January 14, 2018
Children have been on my mind lately – not mine! Other people’s. Specifically, I have been dealing with folks who want to protect kids – from suicide (there was a speaker here in Manchester recently), from drugs (there’s an opioid addiction program coming) and a new law legalizing as much pot as a kid can pay for), from bad relationships (no matter the child’s age), from loss of faith (a pastoral consult from another parish) and from their own bad choices (because of major psychiatric issues), from marital failure. Who’da thunk that an old bachelor could get so involved in such issues?!
One thing has come through very clearly in all these discussions, something very hard to say and even harder to hear, but much in need of saying anyway. Parents, even with the best of intentions seem unable to avoid over-identifying with their offspring. There was a time when we made fun of ‘little league’ daddies; then it was ‘soccer mommies’; now its helicopter parents. It all comes to the same thing.
It’s as if the welfare of our children (even our children who are 40 or older) is seen as an infallible barometer of our parenting skills. Thus, our self-respect is directly tied to our children. This is sooooooo bad! Over and above what it does to parental peace of mind, it creates major psychological problems for the children – over-dependency, co-dependency, various attachment disorders, etc. It is spiritually damaging to both parties. About that I can speak with more authority. And I will, of course.
At the moment of conception a child is already a full person (this is respect for life talk). As a person, his or her traits and basic endowments (and limitations) are cast in something like stone and inscribed in the very fleshy DNA of the embryo. All that a parent can do after this is to discover and support this (literally) embryonic person in the achievement of his or her destined maturation. Anything else can only be in some measure destructive of the child and heartbreaking to the parent.
In the interest of full disclosure, I am not a believer that nurture and overcome nature. That is like saying that parental will can (and may) undo God’s will. What kind of priest would I be then?
Let us, then, take the air out of some clichés that can become recipes for tragedy.
Children are not gifts to the parents; nor are they something to which one had a right. Children are the fruit of human response to the vocation to procreation; they are what happens when adults put their sexuality at the disposal of the Creator. In this sense, they are the first and nearest examples of our obligation to love our neighbor. Because of this priority and proximity, they always have a unique place in the catalog of those we love; but they really are not anything but neighbors.
Remember that this is theological stuff we’re talking about. I understand something of the power of ticking clocks and the desolation of empty nests and the longing (proclivity) to see oneself in miniature. But children are not parts of ourselves. They are themselves, and that is self with a capital S.
Really and truly and childishly yours,