Several recent events have caused me to reflect on my parenting and the culture I am creating in my family. They may not at first appear to be connected, except that each incident has built on the previous as I have taken a mental step back to consider whether the motivations and intentions of our family culture are working out as I had hoped. (I will share these events, but will obscure or even change some details to respect the privacy of people. The spirit and tone of the interactions remain true.)
The first event was meeting a woman at a small gathering of Catholic women. We had similar circumstances to our lives, both moms with big families, making it work under unusual circumstances. I was the newbie in the group. And so there was lots of question asking and gathering of details. This lovely woman said she didn’t make many of these gatherings because, “I’m a mom, you know. I am only now after so many years of single parenting going out again. When you are a mom you have no social life. I know you can relate.”
Narrator: But, Daja could not relate. Daja actually went out frequently and made as many casual friendships as she could gather like Pokémon.
The second event was talking to a new friend who lamented that once her children reach adulthood—actually when they reached their teenage years—how they had grown apart. They didn’t want ol’ mom and dad around anymore. Their advice and input was passé. Not only that, they were hardly home and when they were they were in their rooms and there was almost no conversation at all. I had children in that demographic, so certainly I could relate.
Narrator: But, Daja could not relate. There were no subjects taboo with her children—which was a two-way street. She asked them anything. And they asked her anything as well. Just that morning she had been cuddling with her grown daughter and they were laughing together at funny memes.
The third event was a dinner I had with another lovely Catholic woman who said of my family afterward that we were “a bit much.” That she was a little offended at how friendly I was with my adult children and that we joked too casually about things. To boot, I was drinking wine with my adult children! It was all a bit over-the-top.
Narrator: Listen Linda. Listen.
I realize more and more that I have a rather unorthodox way with my children. Yet, I am one of the most orthodox and traditional people you will ever meet. (Did you know it is possible to be traddy without that stick installed up you hiney?) I have made it my ambition to hold onto the good of how I was raised (which had so very much good), to work with what worked, build on it, and reject what didn’t. I know I will not get it all right. I am sure my children probably talk to their therapists about me. I am actually OK with that. I am just glad we have evolved enough to recognize our need for therapy.
And I am certainly still in the trenches. I do not want to be handing out parenting advice like gospel tracts until I have great grandchildren who are all serving the Lord as faithful Catholics. THEN maybe we can examine my methods. Until that time, I can just tell you what seems to be working. So, here it is, but be prepared that it might not be what you expect.
I love being a mom. I love it so much. But no, it is not my vocation. God calls people to religious life or marriage. And children are the usual consequence of marriage. I love these children. My goal is to take us all to heaven. But so as not to make an idol out of children and their care, let’s be clear: marriage is the vocation. Children are the result. My children will someday be fully grown. Then I will dedicate myself to prayer.
And that may be a weird thing to hear me say because my marriage ended….and so badly. But, hear me out…If we begin on the foundation that being a mom is a primary vocation then we inadvertently try to achieve oneness with our kids. Yet, we are supposed to raise them and watch them flourish away from us—at least to some degree, daily working ourselves out of our beginning role! The day will come (God willing) that they launch. They get married or take religious vows. They live their God-given beautiful lives and much of that apart from our daily care. As moms if we make them the center of our lives the day will come when we find we have lost ourselves (and not in a Luke 17 kind of way). Our children need us and they also need us to learn to let go.
“We need, in love, to practice only this: letting each other go. For holding on comes easily; we do not need to learn it.” (Rilke)
It is more than OK, in fact, I would say that it is necessary, that you continue working on your own life while negotiating parenting. This is an even bigger challenge for single parents. I get it. Yet making time to read great books, meet friends for drinks, take classes and find mental stimulation, take retreats alone, go to therapy, find a spiritual director, go out without the children. These things are really important. Do them! I believe and have seen that prioritizing my inner life and social development makes me a better parent.
