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Paul Thigpen, Ph.D. | author
Jul 01, 2018
Filed under Columns
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6 ways kids lead parents to God

Our children often push us to our limits, and we may react in uncharitable ways. When that happens, we might be tempted to think of them as obstacles to Christian growth. Wouldn’t it be easier to be saintly if we didn’t have to deal with temper tantrums, sibling spats, and broken curfews?

Yet consider what the Second Vatican Council fathers had to say: “Children contribute in their own way to making their parents holy” (Gaudium et Spes, 48). What a startling notion! We can strive for holiness, not despite the trials of parenthood, but through them. Our children can teach us to be more holy.

Some of the best opportunities to grow spiritually emerge precisely at those places where we encounter the most difficult challenges of family life. Here are six practical ways to cooperate with God’s grace so that can happen.

1. Let your children’s needs and shortcomings drive you to pray. If the parenting road were always smooth, you’d be tempted to forget all about God while you busy yourself with dirty dishes and soccer games. This is one way He gets your attention. Get alone with God first thing every morning and ambush the little bandits with prayer before they get out of bed.

2. Let parenting challenges drive you to learn from Scripture and saints’ lives. Meditate, for example, on St. Paul’s beautiful admonition to families about how to live together (Eph 5:21–6:4). Apply his famous “hymn to love” (1 Cor 13:4–13) to your family life.

Learn also from parents in the Bible: Mary and Joseph are our model. Others teach us by their mistakes, such as King David’s struggles with his rebel son (2 Sam 13:1–18:33); Rebekah’s family trickery (Gen 27–33); and Eli’s failures in childrearing (1 Sam 2:12–17, 22-25; 4:12–18).

Study as well the lives of saints who grew spiritually through their role as parents. Read about St. Monica’s struggles with her wayward son, St. Augustine, or the daunting family challenges of St. Rita.

3. Let children’s questions about spiritual and moral issues drive you to learn more about God and His will. In your struggle to respond to their questions, you’ll gain a greater understanding of the great truths of our faith.

4. Let parenting battles drive you to seek fellowship with other Catholic parents for mutual support and advice. Don’t be embarrassed to talk and pray over your parenting problems with others who struggle. Think of other parents as comrades in arms.

5. Let parenting struggles drive you to the sacraments for grace and strength. The grace we receive in the Eucharist fortifies us for the task of parenting as it does for every other duty of life. And parenthood is one of God’s secret strategies for getting us into the confessional.

6. Let your kids teach you some basics about the spiritual life. Jesus said: “Unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 18:3). What can you learn from your children’s holy example of simplicity, honesty, trust, zeal, faith? What surprising gems of wisdom may come out of their mouths?

When all is said and done, perhaps the most important way we can let our kids help us grow in holiness is to view the hassles of parenting as scouring pads: they can either scrape us raw or scrub us clean.

If we resent our children’s needs, demands, and shortcomings, they’ll forever be rubbing us the wrong way. But if instead we embrace the frustration and heartache as part of God’s plan to polish us into saints, in time we’ll find ourselves shining in ways we never have before.

PAUL THIGPEN, PH.D, is an award-winning journalist and the bestselling author of 49 books. He and his wife, Leisa, have two children and five grandchildren who are helping them to become holy.

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