The Rite of Christian Relationships–Conventional Discipline VS. Discipleship Discipline

In most households, the word “discipline” suggests an adversarial relationship. My child is “out to get me” and it’s my job to get them under control.

Discipleship Discipline directly challenges this antagonistic, fallen, and hopeless view of the parent-child relationship.

In Discipleship Discipline, you and your child are not adversaries. You are your child’s mentor. Your child is your disciple. Your job is not to control your child. It is to lovingly teach, guide, and shepherd your child to a responsible, graceful adulthood.

In conventional discipline, children misbehave because they are bad and out to get you. From a Discipleship Discipline perspective, children misbehave because they have either gotten stuck in their emotional brain (instead of their thinking brain) and/or they genuinely don’t know what to do. In either case, they don’t need someone yelling at them and punishing them into submission. They need someone to lovingly help them calm down, get back into their thinking brain, and learn/practice what to do.

Conventional discipline depletes the parent’s emotional bank-account with their child. Both parent and child leave these exchanges frustrated and suspicious of each other. More often than not, Discipleship Discipline contributes to the emotional bank account. The parent feels satisfied with their ability to teach their child how to handle a difficult situation better. The child feels grateful to have a parent who can patiently teach them how to handle themselves and the challenges they face more effectively.

Conventional discipline is always looking for things I can do to my kids to “make” them behave. It demands a constant quest for Holy Grail Techniques I can use on my kids. Discipleship Discipline seeks to cultivate a mentoring relationship between me and my child. It makes me want to put in the time to really understand my child’s heart and makes my child want to turn to me for help and advice.

Conventional discipline treats children as a problem to be solved. Discipleship Discipline recognizes that children are people who need to be loved and compassionately shepherded.

Conventional discipline focuses on “getting my kid to behave.” Discipleship Discipline focuses on “raising my child to be a godly young man or woman.”

Discipleship Discipline is a key component of the spirituality of the Domestic Church. It reminds parents and children that this is more to their relationship and it calls parents and children to be more than they are. It is a powerful witness to the world of the difference that Christian households are called to live.

To learn more, check out Parenting with Grace: The Catholic Parents’ Guide to Raising (almost) Perfect Kids.

Strengthening Faith Amidst Pandemic

*This post is one among a series of articles discussing the liturgy of domestic church life. For more information, join the conversation on facebook in our group Catholic HOM—Family Discipleship.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it seems every day brings new changes, adjustments to the “plan,” and a “new normal” to adapt to. One of the many things that have changed is our ability to go to church. Many of us have not been to church in months, maybe we attend online, maybe we’re able to attend a service outdoors, or maybe we’re able to go to church in a way that meets the limited capacity requirements. But with all of these changes, how has our faith life been impacted?

A recent study by PEW Research found that most people’s faith has remained unchanged (47%) or grown stronger (24%) despite not being able to go to church during the pandemic. Only 2% report struggling in their faith because of events related to the pandemic.

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Transform your family into a joyful place where each member experiences life as a gift from God by checking out

Discovering God Together: The Catholic Guide to Raising Faithful Kids

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How can this be?

For a lot of us, the changes in our ability to attend our regular church service has caused us to be a lot more intentional and prioritize our faith in a different way. As research shows, some have had great success in developing their faith life in new ways, but for others this has been more of a struggle.

Many of us are still searching for new ways to live our faith at home and grow in faith as a family. The changes caused by COVID-19 have clear implications for our domestic church life. The Liturgy of Domestic Church Life is a way for Catholic families to make faith the source of the warmth in our homes.  Below are a few ways we can do just that:

1. Make prayer time cozy, not uncomfortable—Many of us feel that for our family prayer time at home we must all be kneeling and perfectly still. If this is comfortable for you as a family, great! But often this sort of expectation makes prayer time (especially with younger children) a bit of a battle. Make prayer time cozy and inviting. Set soft lighting, play relaxing music or praise and worship songs softly in the background, surround yourselves with blankets and pillows and cuddle up together as a family. Make your prayer space and prayer time feel like a warm hug in the arms of God—the one who knows us best and loves us most. This is a great way to developing a loving relationship with God for our kids and for ourselves!

2.  See God in your day-to-day—Make a point of noticing God in little ways throughout the day. Find a great parking spot, say, “Thanks God!” Out loud. Catch a beautiful sunrise or sunset? Acknowledge how God painted the sky today. Had a good conversation or meeting? Thank God for letting it go so well. By acknowledging how we see God working in our day-to-day lives allows us to prioritize God in a beautiful way. Check in with the family at the end of each day, maybe even over dinner, and ask, “How/where did you see God in your day?” Discuss those little (and big!) blessings.

