“Dad, can we throw the football?” The fall football season is in full swing and this is an almost daily request from my 12 year old son during the week when I get home from work and it is repeated throughout the weekend, especially at commercial breaks when our favorite teams are playing. Depending on the sports season, weather and the whims of my children, the requests can morph into “Can we throw the baseball?” or “Can we shoot some hoops?” or “Dad, wanna play Stratego?”
Translation: My son is really saying, “Dad, will you spend some quality time with me?”
Like many of you, I lead a rather hectic life. I run a small business, have a 16 year old son with high-functioning autism and am blessed to have a loving wife of 18 years who needs me as well. Since converting to Catholicism in 2006 I have been very involved in various ministries, serving on non-profit boards in my community and spending time writing books and articles, speaking and fulfilling my duties as the senior editor of Integrated Catholic Life eMagazine. I do my best to get all of these things done throughout the day and before my wife and children wake up in the morning so our evenings and weekends are reserved for family time. I would love to tell you that it all works out beautifully and I have it all figured out, but I do not. It is a daily struggle, but my sons need me right now and I simply have to do better.
A few months ago in my post titled “Acceptance”, I wrote about our older son and his/our challenges with autism. I want to focus here on the needs of our younger son who is entering the ever challenging middle school years. Although blessed to be in a private Catholic school with great families we know from our parish community, he still faces the awkward pre-teen years, exposure to bad cultural influences and peer pressure. Our son’s probing questions about his growing knowledge of the “real world” in which we live require honest answers. After reflection and prayer, it seems obvious to me that most parents likely face the same choices as me and my wife:
We can relinquish our parenting responsibilities to others. We can allow peers, TV, the Internet, video games and a godless materialistic culture to raise our son(s) and just hope for the best.
We can live up to our responsibilities and our vocation as parents. Our clear vocation is to help our family get to Heaven. That is a tall order and requires courage, hard work, difficult choices and lots of prayer.
How often do we say we want the second choice, but lose focus, get busy and allow the first option to occur? I am afraid it happens all too often if we are honest with ourselves.
What can we do to make the second option the automatic choice? None of us are perfect, but perhaps we can follow these five basic steps to stay on course:
- Make the most of our time together. My son and I have been having great conversations on the way to lacrosse practice and when we throw the football in our front yard. The important thing is to maximize every minute with our children as opportunities to share and guide them to good decisions in life. Making family dinner time a priority is one way to help make this happen. Know that efforts to get our attention are often potential cries for help. They need us, but are we available?
- Listen before lecturing. This is difficult for me! The fastest way to have my son clam up is for me to cut him off with a “coaching moment.” I can coach later, but I need to hear him out first and encourage him to share his thoughts.
- Be great Catholic role models. It doesn’t get more basic than this, but do we realize how often our children are watching our every move? They will love God, be excited about Mass and have devotion to our Catholic faith if we do. They will likely pray faithfully if we do. They will be more likely to grow up following the Magisterium and staying out of the “Catholic cafeteria line” if we do.
- Honor the Sacrament of marriage. Want to see our children get married and start great families some day? Love our spouses and model the kind of marriage we want them to enjoy. Show open affection, say “I love you” and make sure the kids know how much we honor and respect the person we have married. We are dooming our kids to a marriageless future or possible divorce if they grow up in a home where the Sacrament of marriage is not treasured and valued.
- Tune out popular culture and “detach.” Guess what? If we are obsessed with American Idol, buying junk we don’t need and trying to keep up with the neighbors, our kids are likely to emulate our behavior. I am beginning to feel that every minute spent in front of the TV or the computer is wasted time and a missed opportunity to interact with the family. This may be the hardest thing on the list, but we can do a better job with our time and focus.
I feel like being a better parent is a wrestling match that never ends! This subject often comes up in my daily prayers as I seek discernment and courage to do the right things. The alternative to my daily struggle is to be apathetic which will virtually guarantee my children, especially my youngest son, will grow up drifting without a good foundation of faith, values and a sense of what is truly important in life. Kids are like clay looking to be formed and developed. In our absence, those who only see our children as consumers or who seek to do them harm will step into the vacuum.
Children are God’s gift to us. Taking excellent care of His creation is our gift back to Him.
Looking for a Catholic Speaker? Check out Randy’s speaker’s page and the rest of the ICL Speaker’s Bureau.
Randy Hain, Senior Editor and co-founder of The Integrated Catholic Life™, is the author of The Catholic Briefcase: Tools for Integrating Faith and Work which was released by Liguori Publications. The Catholic Briefcase was voted the Best Catholic Book of 2011 in the About.com Catholicism Reader’s Choice Awards.
Randy Hain’s exciting new book, Along the Way: Lessons for an Authentic Journey of Faith was released by Liguori Publications in November, 2012. Along the Way was recently named Runner-Up in the About.com Catholicism Reader’s Choice Awards for Best Catholic Book of 2012. Learn more here. His third book, Something More: A Professional’s Pursuit of a Meaningful Life, was released in February, 2013. All of Randy Hain’s books can also be purchased at your local Catholic bookstore, Amazon or www.liguori.org.
Please post your comments and questions below.
If you appreciate our writing, please use both the Share and Recommend buttons to tell your family and friends about this article. Help us help others to integrate their faith throughout their daily life.
Thank you! – The Editors