Relationships must be cultivated if we are to set our families ablaze and begin to change this culture. Relationships are the third necessary piece to the puzzle of transforming our families. For them to flourish, three elements, properly understood, must consciously and actively be made present in our families through the parents. As with all things in living out the mystery of our parenthood, we must look to the source of all parenthood – the source of all unity, the Father “from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named” (Eph. 3:14), the invisible God – for the guidance and the strength to visibly reflect the truth in love about relationships to our spouses, to our children, and to those with whom we come into contact. Of course, we know that Jesus, the 2nd person of the Holy Trinity, came to reveal the mystery of the invisible God to us, to make the invisible God visible. Then, He entrusted us with the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony that we might continue to make the truth about God visibly present to this world. For us parents, the family provides the first and most critical venue for making God visible to this world. In order to accomplish this God-given task, we need to focus on three vehicles through which His love becomes concretely present in our families.
- Time – In order to develop relationships, like our God, we must take time to be with our children where they are. God became man and walked among us. He worked with human hands and loved with a human heart. As parents, we need to make sure that we “descend” into our children’s world. We need to know that the quantity of time is key. I’m not sure how one can measure the quality of time – an overused term that, in our opinion, justifies a smaller quantity of time. When they are young and are playing with blocks or with dolls, get down on the floor with them and play. As they get older, take walks with them. As they reach milestones, take a trip with them. When our son’s reach 13, Trey takes the boy to Boston to see the Red Sox play. Stephanie takes the girls to Chicago or New York. It doesn’t have to be that extravagant. What is important is that you are actively making time alone with each of your children. When you do this, opportunities become available because you have made yourselves available. You will be amazed at the opportunities that God can give you as you spend time with them. My daughter has asked Trey questions in non-structured time together like “How did you know that mom was the person that you were supposed to marry?” and “What would a boy need to do if he wanted to ask me out?” Time provides opportunities. Make time.
- Trust – Trust means to do what you say you are going to do. God has always done what He has said He will do. He is faithful. He is trustworthy. As a visible sign of this invisible God, if you say you will be there to pick them up at a certain time, be there at that time. Trust is built up over years. It comes from year after year doing what you tell them you will do. When they get older, you need to be able to ask them the question, “have I ever misled you or told you something that is not true?”, when you are asking them to trust you on something. You and they need to know the answer. Furthermore, trust also is built on delivering the truth in love. Don’t be “American Idol parents” – a term we’ve used in our house. If you’ve ever watched the show, you know there are parents who don’t and haven’t told their children the truth about their singing ability. As spectators, we watch these “singers” enter the judging room and begin singing horribly. The judges truthfully tell them they are not good enough to continue. On the way out, you hear the parents of the singer telling the child that the judges don’t know what they are talking about. That he or she is a “great singer”. That one day, he or she will show them. The parent is lying to the child. Be willing to tell your children the truth about their gifts and talents. Sometimes the truth is you need to work harder. Sometimes the truth is this really isn’t your gift. If not, then God has another gift for you to share with this world because you are unique and unrepeatable. Whatever you do, tell them the truth in love. Be trustworthy. Build Trust.
- Authority – Frequently, authority is misunderstood in our society. Christian parents must accurately understand authority and then practice it in a way that reveals the true nature of authority to our children. Authority is for service. As Jesus said, in this world, those in authority “lord it over them”. As parents, our authority – the position that allows us to set limits and demand certain things of those under our authority – is ours for the sake of our children. We set limits in order to help our children become who God created them to be. We tell them to turn off the X-Box or the TV because they should use that time to better themselves – to sleep, to study, to exercise. The limit is placed there for the sake of the child. We don’t tell them to turn it off because our favorite show is on or because we want quiet. That would be “lording it over them”, using authority for my benefit. Ask yourself why you’re requiring something from your child. Is it for them or for yourself? If it is for their benefit, be able to explain that to your child. You do not always need to explain it to them. Sometimes “because I said so” is reason enough. But you do need to know that it is for their benefit, for their good. So, establish limits and have expectations for the benefit of your child. Use Authority.
These are three concrete manifestations of love, of self-gift, of the very essence of God Himself. Through you, God makes Himself present to your children. If you consciously make time, build trust, and use authority, relationships will be cultivated; your family will be set ablaze, and our culture will begin to change. You will be consciously and actively participating in the mystery of parenthood.