3. Keep traditions alive—Let’s face it, we all love coffee and donut Sunday. It’s a fun way to get a special treat, have some nice conversation, and make our faith life a bit more fun. Keep traditions such as this alive at home! After watching Mass online, share coffee/juice and donuts/muffins (or whatever your favorite family treats are) together—even for a few minutes. This would be a fun way to get a few minutes together as a family, enjoying each other’s company (and maybe sharing our mass take-aways) before going about the rest of our day.

For more ways to live out your faith as a family, check out Discovering God Together: The Catholic Guide to Raising Faithful Kids. And join our discussion on facebook at Catholic HOM—Family Discipleship!

Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child

By: Dr. Gregory Popcak

smiling kids

Emotional Intelligence  is a term coined by psychologist,  Daniel Goleman, that refers to a person’s ability to identify, manage, understand and process emotions so that you can effectively manage
stress, have healthy, rewarding relationships, handle conflict respectfully, and maintain good emotional health.

As the article I linked above explains, Emotional Intelligence has been shown to be even more important than IQ in determining career success and both relationship and life satisfaction. Considering all the benefits to be gained by developing Emotional Intelligence, it is something that every parent should be concerned with helping their children develop.  The Catholic family, I think, should be especially concerned with cultivating Emotional Intelligence because this quality has everything to do with helping a family be the “community of love” and “school of virtue” that Church says families are called to be.  Without Emotional Intelligence, it is impossible for a Catholic family to fulfill its mission, as spelled out in Evangelium Vitae, to be a community of people dedicated to living out relationships characterized by,  “a  respect for others, a sense of justice, cordial openness, dialogue, generous service, solidarity and all the other values which help people to live life as a gift” (EV #92).

Over at  PsychCentral, Dr. Jonice Webb proposes  3 Tips for Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child.  They’re definitely worth considering.

1. Pay Attention.   Work hard to see your child’s true nature.   What does your child like, dislike, get angry about, feel afraid of, or struggle with?   Feed these observations back to your child in a non-judgmental way so that your child can see herself through your eyes, and so that she can feel how well you know her.

Life Advantage: Your child will see herself reflected in your eyes, and she will know who she is. This will give her confidence in her life choices and will make her resilient to life’s challenges.

2. Feel an Emotional Connection to Your Child.   Strive to feel what your child is feeling (empathy), whether you agree with it or not.   When you feel your child’s emotion, he will feel an instant bond with you.

Life Advantage:  Your child will learn empathy and will have healthier relationships throughout his life.

3. Respond Competently to Your Child’s Emotional Need.  Do not judge your child’s feeling as right or wrong.   Look beyond the feeling, to the source. Help your child name her emotion.   Help her manage the emotion.

Life Advantage:  Your child will have a healthy relationship with his own emotions. He will naturally know that his feelings are important and how to put them into words and manage them.    READ MORE.

Those are some terrific tips.  If you’d like to learn more about how to raise faithful, emotionally intelligent children, check out  Parenting with Grace.

Show Us Your Face

By: Jenny Uebbing

mom laptop baby

“Mommy, make a happy face at me.”

I look up from the glow of my laptop, irritated, hearing for perhaps the tenth  time, that day, my three-year-old son’s persistent request.

“Mommy’s working, honey. Please go downstairs and play legos.”

Tantrum, flailing, stomping, sibling pinching ensue. Consequences are meted out. Justice is served. Repeat cycle.

It has, of course, occurred to me that I spend too much time engrossed in screens and interacting with virtual characters when the very real characters in front of me are melting into figurative puddles of spilled milk and clementine peelings.  But come on, who can give their full attention for 9 + hours a day without any kind of break? I deserve a  little down time. I’m just going to check in, I’ll be quick.

All of which is true, of course. Parenting in twenty-first  century America can be ridiculously isolating — particularly the stay at home variety. And even the most extroverted parent on the block (which I emphatically am not) needs a little mid-day recharge in order to finish the solo shift strong and at a pleasant speaking volume.

But that isn’t what I’ve been doing behind my screen for minutes stretched embarrassingly into hours, hiding in plain sight in the glow of a laptop or a smartphone, accruing bits and pieces of stolen “me time” whilst the kids flail about at my feet, begging for attention.  Any  kind of attention, as their deteriorating behavior demonstrates quite clearly, will do.

I’ve spent the past several months rationalizing my behavior because  I’m recently postpartum and newborns are hard  and  I work from home so they  can have mommy around, it’s good enough that I’m physically present  and, most shamefully,  at least if I’m distracted I’m not tempted to yell at them.

Except I was tempted, often times  more  tempted, because instead of growing in patience and virtue and tolerance for childish appetites for multiple story recitations and block tower smashing, I was peppering our days together with long chunks of “Mommy’s here but isn’t actually  here  time.”

In short, I wasn’t in great parenting shape, because I have been spending the lion’s share of our days trying desperately to escape parenting.

