As we strive to focus more and more on our relationships with our children we are sure to soon come to the realization that all these "rules" of attachment parenting aren't so much for our kids as they are for us. Not punishing or rewarding our children is good for our kids, but becoming people, ourselves, who rely on unconditional love, rather than fear, to make the world a better place is better for our children than not punishing or rewarding them. Breastfeeding, wearing and sleeping with our babies is good for our babies, but becoming people who give of ourselves generously, selflessly, continuously is better for our babies than breastfeeding, wearing and sleeping with them. As long as we approach these "new" methods and techniques, philosophies and paradigms as just better ways to change our kids into the people we think they should be, we're missing the mark. We have to stop focusing on the changes we hope to effect in others, and realize that we are poor, incompetent, impotent human beings, who have been redeemed by love, and that we can no sooner make our kids better kids than we can make an oak tree a better oak tree. The only person one can make better is oneself--and even that he doesn't really do himself. We can only make ourselves better by throwing ourselves at the foot of the Heavenly throne and admitting that without God we are powerless to do anything for ourselves--let alone anyone else! Before we can collect our kids we have to collect ourselves.
Until we admit to ourselves, before God, that we have selfish, greedy, ambitious, jealous feelings and desires, what they are exactly, and that until we choose, by an act of faith, to detach from the source of these impulses, we are chained to them. Until we accept that we are going to die, we cannot really live. Until we accept that we can and do hate, we cannot really love. Until we accept ourselves for the poor, miserable, wretched, powerless creatures that we are, we cannot accept anyone else. Until we love ourselves as we are, we cannot love anyone else. Until we die to ourselves, we cannot live for anyone else but ourselves. Until we become as little children we cannot relate to our little children. This is the act of humility of which the saints speak as the basis of all growth in the spiritual life. Until we are attached to Christ we must be constantly seeking out a means to provide for our own needs. In this state we cannot give freely, continuously, unconditionally of ourselves.
"Judge not lest ye be judged." A child can not judge another person because he knows only the love of his family, and to him that is good no matter what we may judge it to be. He learns what he lives and what he lives is "normal" to him. He knows only the moment--he remembers the past, but lacks the wisdom to judge it. He doesn't know the future--children lack, to a certain extent, foresight. This is why they fail to grasp the consequences of their actions before they experience them (and have experienced them 1000 times!). Most of all, children are not afraid until they learn to fear. They learn to fear first by losing trust in their parents. Human beings are not born fearful. Fear is learned—every fear! Human beings are not born judgmental. They learn to judge by being judged. When we judge them, we teach them to judge us. When we distrust them, we teach them to distrust us. When we accept them, we teach them to accept us. When we trust them we teach them to trust us. When we fear them, we teach them to fear us. Our children are not ours to judge, but to love, safeguarding the work of the Holy Ghost within each one of them.
Yes! We have to proclaim the truth, from the rooftops! But as soon as we try to force another person to accept that truth, we lose it. Love is a free act of the will. When it is coerced it is not love. The truth of love is lost when it is forced. The truth is lost.
"Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the LORD thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest." It is not our imperfections that keep us from becoming perfect parents--it is fear of our imperfections, resisting them, hiding them, running away from them that keeps us from becoming perfect parents. It is not permissiveness that causes us to spoil our children, it is fear of permissiveness that causes us to spoil our children, and our relationship with them. It is not holding on to our children that makes them dependent on us, it is fear of losing them. Until we accept that they are going to sin and we cannot stop them, we cannot teach them the virtues. Until we accept that they are going to fail, we cannot help them succeed. Until we let go of them, we cannot hold on to them. Until we accept that they are not ours, but have been entrusted to us by their Heavenly Father, for us to safeguard and protect just precisely what it is about them that makes them them and not someone else, we will continue to try, in vain, to change them. There is an analogy between the role of the parent with respect to the child and the role of the Holy Father with respect to the deposit of faith. Each one of us is a mirror of the deposit of faith. The faith has not been entrusted to the Pope so that he can change it. He has been entrusted with safeguarding it AS GOD HAS REVEALED IT, or else it is no longer the truth Christ gave us, but someone else's version of the truth, and in that case, not the truth at all.! The same is true of our children and of ourselves. The organic development of the faith or the liturgy is not unlike the organic development of the child. We can no sooner change the teachings of our faith and still believe it to be the true faith than we can change our children and still believe them to be our children. And they are as truly our children as we truly can NOT change them! We can only accept, again by His grace, that He has made us who we are, depositing within each of us everything that is necessary for our salvation. We have only to trust in Him in order that we grow according to His plan. Our children are like rose bushes, whose blooming flowers we are waiting to know. We must not approach our children as adversaries, unruly bushes in our perfect little gardens, the battle against whom we must win. We must approach our children as souls we must win to Christ by radiating Him in our relationships with others--not by snipping off all their many buds before we know them, because we're afraid of what they may be.
As we try to reclaim our children, especially our older ones, I am discovering, our tendency is to panic. We're afraid that we've already ruined them and that the sooner we reclaim them the sooner we can begin to "fix" them. I have also discovered that it is not they whom we need to fix, nor can we. It is futile to try to "fix" them. But God has given us the power to “fix” ourselves, if only we can correctly diagnose the problem than needs to be fixed. Humility.
