Families Worth Imitating
As we sat in the pew waiting for Mass to begin, my five year old suddenly became ecstatic.
But glancing at the altar and its surroundings gave me no clue as to what could have made him so excited. After all, things were as they had always been except maybe, for the moment at least, the priest was not present.
Pointing frantically at the sanctuary with one hand and tugging on my clothing with the other, he whispered loudly, “Dad, they’re copying us!”
Leaning down so that I could reach the ear of my little boy I whispered back, “What do you mean?”
“The statues, dad. We have a statue just like that in our Mary garden!”
Well, sort of ...
The statue here at our parish was huge, almost life-like, while our statue of Mary at home was shorter than my five year old. The statue here was also beautifully adorned and painted with the simplest colours so as to create an overall calming and pleasing effect. And while we did adorn the statue in our garden with flowers, our Mary was more so surrounded by garden flowers already growing nearby. I am almost certain that compared to the statue our parish forefathers had acquired for us many, many years ago, our simple Mary statue would be unlikely to win a contest.
Regardless, none of these distinctions were seen by my child. Or else, he thought them inconsequential.
While a five year old still has a long way to go and many psychological traps to navigate in the years to come, we can rejoice in the fact that right now at least, he sees himself and his family in a positive light.
What mattered to him was that he was convinced that others (especially here in God’s house) were taking the time to do things like we do at home. They were copying us. And that made him proud.
You might think that the important thing would have been to correct this gross misinterpretation. As his dad, to step in and say something like, “Ummm, not quite son.” But really, the important thing here is actually to acknowledge that his comment is a sign of good mental health.
Why do I say that?
Because there is a mental health crisis unfolding in our world. Because therapists and counsellors are backlogged with appointments. Because there are many people seeking help to abandon an ultimately destructive self-image in favour of a healthy one—people who see their own work, appearance, or genuine effort in a negative way, as something to hide or be ashamed of. And while a five year old still has a long way to go and many psychological traps to navigate in the years to come, we can rejoice in the fact that right now at least, he sees himself and his family in a positive light.
So what? Big deal ...
Yes, that is a big deal! In a day of multimedia overload, we are constantly inundated with images of the family, of children, and their parents. And one of the prominent messages we receive— whether it’s in the movies, in television series, or even in an instagram feed—is that our family (though unique) is broken and ultimately a source of embarrassment.
Well, one of the contributing factors is the way that specialists have discussed child-adult development in the past. Well meaning advice like, “you are not your family” or, “your past does not define who you are” provides a fresh start, to be sure; it provides a freedom to strike out on one’s own even and especially when the families we come from are seriously wounded or wounding.
But statements like these did something else.
They encouraged growing individuals to disconnect from one of the best and richest societies that we could possibly belong to: the human family.
This is why any parenting advice we give must ultimately be rooted in and supportive of the family culture.
A thriving family!