I think it hit me hardest when our eldest, a mature three, dropped his nap. It was right after our youngest was born and suddenly, with three kids three and under, I had lost my precious chunk of uninterrupted mid-day productivity. Rather than pivoting and adjusting, I got stuck in a rut of denial, choosing distraction as a coping mechanism. When Pope Francis speaks about parents needing to waste time with their children, I think he was emphasizing the “with.” I, however, was choosing to focus on the “waste.”

I’m not claiming to have found some magical key to unlocking the secrets of stay-at-home happiness. Most days I’m lucky to still be smiling when the clock strikes dinner. I have realized how much I’ve been relying on outside props and fingertip distractions to keep  me  going, and how much I’ve come to view my children as little resentment-inducing interruptions to my very important tasks of emailing all the people and pinning all the recipes and furniture makeovers.

A few days ago I started a new thing. Actually, I’m pretty sure it’s an old thing and I’m just late to the game. I’m calling it internet-averse living. It’s where I don’t open the computer except to do super specific things that I can’t do without a search engine, like look up the recipe for a paleo-friendly vinaigrette dressing for our dinner salad and pinpoint the ingredients for a rabbit-deterrant solution for the garden (aka our 2 solitary pumpkin plants.) In both instances, the internet functioned as a tool that helped me parent, not a crutch that propped me up while I failed to do so.

Listen, mom glued to your smartphone on the park bench, scrolling your newsfeed while your precious little people do backflips off the jungle gym: I hear you. I have sat where you sit, and I will probably be there again sometime later this week. I’m not judging you. Parenting in general and motherhood in particular is exhausting and challenging and sometimes, frankly, it’s really boring.

But I’m learning, incrementally and painfully, that the most mundane moments are essential components to the growth and development of my motherly temperament. Physical pain is one thing, (and I’d include sleep depravation in that category) but mental pain in the form of self denial, boredom, or loneliness is a whole other arena I’m learning that we are expected to do battle in.

I can’t always escape. Sometimes, inexplicably, they only want  me.  Nothing else will satisfy them except to see my face, to catch my eye, or to hold my unadulterated attention.

Sound like anyone else you know?

So I’m trying. I’m learning so slam the screen shut at the sound of little feet pitter pattering into the kitchen in search of yogurt tubes and oatmeal. I’m trying to make my initial impulse one of supplicating prayer rather than vegetative scrolling. It’s not easy, because I’m not very good at it. And it turns out parenting, like so much else that is worthwhile and larger than oneself, requires little other than repetitive acts of the will to accomplish.

It’s not so much dependent on a specific skill set or a temperament which naturally finds miniature humans delightful, but on the willingness of a larger human to put aside her needs moment by moment, until an appointed time.

So mama? Step away from the screen. What you’re looking for is sitting right in front of you, but you’re going to have to dig deep to see it.

Love, your exhausted comrade in arms.

Credit to  Jenny Uebbing of CatholicExchange.

 

Questions for the College-Bound Son

By: Richard Becker

notre dame

Is this what it feels like to be the  father of the groom?

Father of the bride is bad enough — as Spencer Tracy showed us in 1950, followed by  Steve Martin  forty years later — but it seems like father of the groom would be even more irrelevant to the whole wedding vortex phenomenon.

Not that any of  my  sons are heading to the altar any time soon. No, my feelings of irrelevancy are related to a different life event and milestone: My oldest is heading to Notre Dame. As a freshman. Next month.

Shouldn’t I be doing something?

Practical things — equipping the dorm room, last minute tips on laundry, etc. — seem to be covered by my wife at present. At least, Ben isn’t coming to  me  for advice, so I’ve got to assume that his mother is fielding those questions. If there are any. He’s pretty much launched out on his own already.

So, how about composing a fatherly testament of vision and values as a farewell gesture?

I’ve read plenty of “To My Son on the Brink of Manhood” (or marriage or fatherhood) screeds written by celebrity and journalist dads, but I’ve really no interest in attempting anything along those lines. It seems like any sage advice or tidbits of paternal wisdom that I’d offer in such a declaration ought to have taken root well before now. Otherwise, I’m guessing it’s a bit late.

Like riding a bicycle. Today I was out with Katharine, my youngest, who is just on the verge of training-wheel freedom. She is balancing on the bike just fine — the trainers rarely touch down when she’s pedaling along — and it’s just a matter of time until she has built up enough self-confidence and I can remove the side wheels once and for all.

It seems like just a blink of an eye since I was doing the same for Ben. In fact, I think it might’ve been the same bicycle, and even the same set of training wheels! But let’s say I’d never taken the trouble to help him wean off the trainers when he was in grade school. Let’s say he skipped riding bikes as a boy, learning to use public transit instead, and then jumped right into driver’s ed as a teen.