Bear with me a moment, here, as I try my hand at a little amateur psychology. Each one of us has two sets of emotions. There are the superficial emotions which we show the rest of the world on our surface. They are changing constantly, from the disappointment we feel when we've burned the dinner to the joy we feel a moment later when our spouse walks through the door at the end of a long day. We also have fundamental, deeper emotions which comprise the backdrop of the stage of our lives. These are the feelings that abide in us from day to day, and that inform our interactions with others. They can be the persistent anxiety a mother feels whose son is a prisoner of war. She may experience momentary flashes of joy at times, but the underlying emotion of her life during his imprisonment is fear, anxiety, anger, loneliness, despair. These fundamental emotions are the proverbial "baggage" we carry around with us everywhere we go. For the saints, this fundamental emotion was trustful, joyful resignation to the Divine Will. For some of us it may be the ultimate fear--the fear of being rejected by the ones who should love us unconditionally. If we always had to work for our family's love and acceptance this is very likely to be the fear to which we are chained. Until we accept that our family may not love us, we will never be free to love them or anyone else, because the love we bear one another must come from loving God with our whole heart, and our whole mind and our whole soul. Our primary attachment, as adults, must be to Him in order for us to fully mature and be able to truly love another for love of Him. Once we are attached to Him we can live by one rule: "Love God and do as you will."
In order to attach to our children, or re-attach if that may be the case, we must first detach from whatever else it is that we are holding on to. Our own compasses are stuck in a horizontal orientation, our piano strings are knotted up so that they cannot resonate, we have not achieved emotional statis, inner peace, or the peace of soul of which the saints write, that is, the trustful surrender to Divine Providence, or total abandonment to the Divine Will.
Each of us looks at the world we live in through an emotional pane of glass (pun entirely intended!). Years of emotional suffering and unresolved conflict and turmoil have accumulated as layer upon layer of grime on this pane. In order to achieve inner peace we have to begin to wash away the layers, or let God wash them away, so that we can see clearly--see God in every moment. Usually we experience a sort of fear over wiping the glass clean. We're not only afraid of being seen by those on the other side of the glass, but we're most afraid of what we'll see in its reflection. Only after we begin to see Him in every moment can we begin to untie the knots in the piano strings of our souls and resonate with those around us. When we wipe the glass clean we can begin to radiate Christ to the world, and His is the reflection we shall see in the glass.
Until we achieve “stasis,” or inner peace, we are not free to fully mature. We are still bound by our hunger. We can think of nothing else but satisfying that hunger. Sin and vice are given an invitation to fill that hunger. When we accept Christ unconditionally, orienting ourselves toward Him, attaching ourselves to Him, we satisfy that hunger and are free to grow. When we accept another soul unconditionally we give it the freedom and security to mature. Only the mature soul can die to itself. Only the mature soul can see itself for what and who it really is. Only the mature soul can cooperate fully with God to better itself.
God did not give us these children so we could fix them. He gave them to us so that HE could fix US. He gave them to us so that by loving them and fulfilling our responsibilities to them we might become holy.
In Winning Souls for Christ, Raoul Plus writes, “We must love souls for three reasons especially: because every soul represents some (perhaps much) fruit of the Blood of Christ; because every soul is a factor (perhaps a very important one) in the coming of the kingdom of God; and because in doing good to a soul, we do good to Christ in His Mystical Body.” When we try to change a soul by our own means we interfere with God’s work, and we convince ourselves that we know better than He.
This book is excellent for our purposes. Our children are souls who need to be evangelized, AS ARE WE in constant need of evangelization. When we try to change a person we give him a reason to distrust us. When we accept him as God has created him, radiating Christ to him through our thoughts, words and actions, we give him a reason to love Christ, and to love us for the love of Christ. (We need to have relationships with others that radiate Christ—“Reladiationships!”) God, through the redemption, did not try to change man as he is, but He gave man a reason to love Him by showing him how much he is loved. When we talk about baptism, confirmation and holy orders as effecting a change in the soul of the recipient, we are referring to a change by way of addition, not a change as in an elimination of something already there (original sin is a void filled, by baptism with the life of Christ). More importantly, we are referring to a change THAT ONLY GOD CAN EFFECT.
With our children, every natural thing necessary for their salvation (baptism is supernatural) is contained within them and within the world into which they have been born from the very beginning! “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.” What could be more reassuring? Do we doubt that He has ordained from the very beginning all the means necessary for the salvation of each and every soul?
In another post I make an analogy between hospital vs. home birth and two different approaches to evangelizing our children. God is so marvelous, astounding, awesome, etc. He has set everything in motion. When we trust in His design everything runs pretty smoothly on its own. When we start to prophesy, predicting one catastrophe after another we panic and cannot keep ourselves from intervening at every turn. All this interference causes things to go wrong!
In order for us to attach to our children, we must first have a secure attachment to our Heavenly Father. In order for our children to trust in us, we must first trust in Christ. In order for our children to love and accept us unconditionally, we must first love and accept Christ and His Gospel unconditionally, with total, blind abandonment. God has gathered His flock unto Himself through the Redemption and the continuing work of the Church. He has collected us already. In order for us to collect our children (and our spouses--but more on that later!), we must first collect ourselves!