It is not our job to toughen our children to face a cruel and heartless world. It’s our job to raise children who will make the world a little less cruel and heartless. – L.R. Knost
The moment my oldest son was born is etched in my memory. As I saw him enter this world and take his first breath, I said to myself “Oh, wow!” Not only was I in awe of the miracle of birth, but the reality of being a parent hit me. My wife and I are now responsible for the upbringing of another human!
Many of us are parents, grandparents, aunts/uncles, and guardians who help with raising our children. Even if we don’t have children of our own, I will refer to us all as parents because we all help to influence the next generation. Besides providing the basic necessities of life, we are also in charge of helping them understand their spiritual life. This is a great responsibility. However, I don’t consider this role a “job.” Instead, being a Parent is a “vocation.”
What is a Vocation?
When we hear the term vocation, we may think of a particular occupation or career. There are vocational schools that teach students particular trades, like becoming an electrician or welder. If you are a Catholic, you may associate the word vocation with becoming a priest, sister, or a religious order.
While these are vocations, the definition of vocation that I am focusing on is a response to a call from God to use one’s gifts to make the world a better place.
We are all blessed with unique skills and gifts. When we work in our occupations, careers, and trades just to make a living, we are doing our jobs. When we use these gifts, not only just to advance ourselves individually, but to help others and the world, we are practicing our vocation.
For example, nurses must go through schooling, training, and licensing so that they are qualified to take care of patients. They can work their shifts, take temperatures, stick patients with needles, administer medicines, and fill out charts. If they do all of these required duties to help the patients with their physical well-being, they are doing their job as a nurse. If they use their gifts, such as compassion and empathy, to help their patients with the mental and emotional stress of their situation, they are being a Nurse. The Nurse is practicing a vocation.
Being a Parent
Our job as a parent is providing food, water, and shelter…and generally keeping them alive until they are eighteen years old. As a Parent, we are called to use our skills and gifts to help our children grow spiritually. As Parent, we are called to teach our children, with the guidance of God, to Love our neighbors, Love our enemies, and Love Creation. To do this, we need to not only tell them how to act, but we must show them how to be a Kind person.
Where do we go for Guidance?
We are in charge of raising the next generation. Our children will make decisions that impact our communities, nation, and world. Do we want to raise another generation that looks like ours? Do we want to let our politicians, celebrities, pundits, and social media stars be the models of how society is expected to behave and function? I hope not. I am tired of living in a world where the discourse is shouting at one another, where we are all divided into our camps, and Fear shapes how we behave and treat one another.
So, as Parents, called by God to raise our children and help develop their spiritual life, where do we look for guidance?
Unfortunately, modern American Christianity has not provided such guidance, at least not in a spiritually healthy way. There are fundamentalist Christian groups that use the word “family” in their names. They promote “traditional family values,” living a “pure” life, and focusing on the family. These may sound like great ideals, but upon close examination, you can see that their actual goal is to stoke the flames of our society’s culture wars. They are using the term “family”, not to promote the teachings of Jesus, but to use Fear to divide us and advance their political agenda.
Catholics can look to the Church for guidance. The Catholic Church recognizes that parents are responsible to the moral education and spiritual formation of their children. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (“CCC”) provides some instruction on parental “duties”:
The Importance of the Home – Parents have the responsibility to create a home where “tenderness, forgiveness, respect, fidelity, and disinterested service are the rule. Parents should teach their children to subordinate the ‘material and instinctual dimensions to interior and spiritual ones’” CCC 2223. The home is “a natural environment for initiating a human being into solidarity and communal responsibilities.” CCC 2224.
Leading by Example – Parents have a “grave responsibility” to lead by example by “knowing how to acknowledge their own failings to their children, parents will be able to guide and correct them….” CCC 2223. Parents must teach children to “avoid the compromising and degrading influences which threaten human societies.” CCC 2224.
Mutual Respect and Growth – Parents must recognize their children “as children of God and respect them as human persons.” CCC 2222. Their children “in turn contribute to the growth in holiness” of us, as Parents. CCC 2227.
Guidance from Within
Church, society, and family can be used as trail markings for being a Parent, but the best source for guidance is directly from God. I am not referring to the Zeus-like bearded man living in the clouds and smiting us sinners with lightning bolts. I am referring to God, the Christ, the Holy Spirit, the Higher Power that is within all of us.
By living a life of prayer and meditation, whether it be Buddhist Mindfulness, Christian Contemplation, of Jewish cheshbon hanefesh (scrutiny of the soul), we can have a conscious contact with our Higher Power. By being open-minded, listening, and reflecting on our experiences, we can find direction in this messy world. With God’s help, we can discern the wisdom in everyone and everything, including those groups which purport to focus on the family.
God is Present within us all. As a Parent, we need to be Present for our children, not just physically there, but also emotionally and spiritually. God is there for us. We need to be there for our children.