And now he’s getting ready for college, where freshmen are generally not allowed to have vehicles at their disposal. Wouldn’t a bicycle be convenient? Completing his two-wheeler training at this late stage would be awkward at best, and likely to fail altogether.

An eloquent parting shot, untethered to a commensurate upbringing, seems equally awkward and prone to failure. Any advice I have to give now that I haven’t already attempted to instill is too late, and a late-breaking Desiderata would pointless. And yet if I did attempt to raise my son with attention to truth and beauty and permanent things, then rehearsing it all in bullet point form would be unnecessary, and perhaps even somewhat ridiculous.

Still, I feel like I should be doing something,  and, consequently, I’ve come up with a different kind of list. Instead of looking backward, at the things I hope I’ve taught him (or wish I had), I’ve decided to look forward. It’s a list of questions — questions I’ve already grown accustomed to asking former students when I encounter them long after graduation, and I’ve decided they’ll be among the questions I’ll ask my son when we see each other on weekends and breaks in the months and years to come.

  1. What are you reading?  He’ll be at Notre Dame, so he’ll be reading a lot, but he’ll know I mean what is he reading that he  doesn’t have to read.  Reading for pleasure, in other words. If it’s something I know, I’ll enjoy hearing his insights. If it’s something I don’t know, all the better. Note, too, that I’m not asking, “What are you watching,” or “What are you listening to?” These can be important questions as well, to be sure, but they don’t deserve anywhere near the same priority. My kids have grown up surrounded by books in every conceivable way, and I’d be very surprised if books didn’t continue to surround them as they make their own way hence.
  2. Where are you working?  That’s what I ask my former students, most of whom are staff nurses here and there (or full-time mothers, or both). For current students, like my son, I’ll ask,  Where are you in your studies?  The inquisitive “where” allows for an unfolding of conversation on a number of fronts: The progress being made in a particular program or discipline; the kinds of classes being taken at the moment; and, most importantly, the trajectory along which which current pursuits are trending. It’s an inquiry with both quantitative and qualitative angles, and it’s helpful in getting beyond mere questions of “what” classes and “what” jobs to the “why” and “who with” of daily living.
  3. How’s your soul?  This one is loaded, no doubt, but it, too, is calculated to get into meaty matters as rapidly as possible. “Are you getting to Mass and confession? Are you praying?” are too easily dispensed with — either with a hasty “yes” (whether truthful or not), or a painful “no,” followed by an even more painful conversational stall. Who needs that? We’re all adults here.   Sacramental obligations, vocational discernment, and the pursuit of holiness are totally his responsibility now, so I’m not going to grill him. I might’ve acted as a coach in such matters as he got older, but I’m on the sidelines now — a cheerleader, to be sure, and a ready consultant when asked. Yet, now I’m only one among many that he can turn to for input. Consequently, instead of grilling, I’m hoping for openness and candor, a space for us both to voice our inner joys and struggles as we wind our way along the murky years. No challenges, no guilt. Just invitation, and cross-bearing of burdens. And honesty. Listening.

These are questions that assume a lot, but don’t presume anything.  They take for granted where we’ve come from together, but they leave lots of room for where we’ve made — and will make — side trips apart. Like I said, they’ll be the questions I ask my son in the months to come, and probably they’ll be the same questions I’ll ask him years from now when he’s launched beyond Notre Dame, rising in his chosen profession, and raising his own family.

And, soon enough, maybe he’ll be asking them of others as well. Now that  would  be something.

Credit to Richard Becker of CatholicExchange.  

 

The Prodigal Father

By: Dave McClow

 father

The “prodigal father” is the story of our time.    It is the story of fatherlessness in our families.   Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI is and has always been highly aware of the crisis of fatherhood and its implications for society (see my previous blog).   He knows that when fatherhood is gutted, “something in the basic structure of human existence has been damaged” (The God of Jesus Christ, p.  29).   But he is also supremely insightful about what happens in the family, both positively and negatively, because of fathers! Let’s start out with the problems:

PRODIGAL FATHERHOOD

“A theologian has said that to ­day we ought to supplement the story of the Prodigal Son with that of the prodigal father. Fathers are often entirely occupied by their work and give more wholehearted attention to their work than to their child, more to achievement than to gifts, and to the tasks implied by those gifts. But the loss of involvement of the father also causes grave inner damage to the sons” (God and the World, pp. 274-275).

I’m not sure why he leaves out daughters, but the effect is just as devastating for daughters.   Are you leaving behind the gift of your children for busy-ness or business?   Are you too task and achievement oriented?   Part of this over-focus is the religious nature of our masculinity–our natural inclination toward sacrifice for a cause.   This is masculine spirituality that is often not acknowledged by men or women.   If men can’t relate to God as men, they turn to things which are not ultimate–that is, to things Scripture calls idols.   This is why work, hobbies, and sports can become all-consuming.

