As parents we are in a privileged position to see the best and the worst of our kids, to witness all of their wins and losses; in short, to be present while they learn to face the world and themselves.
It is for this reason that I often encourage moms and dads to take advantage of this view given only to them and help their little ones make great strides in their mental and spiritual health.
I know we don’t think about it often, if at all, but every day, from one encounter to the next, as parents we amass data that would be incredibly helpful to any spiritual director.
Just think about it.
When we see undesirable behaviour in our children the tendency is to want to make it stop. The problem of course is that too often this creates a kind of tunnel vision in us.
Your son is struggling to share a toy or seems to delight in making another sibling feel “lesser than.” You need to make note of that. Perhaps your daughter seems to have no filter when it comes to her words and often says things without thinking, causing much hurt and confusion in her relationships; you need to make note of that, too.
These are the kind of insights—what we usually just chalk up as incredibly frustrating moments—that help us to become more than just a passive observer in a family setting.
When we see undesirable behaviour in our children the tendency is to want to make it stop. The problem of course is that too often this creates a kind of tunnel vision in us. We become so concerned with stopping a behaviour that we often forget to ask what on earth brought on the behaviour in the first place.
Imagine for a moment that you didn’t just look at your child’s clash with the family culture as something that needed to stop but as something that provides insight—insight that gives valuable data on where your child is right now in their mental health, their maturity, and of course in their spiritual life.
Think of what you could do with that kind of information.
If your child grew up knowing and trusting that you are not interested in simply stopping their behaviour from happening, but are profoundly interested in learning about the cause and feelings that brought it about, you would become quite a powerful aid in their journey towards adulthood.
When struggling with a decision, your teenage daughter might very well bring it to your attention first. When fighting a particular vice, your son might consider it quite wise to make you aware of it. In other words, in the future, if your child needed help, or greater clarity, or a listening ear, or simply a different perspective, they would come to you first.
In their eyes, you would no longer be viewed as the ogre on the bridge but as the sentinel on the wall—a guardian of their best self.
Patrick Sullivan is a Catholic Speaker and the President of Evango, a Catholic Media Organization that seeks to build a culture of Catholic evangelization and missionary discipleship. Patrick travels internationally to speak at Catholic events, parenting conferences, and to lead retreats and parish renewal missions. He is the creator and host of Me & My House, the Catholic parenting program that is transforming how we minister to parents in our dioceses, parishes, and communities. Patrick lives in beautiful Barry’s Bay, Ontario with his loving wife, Kyla, and their nine children.