All that being said, I maintain so much openness with my children. (Please don’t confuse this with not having good boundaries with my kids. I know that they are not my therapists or spiritual directors. Good boundaries are essential!) I have never felt because they are of a certain age that now I can no longer share my heart with them or address my concerns about their behavior. Again, this is different from prying, nagging, or disrespecting boundaries. It begins with me, not them. So many parents of young adults lament that their kids don’t open up to them. And I ask, as kindly as possible, “Do you open up to them?” And I don’t mean in some kind of vague way of saying, “I am here for you.” But, as your children grow do you trust them to open up your own heart to them. Have you ever said to your child, “I need a hug” rather than just “Give me a hug/do you need a hug?” Have you ever said to your grown child, “Would you pray for me? I am struggling with xyz.”
Expecting our children to be vulnerable and open with us without us being vulnerable and open to them is a recipe for mistrust. But being brave in love is to open yourself and let someone see the real you. In order to have adult children who are happy to share the inner workings of their growing lives with you, you have to be the brave one and take the first steps towards greater intimacy.
I readily admit that my kids and I may come off as “a bit much.” But, that isn’t because we are. It may be because as a culture—particularly as a Christian culture—we have become accustomed to masking our toxicity under the guise of propriety. I have found that the things that make me uncomfortable often point to something within my own inner life that I have not resolved. I squirm because maybe that is something unhealed, broken, or unaddressed in my life. I may need to take that area to Jesus until I reach the point where it no longer triggers a reaction with me.
For example—the obvious elephant in most rooms—sex. So very many parents—even strong Christian ones—will not talk about sex with their kids. And if they do it is in the vaguest broadest terms. Or worse, they just hand their kids a book and think they have done their duty in having The Talk. I have been told by good Christian parents that I perhaps should not talk to my kids about sex because I might ”put ideas in their heads.” It’s 2022. It’s a sex-saturated and confused culture. It’s everywhere. The ideas are already in their heads. I want my ideas—the Church’s ideas—in their head. So, I initiate casual conversations about sex. I don’t wait for formal conversations full of awkward avoidance of eye-contact. Nah. We will tell jokes over dinner and make it as normal to talk about sex as it is to talk about God. Does this make it less sacred? No way. Because it robs nothing from his divinity in discussing God in casual conversation. Likewise with sex (or any other subject we consider lofty).
Glory is not a pie, whereby if we can run out if we don’t perfectly slice it.
Raising My Friends
Jordan Peterson’s Rule #5 is “Do Not Let Your Children Do Anything That Makes You Dislike Them.” I love this rule. It is how I try to parent, without ever articulating it so well.
I would always bristle when someone would say something like, “I am my kid’s parent, not their friend.” There are two bits of faulty reasoning here. First of all, it assumes that friends just give into your whims and tell you what you want to hear. That’s not friendship. Secondly, it assumes that if you are parenting it must be through dominance and not through connection and relationship. This platitude gets parenting and friendship wrong. I reject both these assumptions.
My parenting philosophy can best be described by saying I am trying to raise my best friends. My home is full of people—currently age 6 to almost 21. (Although the number actually at home fluctuates because some have already launched into their beautiful grown-up lives.) And I would gladly spend all day in any of their company. I see their value, their spirit, their compassion, their creativity. I am raising people I actually like! It’s not a compulsion to love them or a sense of familial obligation. But, I actually like their company. I look forward to the day they are all grown so I can start living in their homes, eating all their chips, and drinking all their wine because have raised them to have good taste, lively minds and make great conversation.
You have heard “When I am an old woman I shall wear purple” right? (That rather entitled insipid little psudeo-poem about an older woman who become the worst version of herself?) Here’s my version, then. When I am an old woman…
I will borrow Meg’s jewelry and ask her if I can still pull off this length of skirt. And she will tell me, “Mama, when did you start worrying about what other people think?” And we will sit up late cuddling and laughing. When no one else can stand us, we will have each other. We will probably also have a collection of odd animals that no one else loves, but that make us happy. We will go to daily Mass with our heads covered and people will think us very pious, until they see us at happy hour later the same day.
I will read all Israel’s books and in the evenings I will draw him and his beautiful wife into conversations about whether Augustine’s view of Original Sin is compatible with my Eastern sensibilities. I will make whiskey cocktails and spicy noodles, which we will eat with chopsticks while his kids play with my braids.