Fear is another component of turning to non-ultimate things.   Sometimes a lot of men view the murky waters of relationships and emotions at home like a foreign country to be feared. They would rather turn elsewhere to feel like a success.   We need to invoke my vote for St. John Paul II’s #2 motto (after “Totus Tuus, Totally yours, Mary”), “Be not afraid!”   We need to have courage!   There is nothing wrong with work, hobbies, or sports, but they must be rightly ordered–they must not take precedence over people or God.   Even virtues in the extremes become vice.

As Pope, Benedict XVI includes in the problem list broken families, worries, and money problems, along with “the distracting invasion of the media” in our daily life.   All of these things “can stand in the way of a calm and constructive relationship between father and child.” “It is not easy for those who have experienced an excessively authoritarian and inflexible father or one who was indifferent and lacking in affection, or even absent, to think serenely of God and to entrust themselves to him with confidence” (General Audience, January 30, 2013).

ZEUS

He nails the problems of modern life including technology; and the perennial problems of fathers who can be excessively rigid, indifferent, lacking in affection, or even absent.   These things damage our view of God and make it difficult to trust.   Next, as Cardinal Ratzinger, he contrasts two very different fathers: Zeus and God the Father.

If we look for a moment at pagan mythologies, then the father-god Zeus, for instance, is portrayed as moody, unpredictable, and willful: the father does incorporate power and authority, but without the corresponding degree of responsibility, the limitation of power through justice and kindness (God and the World, pp. 274-275).

If you are the kind of father who wants your kids to obey just because you’re the father, you’re in the Zeus camp, which uses the power and authority of the role without the responsibility which limits that power through justice and kindness.   This father uses domination and fear to lord it over the kids and demands obedience.   Consequently, because they don’t like the master/slave relationship, the kids usually have a temper problem and find ways to rebel.   Or as Protestant apologist Josh McDowell has aptly put it, “Rules without relationship leads to rebellion.”   The master/slave idea is found more in Islam, a word which means submission. Allah is not a loving Father–in fact, this idea is blasphemous to a Muslim.   Allah is an all-powerful God who must be obeyed.

GOD THE FATHER AS OUR MODEL

Zeus shows us how not to be a good father.   The Pope Emeritus says that Scripture helps us know of “a God who shows us what it really means to be ‘father’; and it is the Gospel, especially, which reveals to us this face of God as a Father who loves” (General Audience, January 30, 2013). The Father uses power and responsibility with justice and kindness, which is a more relational approach. As Cardinal Ratzinger, he unpacks this idea:

The Father as he appears in the Old Testament is quite different [from Zeus], and still more in what Jesus says about the Father: here, power corresponds to responsibility; here we meet a picture of power that is prop ­erly directed, that is at one with love, that does not dominate through fear but creates trust. The fatherhood of God means devotion toward us, an acceptance of us by God at the deepest level, so that we can belong to him and turn to him in childlike love. Certainly, his fatherhood does mean that he sets the standards and corrects us with a strictness that manifests his love and that is always ready to forgive (God and the World, pp. 274-275).

So the Father loves us first (1 Jn.) and is devoted to us, and this love creates trust, acceptance, and belonging!   It is only after loving us that he challenges us with his standards and correction; but even the challenge reveals more of his love for us.   He is like a coach or teacher who sees our potential and is therefore hard on us.  He is working for our good.   This is rightly ordered parenting: deep and wide love and then challenge.   Many fathers I work with start with the challenge and standards, skipping over the love part.   But doing this reverses the way we are designed and messes up the family.   To cut these fathers a break, this is probably how they were trained by their parents.

Psychologist Gordon Neufeld  puts it a little differently as he answers the question, “What’s the easiest way to parent children?”   His answer is not punishment, showing them who is boss, new skills, or even loving them.   It is getting them to love you.   He often asks, “When did your child give you his/her heart?”   If the parent is in Zeus mode, his or her reply is only a blank stare.   But when kids love you, they want to please you–it’s in their nature, and it’s the same with adults and God!   This is what it means to become like children to enter the kingdom of heaven–when we give God our hearts in response to his love, we take correction more easily and experience discipline as a reconciliation–we are welcomed back home.

The Pope Emeritus continues his description of the Father: “God is a good Father who welcomes and embraces his lost but repentant son (cf. Lk. 15:11ff).”  He is “a Father who never abandons his children [Ps. 27:10], a loving Father who supports, helps, welcomes, pardons and saves” and whose love opens the “dimensions of eternity.”   This Fatherly love is “infinitely greater, more faithful, and more total than the love of any man.”   And knowing this love through faith, “we can face all the moments of difficulty and danger, the experience of the darkness of despair in times of crisis and suffering….” Of course, “[i]t is in the Lord Jesus that the benevolent face of the Father…is fully revealed.” In and through Jesus we know and see the Father (cf. Jn. 8:19; 14:7, 14:9, 11).  He is “the image of the invisible God” (General Audience, January 30, 2013).

