Do you spend an inordinate amount of time looking around at other families and trying desperately to figure out how they do it? Do you openly admire your friends, while secretly trying to get a handle on that green-eyed monster that lurks just below the surface?
Are you beside yourself as you try to figure out how it is that other families bear each other’s burdens and have each other’s backs while your kids bicker over the meaning of the word of and would gouge each other’s eyes out rather than build each other up? Does the love and respect other kids show their parents have you in tears as you think about your sassy high schooler with the Jeckyll/Hyde personality? Are you bewildered by the fact that your friends’ children always seem to choose the right path while yours aren’t even on a path?
Sometimes I wonder whether God laughs or cries as He watches us taking notes on other families. Does He roll His eyes as we hold onto every off-handed remark that offers any clue about their daily routine, and then shake His head when we rush home to regroup?
What a great family – What do they do that we don’t do? Ooh – they attend daily Mass. Better add that to our schedule – Check! This family prays the rosary as a family every day – ooh – gotta figure out whether that’s a decade or the whole rosary. Whole rosary – OK! Better add that too – Check! And this other family reads the Bible together every night. (Are there enough hours in a night?) Well, if it will help our family to be more holy, I’m all in – Check! That family is amazing – a seminarian in the family- they have no cell phones and no television. Oooh. Check? Nope – this other family is great too – seminarian and a couple of national merit scholars – and they have both cell phones and television. Good deal! Check!
Sadly, you could emulate every single activity of every family to whom you look for wisdom and insight regarding that amorphous concept of holiness, without ever being able to secure the same results. In fact, you are more likely to wreak greater havoc in your own home by trying to follow the routines of this family or that family, rather than discerning exactly what it is that God asks of your family.
God loves you.
And He loves your children.
He loves your children so much that He loaned them to you – not to that family over there. He placed your children in your care because He knew that you would be the best parent to help your individual children make their way through this life equipped to spend forever with Him in the next. He has great faith in your ability to turn to Him as your guide, and He trusts that by His grace, you are more than capable of preparing your children for the Kingdom of Heaven.
Your children do not need the perfect routine. More than anything, they need you. They need your love. They need your patience. And they need you to live your Faith in a way that best reflects the light of Christ.
Sure there will be tension in the family. Sure there will be difficulties. Just as there are difficulties in each individual human soul. But just as your relationship with God is unique to you, the relationship between God and your family will be unique as well. So don’t look around to see what your neighbors are doing. While it seems like a great idea to seek guidance and example, more often than not it leads to depression and a sense of failure.
How Faith manifests itself in our families will be unique to each and every family, depending on an infinite number of particularities. More than anything else, the soul of the family must be animated by God. Just as He must be at the center of each individual’s life, He must also reign at the core of the family.
Recently, I found a great book about family life, published in 1921. Believe it or not, although it was nearly a century ago, at their core, families back then faced problems not so foreign to the ones we face today. The author offers great insight:
In the home where God is rightly honored, it is realized that children cannot honor God without honoring their parents, and parents will understand that they cannot honor God without respecting each other and living mainly for the children. It is easy to see that with such a spirit animating children and parents, the family circle will truly be “Home, Sweet Home.”
The most beautiful families, like the most beautiful individuals, are too busy living their Faith to look around and measure themselves against their neighbors. They are busy measuring themselves against the only measuring stick there is – Christ Himself. And to the extent that they don’t measure up, they ask for His grace to help them improve:
Of course, every family will have its misunderstandings and annoyances. That is life. There is no escape from it. But the home wherein God is supreme will be able to meet these vicissitudes in a way that will make them a blessing. Some of the homes that I have known were those where affliction had abounded; for the peace and comfort which God knows how to bestow on His own, also abounded there. If you would save the home, therefore, and have it the dearest place on earth, begin by putting it on the foundation of Faith. If after you have done this, the home is not what it should be, it will be exceptional. (emphasis mine)
And for those of us that worry about friction in the home,
We must not forget that we have not here a lasting city, but that we seek one which is to come. A certain worldly man has said that our home is our heaven. Our home may be very dear to us, but the best home will have many annoyances and afflictions to remind us that our true home is not here, but hereafter. – You and Yours: Practical Talks on Home Life, by Martin Jerome Scott, cir. 1921, p. 8-9