Wednesday, June 12, 2013
Faith, Marriage and Parenthood: Some Musings
This September I will have been married for eight years, and around the same time as my wedding anniversary my wife and I will be expecting our third child (a baby girl) to come into the world. I am in a Catholic marriage and a Catholic parent. As a Catholic man of faith I simply cannot divorce my faith from my marriage or from my role as a parent. It is my belief that I have my marriage because of my faith and the faith that my wife and I share. It is also my belief that my children are a gift from God; the fruit of the love between myself and my wife which is the fruit of the faith that her and I both share. Ultimately, I have God to thank for my marriage and for my children, and I want to be the husband and parent that God calls me to be. I'm still trying to get that part right and I'm am perfectly content to admit that I get it wrong and make monumental mistakes. In this time, however, I've learned a few things and this is what I would like to reflect on today.
1. Before I got married, I never realised how selfish I was as a single person
Before I even met my wife I knew that I would one day be married and have children, but when I was younger and uncommitted I was ambitious (I still am, mind you, but priorities change over the years), I thought of myself only and did things to please myself and further my ambitions. Yes, I was committed to my immediate family but I was very independent. Then I entered into a serious relationship with my now wife and had to begin considering her plans, her feelings, he needs, and her ambitions. Some of my unmarried friends suggest that a man's life ends when he gets married; you lose some of your friends, your youthful ambitions are "taken away" from you, and you seem endlessly bound by the old "ball and chain".
Adjusting to a serious relationship and later into marriage was difficult, yes, but I disagree with my unmarried friends in part on life "ending" when a man gets married. A "life" of sorts does end, yes, but a new life begins; a new life as husband and wife, two becoming one flesh through the Sacrament of marriage. In a marriage there is no longer "I" or "me", but "us" and "we". It was only after getting married I realised my selfishness as an individual. Yes, I lost some friends after getting married, and that was not for lack of trying to maintain those friendships on my end - quite the contrary - but rather outgrowing them. As a married man I knew that there were aspects of myself I had to leave behind with my single self and become a good husband, protector, and provider for my wife. My wife inspires me to be a better man, and I want to be a better man because of her love for me. Your ambitions do not diminish after you get married; they only change. No worldly ambition is great than the ambition to be a good, loving, faithful, and supportive husband to a woman that wants me to be close to God. They say marriage changes a man. So be it. If it allows me to further draw on God's grace, then so be it.
2. Before my wife and I had children, we never realised how selfish we could be as a couple
My wife and I were so excited when we discovered that we were soon going to be parents. Now expecting our third child, we're as excited today as welcoming new life into the world as we were the first time around. The thought of being responsible for a completely pure and dependent young life was daunting and it still is even now after being parents for just over five years, but it doesn't really dawn on you until you hold your child in your arms for the first time.
When my son, Robert, was born, I remember cradling him in my arms, looking at him and thinking to myself, "I want to be the best father I can be for you". Granted I've made mistakes and been a bad parent at times, I've always, always, always come back to God through prayer and ask for His guidance on how to be a good father to my children. The answer that I always get after these prayers is "time and faith"; spend quality time with your children and share you faith with them.
I've caught myself saying to my kids when I've been at home occupied with some work and so forth, "Not now; Daddy's busy..." and I hate myself for saying that. I need to clear my calendar for my kids. Work is important and having some "Daddy time" is important too (i.e. times when Daddy can go out and spend time with his friends and such), but I do not want to let my work and projects get in the way of spending time with my children. It's so easy to fall into the trap of "I've got so much to do!" but the way I see it now is this way: I'm a father first. Yes, my work is important and I love my job, but I'm doing it for them and I need to allow myself the time to share the fruits of my labours with my children. For that to happen, I need to be organised at work and get my work done in a time so that it does not restrict the time I can spend playing and talking with my children. At the same time I need to teach my children the value of work and responsibilities so that when they come of age they too can learn to prioritise.
My wife and I do enjoy getting out of the house every so often and leaving the kids behind with a babysitter, but these are reprieves that her and I need every so often. We love being parents and we love our children very, very, very, very, very much, but in order to give them the best of us, we need to be there for each other and help draw the best out of each of us.
3. It's not about dividing your love, but rather, multiplying it
A student once asked me about married life and what it was like to be a parent. He asked me, "With your family growing, how do you divide your love between your wife and kids?" After thinking for a moment or two, I looked at him and said, "It's not about dividing your love. If you divide your love then each member of your family is only going to get a fraction of you, only one part of the equation and that's not fair on them. It's about multiplying your love; you give all of yourself selflessly and then you love some more. That's how you love; you give your love and give it unconditionally". This is how God loves each of us. When there is hurt, you intensify your love. When there is joy, you go on loving just the same.
As a husband and a father it lies to me to be the rock of the family. This is an immense responsibility and I don't think we truly appreciate how difficult marriage and parenthood can be at times. All things must be done with love, even if it means correcting bad behaviour or speaking up when your spouse does something that hurts you. Remove the ego from each and every scenario; this is a lesson I've learned the hard way. Especially with raising kids, I've had to learn to stop saying things like, "This upsets Daddy" or "Daddy's angry because of this..." because all I'm doing with these is instilling unnecessary or extra guilt within my children. Rather what I should be asking is, "Do you think that was the right thing to do?" and then teaching my children from there. I don't want my wife or my children resenting me for speaking out when something hurts or upsets me, so therefore the response must come from love and not from a deeply ingrained sense of pride.
When the ego is bruised, the immediate reaction is usually anger, and anger is the catalyst to fear. There is no love in fear, and if I am to be loved as a father and as a husband, I must humble myself, admit my wrongs and failings and look to better myself. Pride, ego, whatever you want to call it, is the barrier that prevents us from reaching our better potentials. Admitting to wrongs and failings is not a sign of weakness, but rather a sign of strength. It means that you recognise that there are things out there bigger and grander than you and that you want to be better before you realise them. In terms of faith, how can we ever become a new creation in Christ if we do not allow Him to work in our lives in the first place?
"There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us." - 1 John 4:18-19
Without God, we can do nothing. Without God, I cannot be husband my wife needs me to be and I cannot be the father that my children need me to be. I must continue to humble myself and call upon the Lord more so that I may be transformed into the man God wants me to be.
"Likewise you that are younger be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for 'God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.'” - 1 Peter 5:5