SUMMARY

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has laid out both the problem and a theological solution: the problem is prodigal fatherhood, i.e., fatherlessness, in various forms, and the solution is God the Father as our model for fatherhood–“the Father,  from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named” (Eph. 3:14-15).   The contrast between Zeus and God the Father is striking and, from my vantage point as a pastoral counselor, insightful and helpful.   The Pope Emeritus has even more practical thoughts on the topic, but they will have to wait for another day.   With an epidemic of fatherlessness and our Faith’s revelation of a loving, tender, and challenging Abba, an interesting side point comes from the current Preacher to the Papal Household, Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa (in  Life in the Lordship of Christ):  “It’s sad that in the whole liturgical year there isn’t a feast dedicated to the Father.”   Isn’t it time?

So, what kind of father are you?   If you see yourself more as Zeus than God the Father, you were more than likely trained by a Zeus, and you need to pray and fast to “our Abba” for a deep experience of his fatherly love so that you can love as he loved us.   The Catechism challenges us to tear down the idols of Zeus–the paternal images that stem from our personal history and distort God’s Fatherhood (see  CCC  2779).   And since the wound was created in community; the healing can only take place in community.   So find a priest, a friend, a Catholic men’s group, or call us to help.

Credit to Dave McClow of  CatholicExchange.

 

Another Ten Miles

By: Richard Becker

shoes

Five summers back, my daughter Joan and I walked to Michigan.

It’s not as spectacular as it sounds — we live on the south side of South Bend, and Michigan is only ten miles away — but it was still quite the urban hike and, now, a happy memory.

The whole thing was a lark that had its genesis at a family dinner when somebody mentioned how close Michigan really was. “It’s so close, we could probably walk there,” I remember Joan commenting. “We  should do that!”

I took her at her word (to her chagrin, it turns out), and we planned the trek. A few weeks later, we slathered on sunscreen and hit the road in the early morning, arriving at the  Dairy Queen  just north of the state line about eight hours later.

No earth-shattering revelations or extraordinary encounters along the way; no epiphanies or profound father-daughter exchanges. Just slogging along in the heat, mile after mile. A McDonald’s here, a library visit there, a couple photo ops, and gyros for lunch. The conversation was intermittent, and almost nonexistent in the final stretch. It was an exercise in endurance, you see, and to succeed required only stubbornness: We  will  walk to Michigan,  just  to say we’d done it — and we did!

The first step is undertaken lightly, pleasantly, and with your soul in the sky; it is the five-hundredth that counts  (Hilaire Belloc).

Recently, Joan and I put in another ten miles,  but this time the setting was quite different. We were in New York City for Joan to receive special honors at the  Scholastic Art Awards  ceremony in Carnegie Hall. Thankfully,  Marian High School  helped underwrite our travel expenses, but funds were still a bit tight, so we had no budget for taxi rides. Instead, we took subways and buses mainly, and hoofed it in between.

And hoof it we did. From the  Port Authority  near Times Square to the  lions  at the Public Library, and then zigzagging uptown: First Fifth Avenue for about eight blocks, then over; Madison Avenue for a while, then over, finally, Park Avenue up to the  Armory  at 67th Street — at least a couple miles on foot, and we’d only been in the city a couple hours.

So went the entire weekend: Subway rides to neighborhood centers, and then walking block after block to our various destinations. From Yonkers and the Bronx down to Washington Park, we experienced New York the best way possible — that is, at eye level and on the street. Like when we walked west on 112th through Spanish Harlem to come up behind  St. John the Divine. The gargantuan Cathedral loomed before us, growing bigger and bigger with every step, and we, smaller and smaller. It was as if our march allowed us to become pilgrims and penitents; much better than showing up in a cab or disembarking from a tour bus.

Our cuisine was street-bound as well: Hot dogs and pizza slices, chicken kebabs and blintzes, all mixed up with secondhand smoke, vehicle exhaust, and that unmistakable pungent scent of the city. I think we sat down for a single restaurant meal, and even then we rushed to grab a table outside. Sitting  inside  seemed too far removed from the exotic world we’d come to see and hear and assimilate.

Given all the time we devoted to just getting around, we didn’t get to see everything we’d hoped to — no Empire State Building, no  MOMA  or Cloisters, and nothing downtown at all. That wasn’t a big deal to me since I’d already soaked up quite a bit of New York  some years ago, but I had high hopes of getting Joan around to many more sights and landmarks. Turns out, it wasn’t a big deal to her either, and for the best of reasons. “I’m glad we’ve been getting around like we have,” Joan said at one point. “It seems like it has given us more freedom to do as we please and to really take things in.”