I will insist Lucas sits by the fire with me in the house he built and drink hot milk sprinkled with cardamom. His kids will drink it straight, but we will spike ours with a little brandy because it’s a feast day somewhere. And he will still call me Momma and I will teach his kids Mongolian songs and 90s gangsta rap, because it is all about balance. His wife will be all sass and I will love every minute of it.
I will save the best and funniest shows to watch with Captain and we will laugh. I will still try to take pictures of him and he will try to avoid. He will say, “Don’t post that until I see it.” But we all know my fans want to see him and his beard. When we are done laughing at the shows we binge, we will take a drive (but he will be driving this time) and we will discuss the bigger issues of life—because we do our best talking when we are alone in the car together. By the time we come home it will be dark and he will say, “You should go to sleep already. No scrolling your phone.” I will act offended, but I will obey.
When I stay at Belg’s house I will catch up on all the gossip that the other kids didn’t tell me. For Belg knows all and says little. But, I will get it out of him over a meaty dinner with a hearty drink. I can see it now. Him all grown and handsome, with a well trimmed beard and a robust laugh. He will spill the tea, as they say. And we will laugh and maybe cry. And his hug to comfort me will be even stronger than it is now, which is already pretty formidable. And we will pray the Divine Mercy together and he will tell me that everything will be OK.
At Saraa’s house I will hear my voice echoing back to me, “You need to eat.” And there will be spring rolls and fried rice, gluten-free cookies and homemade marshmallows, pickled veggies and kimchi. And I will eat my weight in gluten-free dumplings which she will have perfected by then. And she will mother me well, tucking me in with a hot water bottle to warm my feet and blankets to tuck around me. She will be the one with the sachet of herbs that says, “Just stick this under your pillow, I want you to have good dreams.” And I will do exactly as she says, as she lights the candle on the altar of the guest bedroom and I watch the smoke rise before her bedroom icons of Our Lady.
River’s house is where I will spend time in good weather, because we will hike. Even when I am old, the hike will just be easier. And he will bring his cookstove and make chili and coffee outdoors. And we will take in the view. I will likely tear up a little remembering the first mountain I forced him to climb when he was seven. He whined all the way until the summit. Then he breathed deeply and said, “Mom, I want to to build us a house right here so we can always have this view.”
Tegshee will probably host the majority of the family and sibling reunion times. He will text everyone saying, “We need to have family time.” And even if everyone is busy, they will not be able to look at his sprinkles even when he is grown and say no. So the siblings will go to movie or game night at Tegshee’s house. And his wife will be the life of the party, because there is no way Tegshee could possibly marry anyone boring. Together they will laugh and their laughter will make me laugh. And then he will have a crazy idea like everyone driving to the lake and jumping in or going for a milk shake at Denny’s at 2AM. And everyone will do it because all of Tegshee’s ideas are gold.
I will visit Cyril when together we will babysit his sibling’s kids. He will be the most fun priest you know or the most devout Catholic dad. One or the other. He will let his nieces and nephews get away with everything. But he will take them to Mass at 6AM no matter what shenanigans went on the night before. He will make pancakes at 1AM, but will also remind you to pray your Rosary every morning. He will not let you forget. In the battle between the most fun and the most devout there will be a tie.
These are dreams, sure. But they are also goals. My goal in raising my kids is not just have them reach adulthood and be employable. I also want them to be virtuous and high-spirited. I expect increasingly lively conversations about literature, philosophy, theology. I fully expect their fashion sense to be absolutely on point and over-the-top or else completely non-existent as they live in flannel shirts and run around barefoot. I will accept no middle ground of white bread suburban mediocrity. I told my kids I chose to raise them well rather than save for retirement. So when I am old there must be a rocking chair in a corner and I will spend two months at each of their homes in rotation. I will be only helpful—doing laundry, making fabulous meals, mixing herbal remedies which will cure on the pantry shelves bringing good vibes after I am gone, and praying my chotki for them all night as I rock.
They have agreed that this is the plan. I will hold them to it.