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donbosco1
Saint John Bosco, image from saintbosco.org

Much more difficult that remembering to read Bible stories,
much more difficult than finding Advent candles in storage,
much more difficult than teaching littles how to genuflect,
much, much more difficult…
(but maybe way, way more important)
… is being patient with my kids when they mess up.

I’m not talking about firm vs lax parenting, or having vs not having boundaries, or following through with proper consequences vs not. I’m talking about treating that little person with all the love that God has poured into me, with the patience and mercy that God has shown me, all the love that I am capable of giving, but really really not wanting to right this very minute. Not right now. Not while I’m so angry and frustrated and tired…

Sigh.

So many saints have, time and time again, reminded us that yelling in anger doesn’t really help a situation improve, doesn’t really motivate a little person (or any of us) to do better. In this post, Saint John Bosco reminds us that “there must be no hostility in our minds, no contempt in our eyes, no insult on our lips.” It doesn’t help: the hostility, the contempt, the insults. And really, if others treated us that way, we would feel horrible. And it doesn’t help.

Among the more powerful ways I can bring my children to Jesus is to show them in my face, His face: just how much He loves them. When they see me controlling my temper, or apologizing when I cross the line, they remember. On the other hand, when they see that time and time again, that this is how Mama gets things done when it’s “important,” then I will find a ten-year old speaking to her baby brother that way, when it’s “important.” Unless I work hard to curb it in myself, I might find myself in a horrible household where yelling is the main mode of discourse: a situation that will partly be of my own making.

God calls us to treat the littlest as we would treat Him. I try and I pray. Maybe you can pray for me, too. It’s such a humiliating and slow process for my pride to take, but he promises he will help and I have hope that, in time, it will get better. My path is littered with His reminders and I will keep on trying.

Must remember, St. John Bosco says:
no hostility in our minds,
no contempt in our eyes,
no insult on our lips

Difficult, but worthwhile.

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dirt

Sometimes I make a big mess of things. A really big mess. Sometimes the messes I make are the work of several awful days that finally pile up to create an overwhelming avalanche of terrible, and sometimes I do just one swift awful thing and them BAM. There I am, spiritually face down in the dirt, having failed the very people that God gave me to take care of. And when I’ve done something awful, I find it near impossible to get up and do the next thing. Unload the dishwasher. Say sorry. Anything. Move on and try again. I find it hard to do that. I’m just so awful, I think. I should just stop because I’m just going to keep doing awful things. There’s really no hope for me or for these sad people who need me.

Flashback to the mid-nineties…

During what may have been my last bike ride, my front wheel slipped on a steep bit of road and I flew off, head first. If it were one of those extreme sports competitions, I would have gotten all sorts of points for how high I was. I landed roughly on the dirt and gravel and when I finally stopped skidding, I lay there for a bit, face to the ground, dazed. I stayed there for a while, painfully covered in cuts and bruises.

Fast-forward again…

That’s what a spiritual faceplant feels like to me: humiliating and awful and you just don’t want to move. For a while. A long while. Everything hurts and maybe, maybe they’ll all just let you stay down here, in the dirt (or mud, if you’re crying).

After typing all that, I wish I had something profound and practical to share about what to do in these situations. Most times, and for longer than I would admit, for longer than I need, I just wallow. Feel bad for myself. And boy is it hard to do good things in this state. But sometimes, SOMETIMES, I remember to turn to God and say Help me, please! through my tears, or anger, or humiliation. I feel really silly saying that, if I really thought about it, thought back to all those really terrible times, God hasn’t failed me yet. All those moments have ultimately worked out for the good. God hasn’t failed me yet, and still I linger in the dirt before asking Him for help. Sometimes I don’t even remember to ask at all. He is all-merciful and all-powerful. And He loves me more than I can imagine. Even if I’m a very slow learner.

It was after bedtime. My dramatic five-year old was surrounded by the clothes of the day and the pajamas she was supposed to get into. She threw her arms wide apart and exclaimed, “Mama! I am going to clean the whole house for you. That will be so hard. The WHOLE house!”

Just to give you an idea of what inspired her big plans, this was similar to what we might have looked like at the time:

photo 1
The ceramic frog is shocked, SHOCKED at the amount of dirty dishes left in the sink and on the counter…

photo 2
When it gets warmer, we’ll be able to wear these off-season shoes. Meanwhile, we’ll just use them to decorate the dining room…

So, yes. She may have been onto to something. But…

“For sure, when it’s time to clean the whole house, you can do it for me. Right now, I need you to get into your pajamas.”

She was tired. It was late. She wanted to clean the whole house and it wasn’t going to happen right at that moment. She was probably cold, too, since her pajamas were still there on the floor. She was disappointed. I was not very gentle. There were a few tears.

Sometimes, I’m on top of my temper and manage to stay patient and gentle. Other times, not so much. It’s tough. It’s always something at bedtime. They’re tired. I’m tired. It’s easy to slip into a habit of putting them to bed on a sour note, having witnessed dreary reruns of nobody’s favourite, Mama Loses Her Temper.

Sigh.

Jesus, I didn’t do so great tonight. Please bless my little family. Please give me the grace to love my children more, to know what to do. If I get to have the gift of tomorrow, please shine your light on these foggy bits and help me remember you right when trouble brews.

God loves our children more than we can ever imagine, and our journey (complete with slip-ups) is part of their journey. We pray and resolve to do better, resolve to be readier for the craziness that bedtime brings. And try again tomorrow.

And maybe walk into that little girl’s room after lights out for one last kiss and whisper, “I love you. I’m sorry I lost my temper.”

I find it very difficult to say sorry to my kids. Yes, there are those ambiguous times when I’m not quite sure if I’ve crossed the line between appropriate firm parenting and being a Grump Monster Big Meanie. But usually, it’s pretty clear to me when I’ve lost my temper and am taking it out on an unfortunate little person. I have to stop somewhere quiet, take a deep breath, pray to the Holy Spirit to please tell me what to say before I can gather up the courage to go face up to the task. When I do manage to do it, I ask for a cuddle and a kiss after I apologize. I know that it’s good for my children to see that their parents struggle and try again, but this doesn’t make it any easier. Definitely incentive to do better next time.

What is this?

Here a volunteer parishoner at St. Clement shares her personal experiences as her young family tries to keep the Catholic faith alive in their homes, living out the promises of their Baptism. Thank you for stopping in and be sure to share some of your stories as well!

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