On a walking-tour you are absolutely detached. You stop where you like and go on when you like. As long as it lasts you need consider no one and consult no one but yourself  (C.S. Lewis).

So what’s next?  Compostela  maybe?  Or the Appalachian Trail? Either of those would be  way  more than ten miles.

No, I’m thinking Chaucer, and retracing the route of the Canterbury pilgrims. It would be more manageable (about 60 miles or so), and more Joan’s style anyway.

But if it was totally up to me, I’d have us in Rome, and we’d do a walking-tour of the Holy City’s  seven pilgrim churches  — a tradition of visiting the four major and three minor basilicas that was popularized by St. Philip Neri. Pope John Paul II altered it a bit in 2000 by substituting a more contemporary church for the ancient church of St. Sebastian. However, if you visit all seven of the original churches, plus the one John Paul added for the Jubilee Year indulgence, you’ll end up covering just about…ten miles!Coincidence? I think not!

So, whether it’s ten miles in Rome, three score in England, or hundreds somewhere else —  I’m ready,  come what may.  Of course, I know it’s pretty iffy that I’d even have the privilege of ever again joining my daughter on a trekking journey, regardless of the mileage involved or destination. Heck, it’s a wonder and a total gift I got to go along this time — I get that.

Yet, for us dads, that’s just part of the deal. It’s assumed in the “come-what-may” part of dadhood that if we’re  doing  our job, we’re working ourselves  out  of a job. God willing, sooner or later, our kids will merrily leave us behind, trekking and journeying with abandon to places we can’t even pronounce.

In other words, we have to be ready to weather the transition from  parenting  youngsters to  accompanying  young adults — and as I’m easing into that transition, it seems that the accompanying is truly intermittent, and largely up to their discretion.

Bittersweet, for sure, and no doubt I’ll miss out on plenty of ten-milers. But, come what may, I’ll be here for the homecoming. I’ll be here for the welcome home.

Roads go ever ever on
Under cloud and under star,
Yet feet that wandering have gone
Turn at last to home afar.
~  Bilbo Baggins

Credit to Richard Becker of CatholicExchange.

Parenting Teens

By: Kim Cameron-Smith

teens

I recently became the mom of a teen.   My oldest son is 13.   I’m excited about these coming teen years, as I witness my darling boy maturing,  growing closer to God, and finding his calling in life.

I’ve read about parents who dread the teen years.   They see years of pain ahead.     Fighting.   Rejection.   Disrespect.     I read one mom’s account of her son’s teen years and it really caught my attention.   He was a sweet kid until he was 14, then he became withdrawn and gloomy, offering only grunts to basic questions.   She said that by 18 he was himself again.   Is this sort of withdrawal and rudeness inevitable?   I hope not.

Dr. Gregory Popcak writes in his Catholic attachment parenting book,  Parenting with Grace,  that the primary goals for our children during their teen years are:

  • The search for  identity,
  • Developing a respectful  separation  from mom and dad,
  • Fostering their own  spirituality, and
  • Dealing with  sexual  issues.

We need to ensure our teens have both the  guidance  and the  freedom  they need explore these goals and  to respond to God’s unique call for their lives.

There’s a necessary tension in parenting the teen.   We need to let go, but still hold on just enough  to  ensure  the teen is more attached to us (his parents) than to his peers.   In his groundbreaking book  Hold On to Your Kids, Dr. Gordon Neufeld explores the danger of believing our culture’s message that it’s normal for a teen to become  primarily identified with his peers, to find his identity and values in his peer culture.   The teen’s parents must remain  the go-to people for his sense of meaning even while he’s spreading his wings and defining himself apart from his parents.

Credit to Kim Cameron-Smith of  Catholic Attachment Parenting Corner.

 

You've Got Style

By: Dr. Gregory Popcak

learning styles

Chances are you have spent a great deal of energy trying to discover your children’s “learning styles.” These styles represent the easiest ways your children can learn new things and communicate with others. They are all based on the particular sense (sight, sound, touch) that is most acute in your child. So, if your child has a visual learning style (i.e. his sense of sight is the one he relies on the most to learn and communicate), he probably learns best through reading and other visual presentations like videos, or show and tell type activities. Alternatively, if your child has a more auditory learning style (i.e., his sense of hearing is the one he relies on the most to learn and communicate), your child may learn best by being talked through certain tasks, or by singing educational songs and listening to read-aloud stories (and for older children, classroom lectures). Finally, if your child has a kinesthetic (kin-es-TET-ic) learning style (i.e., his sense of touch is most acute) he probably learns best by doing hands on projects. He may also be a “slower” learner who has a hard time sitting still in class and doesn’t enjoy reading very much–unless the stories are action packed and short, like comic books.

Learning Styles and Family Relating.

