We have often heard people say that they would do anything for their children or that as long as their children are happy they are happy. While we would do anything reasonable for our children including giving our lives for them, and we certainly want them to be happy, neither of these says anything about the effect children might have on a marital relationship.
The past weekend we were privileged to spend with a couple of our grandchildren while their parents had a little time away. Our youngest son and daughter-in-law (not their parents) joined us for Mass and then cooked dinner for us in honor of Mother’s Day. We received phone calls as well from our children who do not live in the area. These things allowed us to think about our own children, the impact they had on our relationship and what we observe in our children as they now parent. In addition, there have been several things in the news over the last months that lead us to think about children and what is good for them, as well as their parents, aka husband and wife. The first was the affluenza case in Texas. A teen used and received a reduced sentence plea because his parents had provided him with too many material things and as a result he was delayed in his ability to make mature decisions. There seems to be something wrong on both sides of this. First, the parents giving too many things without expecting responsibility and secondly the teen even considering that as an excuse. What stress this trial and outcome and the acquiring of “things” must have put on their relationship. Another thing in the news is that teenagers don’t want summer jobs and many parents don’t want them to have jobs. They see no reason to make money because their parents provide everything and a job would get in their way of texting and tweeting. At first people blamed the economy for the lack of jobs for teens, but that is not the case. Many parents give their children the idea that fast food is beneath them in terms of a job. One of the disadvantages for their children, ultimately, is that they have no job experience when they finish college nor do they have any motivation to excel in college or get a job when they graduate because mom and dad will provide a place to live, food, often a car with gas and of course all the electronics they want. It is also not unusual for college graduates to move home and stay there indefinitely. Young adults don’t have any reason to leave when everything is provided for them in a fashion much better than they would have on their own. The only regret many young adults have is that they often still have a curfew and mom and dad want to know everything they do. Parents often like having their teens and young adults at their house – they provide the drinks and it makes them feel young again and important. Much money is spent on adult children and their needs, including giving them money for vacations – even spring break drinking sprees and not on preparing for the own futures
Another thing that popped up in the financial news was the number of parents who are shelling out large amounts of money so that their children can go to expensive colleges and graduate programs and are not putting money away for their own retirement. Will their children who have never been taught to be financially responsible care for them? Most financial advisers tell parents that it is not wise to jeopardize their own retirements. It is better to find other ways, sometimes ways that make the child ultimately responsible, for their educational expenses.
Baby boomer parents somehow seem to think that it is their responsibility to be their child’s best friend and they don’t want to say no to a friend. Spending time with a child supercedes everything, including time with a spouse. The thought is: after all, my spouse will always be there. This reminds us of other news stories. While couples used to have the seven year itch, causing a spike in the divorce rate, that initial “itch” it is now even earlier. Significantly, there is now a second increase in divorce rates after 20 to 25 years Couples who spent their entire life providing for every possible whim, want and need of their children no longer have any intimacy with each other. In fact ,they come to see that they no longer know each other. While their children came from their love for each other, they no longer share any depths of love – it has been spent on their children instead.
Perhaps this blog seems to be a rant, but where is parenting going? Why do couples who have children want them? We don’t have answers but we parented with a couple of beliefs. We believed that our children were/are a gift from God but they are only ours for a period of time and then they have lives of their own. The only permanent relationship we have is our marriage. From that we lived with a few other things both stated some time ago by Fr. Theodore Hesburg, former president of Notre Dame University. He said the best gift a father can give his children is to love their mother. We would add to that the best gift, other than life, that a mother can give her children to is love their father. Giving children things and every opportunity doesn’t teach them to love, which is the charge we have been given as Christian parents. The second precept is that we were to give our children roots and wings. Material possessions, the best education, and spending our retirement on them doesn’t necessarily give them either.
In this time between Mother’s and Father’s days and in light of the fact that our children are all adults, we pause to think about parenting and how that drew us together rather than apart. We did say no to them many times and it was difficult. We didn’t always have the money to buy them everything they wanted or what their friends had. We provided all of them with private high school and college educations. It was with sacrifice on our part and on theirs. They did have jobs as did we. Fortunately, we managed to put money away for our own retirement in the process. As we think about it, having children and parenting them enabled and forced us to have many discussions that helped us get to know each other more fully, it helped us clarify in ourselves and with the other what we truly valued, and helped us to impart in our children deep values that we see them live today as they fly with the wings God gave them.
In this time between Mother’s and Father’s Days take some time to think about how you parent. Reflect not so much on how good of a mother or father you have been but how has being a mother or father made you a better husband or wife. We’d like to hear your responses to this post.
Today’s scripture readings, reflection and prayer:
Bob & Rita’s book: Forever and Day: An Invitation to Create a Marriage That Lasts a Lifetime is available on Amazon.com or by contacting us. Also available for Kindle and Nook. Make a retreat with your spouse, at home, on your time. Readings, relationship tips, questions for discussion.