Tuesday, October 24, 2006

When the Going Gets Tough

Ever go to church and hear a homily that feels like it was written with you in mind? That happens to me all the time, so either I am one bad mother in need of some serious correction, or God is trying to talk to me. We are blessed with two great priests who are excellent homilists, and this week our pastor, Fr. Tom, touched on a topic that I have thought about often and one that I struggle with as well. He talked about teaching our kids to "suffer well." I think it's kind of a hot-button issue for most parents because no one wants to think of their children as suffering -- isn't it the American Way to give our kids more than we had? To do more, be more present, better, stronger, faster . . . But at what cost? At the risk of sounding like a guy on the street corner with wild hair and a sandwich board that says The End Is Near, hard times are going to come. Because they come to every person, just differently packaged.
I think about my responsibilities to my children - to see that they have the tools they need to be good Christians, good citizens, and to ultimately make the choices that will get them to Heaven. But my responsibilities also include teaching them how to bear suffering, and that is such a hard lesson in a society that does everything in its power to banish any little discomfort, let alone out and out suffering. Sometimes I worry that my kids will be too soft.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not advocating sack cloth and ashes, but I do think that experiencing some hard knocks may not be such a bad thing for the kids. I just don't think that insulating them from everything unpleasant is the best way to go.

Older Girl is an avid reader, and although she can read as well as an adult, she still likes that quiet time right before bed to share a couple chapters of a book with Rob or me. One of her favorite series is Little House on the Prairie , and although we've read the books through many times, there is one book that still humbles and amazes me. In The Long Winter, the family is in the Dakota Territory, living on a claim shanty. They move from the shanty to a sturdier home in town to survive the winter which brings brutal blizzards from October to April. During one of the first storms, Laura wakes up and finds that her bed has been covered with about a foot of snow, which her father cheerfully sweeps off of her and her sister, Mary (he's whistling, for crying out loud!). The girls think nothing of it and hop out of bed to start the day. What!?!?!?! There is no way I would have been so chipper with the broom if I had found Older Girl under a foot of snow, but the Ingalls' thought nothing of it, because they knew that life was hard. And yet they had the most carefree and innocent childhood, full of joy and love.

So what to do? Do I move the kids to a claim shanty in North Dakota? No, because I doubt that I'd get good internet access out there and Mommy likes her internet. But I do think that just because I can give them all sorts of things, doesn't mean that I should give them all sorts of things. Sounds simple, but that extends to letting them make their own decisions, not jumping in to try and fix things that have disappointed them, and that is a mighty big pill for a type triple A Mom like myself. I read this once in a book called A Mother's Rule of Life, by Holly Pierlot, and leave it to good old St. Thomas Aquinas to really hit the nail on the head:
by pampering ourselves, we superficially shelter ourselves from the realities of life, so when serious difficulties come, we're unprepared spiritually to cope with them.

Boy, do we have some preparin' to do around here . . .


  1. Just wanted to say that book is great. I have read it once, but didn't implement any of her ideas, and am now reading it again. This time I'm going to take some action.

    Just my two cents on the book.

  2. Anonymous2:10 PM

    It does seem that teaching your child to "suffer" is suffering for the parent too. With ToddlerGirl there isn't much we can do in this category but we are working on limiting TV and teaching her to clean up after herself. So here is some dialog from last night's lesson...

    TG: Elmo, Elmo, Elmo (while holding a DVD case)

    Me: No, I'm not putting Elmo on

    TG: Pooh, Pooh, Pooh

    Me: No, no Winnie the Pooh either. (I walk over to the toys and pick up a Winnie the Pooh book). Would you like me to read this book to you instead?

    TG: No! (with that special toddler inflection)
    Geo, Geo, geo

    Me: No, Curious George. We're not watching TV tonigh.

    TG: *emits strange grunting noise*
    Zo, Zo, Zo

    Me: No Zoe either. No TV.

    This type of behavior and polling continues for another 5 minutes including hitting the TV screen. It takes a lot of mommy patience to teach your child about "suffering". I feel good about the small battles, and today there are so many levels of suffering. For example, my poor child will know how to clean a house because we do not have a maid. ;)



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