“So,” you might ask, “what’s this got to do with parenting?”  Learning styles, because they are neurologically based, aren’t just relevant to education. They translate into the ways people need to give and receive love as well, and in this context, they are called, Relating Styles. In order for people with more Visual Relating Style to feel loved, they need to be able to see the things you’ve done to show your love (like give cards, notes, or other special, tangible tokens of affection). People with a more Auditory Relating Style need to be talking with you to feel connected–if you aren’t listening or conversing, you aren’t being loving. Finally, individuals with a more Kinesthetic Relating Style appreciate more physical displays of affection. They are also grateful when a parent takes the time to quietly work on projects together. Understanding and becoming fluent in your child’s learning/relating style has a major impact on both your child’s behavior and the amount of peace you can experience at home. The following example might help illustrate this concept.  Danny was a six year old boy who was referred to the in-home family therapy program I was working in while I was a graduate intern. The most immediate issue was that Danny was throwing horribly violent tantrums which frightened the mother. On separate occasions during his many tantrums, Danny pulled a knife on his mother and even kicked the family’s television set, breaking it. One time, Danny threw a tantrum in front of me and my pregnant supervisor, threatening to “Kick her tummy and kill the baby!”  Our first reaction was that Danny wasn’t getting enough attention from his single mom. The only problem with this hypothesis was that his mother was very affectionate. Each day when Danny would come home from school, she would spend a good deal of time telling him how much she loved him, looking at his work for the day and talking about all the things he did.  All-in-all, it seemed as if she was pretty clued in to her son.

We decided to back up and attempt to assess the intention behind the violent tantrums by asking, “What does this mom do differently when Danny throws a tantrum than she normally does?” What we discovered was that when Danny had a tantrum, his mother would have to get off the couch and physically restrain him. This was no small feat for the woman, who was permanently disabled with chronic back problems. Not having much else to go on, we suggested that perhaps Danny was not getting enough kinesthetic (touch) attention from his mother (who had a more auditory relating style, that is, she loved him by talking to him) and his tantrums were actually a very clever adaptive response he had developed to meet his need for increased touch.  We explained our theory to the mother and offered the following suggestion. When Danny came home from school, she was to continue their usual ritual of looking at his schoolwork and telling him she loved him (visual and auditory attention). But from now on, she was to do this while he sat on her lap and she cuddled him, giving him physical affection for as long as he would stay.  The mother took our advice and ran with it. Even though it made her physically uncomfortable, she held Danny, rubbed his back, stroked his head, and cuddled with him–sometimes up to an hour–while she talked to him and reviewed his day. Amazingly, within a week, the tantrums decreased significantly. Within a month, they were gone completely.  While there remained other issues for treatment, understanding and attending to Danny’s relating style enabled this mother to prevent his imminent placement in foster care and establish the control and safety needed to build a new relationship with her son.

If you found this information helpful, and would like to learn about how relating styles affect marital relationships, please see the chapter on Love Languages in For Better… FOREVER!

The Family Table

By: Dr. Gregory Popcak

family game

Our family table is an incredibly important part of our life together. We have kids from college-age down to 7yo and sitting around the family table for meals, and especially dinner, has been a critical part of our life as a family from the very beginning.  Besides being the place where we eat our meals, the family table has, over the years, been the place where we discover what’s going on in each other’s lives, pray, share and learn about our faith, and laugh. There is lots of laughter at our table.  One of the things all the kids have enjoyed doing around the dinner table over the years is discussing the Catholic faith and why we believe the things we do. Being able to have these casual conversations about our faith has taught the kids to be able to explain their faith both confidently and charitably with others to a remarkable degree. Our faith discussions are usually pretty rambling–which is part of the fun.

Another one of our traditions is playing a game after dinner. Usually at least twice a week, we choose a short 20-30 minute family board or card game from the shelf and play together. Some families might wonder how we keep college age and younger children engaged in the game. Simple. The game is incidental. In our home, we’ve always practiced the motto that what we do is less important than that we’re doing it together. Sure, having fun is important, but the most fun part of any game is the conversation and joking that goes on while we play. Whether “trash talking” about Candyland (“There is no ‘U’ in Candy Castle!”) or having a family discussion over a game of Uno, the point is always the relationship.  The family table is the place for snacks, and hot cocoa after sledding and snow men, and High Tea (the once or twice a year we can manage it), craft projects. It is the place for homework and tears and sharing current events and so much more.  In many ways, the family table isn’t really a table at all but a kind of altar for family communion where the ordinary events of family life are consecrated and transformed so that they might transform us into a the loving, joyful, grace-filled family God is helping us become day-by-day.

Life gets busy for all of us. But if you and your family have not sat down for a meal together for some time, try it. You might be pleased with how it brings you and your loved ones  together, even if just for a short period of time a day.