Love is never wasted

Some time ago, I came across an anguished post by a devoted mom. She had spent an entire week teaching her kids an in-depth, hands-on, cross-curricular lesson on the major watercolorists of western art. Her kids were enthralled, and seemed to really internalize not only the beauty of the work, but also some of the history, the technical side, and even the biographies of the artists they studied.

Next week? They said, “Watercolor? What’s watercolor?”

Poor mom. Kids are crumbs, and that’s just a fact. But the thing that struck me is that the woman berated herself over having wasted so much time with the lesson.

How wrong she was! There is no such thing as wasted time with your children. There is such a thing as time spent badly — time you spend belittling them, for instance. But there is no such thing as loving, attentive time that is wasted. This is true even if the kids have no conscious memory of the event, even if it’s only five minutes later (see: Kids are crumbs).

As I’ve said before, kids are “not empty mason jars waiting to be filled up with the perfect combination of ingredients. We’re making people, here, not soup.”

There are two related mistakes we can make when we’re raising children. One is that we can imagine that it’s all within our control, and that if we simply add in all the right elements, we’re guaranteed to end up with a happy, confident, faithful, moral, self-sufficient, grounded, hard-working, honest human being. (It doesn’t help that a lot of self-styled experts make a tidy living by all but promising success if you just follow their guidelines.)  The truth is, we can do ev-ry-thing-right and guess what? Kid still has free will. Kid still has specific brain chemistry. Kid still runs into a unique set of experiences, and kid processes them in a unique way according to ten thousand unpredictable variables.

So the first thing to remember is that, when we make parenting choices, we’re not putting in a customized order. It’s a much more delicate and artful and hazardous and beautiful process than that, because it is an act of love, and love can’t be reduced to supply and demand.

The second mistake is to imagine that, if we don’t see the immediate, expected results, it was a wasted effort. This is the folly the mom above fell prey to. She thought, when she was teaching her kids about Winslow Homer, that she was just teaching them about Winslow Homer. I love me some Winslow Homer, but I know that it’s much more important for the kids to learn about other things — things like, “Beauty is important and worth spending time on.” “Your mother loves you and thinks you are worth spending time on.”

Please note that these are things that you can teach by following an intensive Montessori-based course on the history of watercolor, or you can teach it by hanging around on a trampoline telling stupid jokes, or you can teach it by driving the kid to all his hideously tedious T-ball games all weekend long, or you can teach it by . . . well, you get the idea. Time and attention. These are the two things that kids need, and there are a million different ways you can provide them. This is also because time and attention are acts of love, and you cannot count all the ways that love can be expressed.

The child may be the kind of person who accepts and recognizes your love and attention immediately, saying things like, “I had a nice day with you, Mama.” Or he may be the other kind of kid, who doesn’t seem to care at all.  He may not think twice about these things until he has children of his own. He may be the kind of kid who thinks you’re a terrible parent, until one day, at age 50, he had a sudden recollection of a thing you did, and realizes, “She loved me so much!”

There is so much mystery in the human psyche and how it develops. We can work ourselves into a panic fretting that we haven’t given properly, and that our children aren’t receiving properly; and half the time, we’ll be right. Truly, the only way we can be at peace is if, along with doing our best, we remember to turn our children’s lives over to God, over and over again. God’s generosity works both ways: He is generous in what He gives us, and He is generous in how He receives, as well. When we turn our children over to God, He will not let our efforts go to waste. This is because God is love, and when we show love to the people in our care, God will not let that love go to waste. 

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This post originally ran in the National Catholic Register in 2016.

Love, Blame and Hope in the Movie MUD

PIC Mud poster

This movie wasn’t about what is wrong with women, or what is wrong with men. It was more about how difficult love is, and how little it helps when we lie to ourselves. It was a sorrowful movie, but not a depressing one; and it left lots of room for at least some of the characters to learn from their suffering and to forgive the people who failed them. Yes, the snakes that have been waiting will get you in the end. No, you will not die. But don’t let yourself get bitten again — unless it’s for someone you love. And around it goes, and the sun keeps shining off the open waters ahead.

Read the rest at the Register.

At the Register: What makes a good dad?

There are a good many variations on the theme of being a good dad. Some fathers emphasize self-mastery or hard work, some are more joyful and relaxed; some are more formidable, some are more approachable; some are more physical, some are more cerebral. What all dads have in common, though, is that their children are no accident. They were given to them, specifically and intentionally by God, because of the gifts they have and because of the virtues they need to cultivate.

Read the rest at the Register.

And I didn’t include this specifically in the post, but good daddies wear the beautiful, beautiful bracelets their daughters made just for them:

Speaking of fathers . . .

Katrina Fernandez adds her usual honest and direct take about father’s day, from the perspective of a single mother. She says,

It doesn’t build up motherhood or empower woman to tear down fathers, whether you think they deserve it or not.

[…]

1- Don’t be bitter.

Even if you feel your bitterness is justified and caused by circumstances that may have been out of your control you have to stop and consider what message that bitterness is sending to your children, especially if you have sons.

Children internalize everything. When you speak ill of another parent in front of them they perceive it as an insult aimed at them. After all they are their father’s child.

All bitterness begets is man hating feminists out of our daughters and sons who think being a father can be replaced by a mother because their own mothers deemed fatherhood useless.

Bitterness perpetuates the cycle of abandonment.

Respect. Katrina never lets herself off easy. Definitely worthwhile to read the rest, if you’re a single mom or not.