“Dad, can we throw the football?” Years ago, when the fall football season was in full swing, this was an almost daily request from my youngest son during the week when I got home from work. It was repeated throughout the weekend, especially at commercial breaks when our favorite teams were playing. Depending on the sports season, weather, and the whims of my children, the requests could morph into “Can we throw the baseball?” or “Can we shoot some hoops?” or “Dad, wanna play Stratego?”
Translation: My son was really saying, “Dad, will you spend some quality time with me?”
Like many of you, I lead a rather hectic life. I run a small business, have a son with high-functioning autism, and am blessed to have a loving wife who needs me as well. Since converting to Catholicism, I have been very involved in various ministries and serve on non-profit boards in my community. I spend time writing books and articles, speaking, and fulfilling my duties as the senior editor of Integrated Catholic Life eMagazine. I do my best to get all of these things done throughout the day and before my wife and children wake up in the morning, so our evenings and weekends are reserved for family time.
While I would love to tell you that it all works out beautifully and I have it all figured out… I do not. It is a daily struggle. But my sons needed me, especially when they were teens. I simply had to do better.
Although my sons are older now, I look back on the difficult, ever-challenging middle school and high school years. Although blessed to be in a private Catholic school, my youngest son still faced the awkward pre-teen and teenage years, exposure to bad cultural influences, and peer pressure. Most parents likely face the same choices that me and my wife did:
We can relinquish our parenting responsibilities to others. We can allow peers, TV, the Internet, video games and a godless materialistic culture to raise our sons and just hope for the best.
We can live up to our responsibilities and our vocation as parents. Our clear vocation is to help our family get to Heaven. That is a tall order and requires courage, hard work, difficult choices and lots of prayer.
How often do we say we want the second choice, but lose focus, get busy and allow the first option to occur? If we are honest with ourselves, I am afraid it happens all too often.
What can we do to make the second option the automatic choice? None of us are perfect, but perhaps we can follow these five basic steps to stay on course:
- Make the most of our time together. My son and I had great conversations on the way to lacrosse practice or when we threw the football in our front yard. The important thing is to maximize every minute with our children as opportunities to share and guide them to good decisions in life. Making family dinner time a priority is one way to help make this happen. Know that efforts to get our attention are often potential cries for help. They need us, but are we available?
- Listen before lecturing. This is difficult for me! The fastest way to have my son clam up is for me to cut him off with a “coaching moment.” I can coach later, but I need to hear him out first and encourage him to share his thoughts.
- Be great Catholic role models. It doesn’t get more basic than this, but do we realize how often our children are watching our every move? They will love God, be excited about Mass and have devotion to our Catholic faith if we do. If we pray faithfully, they will be more likely to pray faithfully. They will be more likely to grow up following the Magisterium and staying out of the “Catholic cafeteria line” if we do.
- Honor the Sacrament of marriage. Want to see our children get married and start great families some day? Love our spouses and model the kind of marriage we want them to enjoy. Show open affection, say “I love you” and make sure the kids know how much we honor and respect the person we have married. We are dooming our kids to a marriageless future or possible divorce if they grow up in a home where the Sacrament of marriage is not treasured and valued.
- Tune out popular culture and “detach.” Guess what? If we are obsessed with television shows, buying junk we don’t need and trying to keep up with the neighbors, our kids are likely to emulate our behavior. I am beginning to feel that every minute spent in front of the TV or the computer is wasted time and a missed opportunity to interact with the family. This may be the hardest thing on the list, but we can do a better job with our time and focus.
I feel like being a better parent is a wrestling match that never ends! This subject often comes up in my daily prayers as I seek discernment and courage to do the right things. The alternative to my daily struggle is to be apathetic – which will virtually guarantee my children, especially my youngest son, will grow up drifting without a good foundation of faith, values and a sense of what is truly important in life. Kids are like clay looking to be formed and developed. In our absence, those who only see our children as consumers or who seek to do them harm will step into the vacuum.
Children are God’s gift to us. Taking excellent care of His creation is our gift back to Him.