“We’re going to the dump” doesn’t usually elicit a great "hooray" from my kids. And yet, in flying down the highway today, our van stuffed with nauseating smells, one would have thought that we were going somewhere much more pleasant.
Looking in my rear view mirror, I could just get a glimpse of my oldest entertaining some others with his strange assortment of Muppet voices. Another glance revealed my one-year-old sweetly waving "bye-bye" to each and every car that passed by her window. And overall, even without the gift of sight, I could hear my kids giggling or bursting out loud from laughter as the conversation and play carried on.
You see parenting without joy is like dancing without music, even if you have the courage to start, after a while you just get tired of it.
I have been a dad for fourteen years. I have been given the gift of ten children within that time, and yet, even now in light of scenes such as this one, I find myself reflecting on the parenting task that I still have ahead of me.
For example, I often wrestle with the question, “What is God asking of me as a father?” And in response to that I believe that I have come to some pretty formidable conclusions.
To train them up to be good men and women? Yes.
To teach them self discipline and how to make it in the world? Yes.
To teach them to think for themselves? Yes.
To know and to love Him? Obviously.
The list could go on, of course.
But what many of us miss, especially when we are stressed, when our worries get the best of us, and when everything around us just stinks—what we miss is the need to be joyful regardless.
You see, parenting without joy is like dancing without music. Even if you have the courage to start, after a while you just get tired of it.
And that is at the heart of the parenting crisis today, is it not?
For most people, the thought of becoming a mother or a father is to live a life without joy. It is a monotonous and never ending dance of responsibilities that gets in the way of the happiness that we all crave. Sure, we might become parents because that’s what is expected of us or because we really do want to experience the gift of life, but unless we find joy in the mess, then we will always be looking for joy elsewhere—and that is where family bonds begin to weaken.
So today, if you’re reflecting on your parenting as I sometimes do and you want to make a change, something that can really affect the landscape of your home life in ways that you and all of your loved ones will notice, then I have a suggestion for you.
Choose to be a joyful parent.
Be silly when there is a moment to be silly. Look out at the world with your toddler and see things again from their eyes. Find reasons to smile and to laugh even when your first response is no great "hooray."
Today, try dancing with the music because that’s how you were meant to dance anyway.
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.