her circumstances, not to mention the absence of a father, seemed to point clearly in that direction. At her request, I began looking for a couple that might be open to an independent adoption.
As a matter of principle, I knew that adoption would be a good, loving decision. At the same time, what grandparent does not want to be part of their grandchild's life? I have frequently called upon grandparents in that situation to be generous in supporting adoption and not to lay undue pressure on the mother to keep their grandchild. The shoe was now on the other foot, and so now I had to walk the talk. I'm glad I did, but I learned to have more compassion and understanding for grandparents who don't want to "lose" their grandchildren.
As it turned out, however, our daughter really wanted to keep the child and be a full-time mother. She just couldn't see how it could all play out given her difficult circumstances. I continued to encourage adoption and lovingly set forth the harsh realities of single motherhood. Even more, we encouraged her in her spiritual and personal life to grow in faith and responsibility.
Over time, it became increasingly clear that her heart was set on keeping the child. We did our best to change gears and support this decision once it was firmly made. We invited her to move home rent-free so that she could be full-time, nursing Mom. She accepted.
Our daughter's moving home required quite an adjustment for everybody. After being on her own for several years, our 26-year-old had to deal not only with meddling parents, but also five younger siblings ranging in age from 14 to less than two, as well as her elderly grandmother. For our part, we had to get used to having an adult child in our midst, learning to balance parental concern with the desire to give her appropriate freedom and space.
Slowly but surely, our daughter blended back into our household. She grew accustomed to the rhythm of our daily life, from our more conventional hours to prayer time, family meals, and our busy homeschool day. I have commented in recent months that she has become, in some sense, more a part of our family than ever before. I'm very proud of her.
I realize that our society in general is too accepting of many evils that touch upon human sexuality and marriage and family life. All the same, as the pregnancy became more obvious to all the world, I was so grateful for the love and compassion showed us by the families in our parish and community. I don't recall hearing any judgmental or condemning remarks.
For myself, I remember a priest once saying that God's love, when focused on us sinners, shows itself as mercy. I want my daughter and all my family to come to a profound experience of God the Father's love for us. As a human father, I thought it was absolutely necessary to communicate to my daughter God's fatherly love and mercy. It surely wasn't the only thing, but it was the most important and God-like thing.
Similarly, I always want my family to see the Church as the Family of God, our true and lasting home. Even though we might stray, the Good Shepherd goes looking for us, and there's great rejoicing in heaven when He finds us and brings us back into the fold. If my family is truly to be a "domestic Church" or as Pope John Paul II called it, a "sanctuary of life," I felt it was imperative to extend an arm of assistance, welcome, and unconditional love to my daughter in her time of need.
Through the spring the entire family eagerly awaited the newest Suprenant.
Meanwhile, there was subtle yet real strengthening of family relationships.
Maureen became her labor coach and helped her get ready for childbirth and beyond.
Finally, on June 13th, the feast of St. Anthony, little Alexandra ("Alex") Marina Terese Suprenant was born. It didn't take much for this beautiful little child of God to steal her grandpa's heart.
Our daughter and Alex are a gift to the entire family. They share a room with my daughter Mary Kate, who loves being their "roommate." Alex has two doting uncles (Samuel, 5, and Raymond, 2) who consider themselves her bodyguards.
Meanwhile, our daughter continues to grow and mature as a full-time Mom. She has been a big help to her ailing grandmother, and she has become an indispensable part of our homeschooling operation, as she has been Samuel's kindergarten teacher this year. But beyond all that, her face looks happier than it has for many years.
My prayer and wish for my daughter is that she and Alex will continue to live with us. We want to encourage her ongoing growth as a woman of God and as a mother in our home until that day, God willing, our Lord calls her to the Sacrament of Marriage. Of course, all of that is her decision, not mine.