At the young age of 23, I held my firstborn in my arms and felt an overwhelming love like I had never felt before. I was made for this. I am a mother now.
My husband and I would spend hours just looking at her, examining her features, absorbing her sweetness, and growing more and more in love with her and with each other. It felt so right and good that the love we shared for one another was now embodied: a new creation, an eternal being whose life will always be so intimately tied to ours, the fruit of love, our child.
The deep love for our baby fuelled a strong desire to give her the best of everything. We wanted her to have life to the fullest as God intended. We so desperately wanted her to live a life that gives glory to God—a life centered around Him, His will, His laws, His love.
And so it began: the quest for all the answers. How can we be good parents? How do we raise a child in this world that is so anti-Christian? How do we protect her but not stifle her? How do we guide her but not control her? How can we raise her to be respectful, kind, loving, faithful? How can we make sure she stays close to God and doesn’t drift away or reject the faith we are handing down? And on and on and on. The burden of responsibility that we felt was enormous.
We learned early on that putting our marriage first was going to be key in our mission to raise saints. If our relationship was going to be holy and produce incredible fruit, we were going to have to be very intentional about how we love each other.
My husband had always been an avid reader and so he naturally turned to Christian parenting books in hopes of finding some answers. Of course, we assumed that “they” have all the answers. Surely, there were experts out there who could give us all the answers to all our parenting questions! He read and read. We discussed and pondered. We prayed and trusted. And then it became clear.
The answer was simple and it wasn’t going to be found in a book. Becoming co-creators with God and raising saints was written right into God’s plan for marriage and the family! The way to be great parents and raise great kids can be summed up in one word: relationship, or communio.
When God created man and woman, He had an incredibly beautiful plan. He created us in His own image. To understand what that means we need to understand Who God is: He is a communion of Persons. A communion of love—life-giving love. Here’s the thing: Love begets love and goodness. Our children flow from our married love, just as the Holy Spirit flows from the love of the Father and the Son! And so it becomes perfectly clear, in this light, that if we are going to parent well, we have to love well. What I am saying is, in God’s perfect plan, the love between husband and wife, their relationship, is to be holy and mirror the love of the Trinity so that it can produce good and holy fruit!
We learned early on that putting our marriage first was going to be key in our mission to raise saints. If our relationship was going to be holy and produce incredible fruit, we were going to have to be very intentional about how we love each other. And so, we committed to prioritizing our relationship by setting aside time to be alone together, enjoying each other’s company, laughing, talking, remembering why we fell in love in the first place. We made time for weekly “date nights” at home, which consisted of a movie and a bottle of wine once the kids were in bed, or something similar. Then we added monthly date nights out of the house. Budget was often tight, and childcare was always a challenge, but because we were convinced of the value of these special times alone, we always did our best to make it happen. It does require a lot of planning and creativity, but our marriage is worth it! When we truly contemplate the reality that our married love mirrors the interior life of the Trinity, which is a life of self-gift and mutual love, then we can begin to understand just how powerful our married love can be!
However, as lovely as the date nights and trips are, the most important foundation of any holy marriage is the regular reception of the sacraments. It cannot be stressed enough that if we have any hope of succeeding in being mirrors of God’s love, we need to be immersed in the graces of mercy and love that He freely gives when we come to Him in confession and when we receive Him in the Blessed Sacrament. Additionally, the sacramental graces that come from matrimony itself are not to be underestimated! God elevated the union of man and woman to the level of a sacrament so that we would have access to the particular graces that we need to strengthen our bond of love and raise saints! How beautiful is that?!
As we experience these graces within family life, our children witness this love and their lives naturally flow from it, and it is this concept of “relationship” (love between mother and father begetting new life) becomes the cornerstone of family life. And so it goes, that as the children grow up in an environment of loving relationship, communio, the bond between parent and child becomes THE answer to all our parenting questions. The children intuitively know that love demands humility, sacrifice, respect, honesty and integrity, and consequently, forms virtuous and good children! Wow! A communion of life-giving love—round and round it goes! What a beautiful design!
Putting your marriage first provides your children with a strong foundation, a sense of unity, and a sense of security. It fosters beautiful familial relationships between parent and child and between siblings. This type of love, as it strives to imitate the love of the Trinity, creates respectful, honest, secure, humble, loving children who are also striving for holiness. They see love modeled and the graces of the sacrament of marriage serve to strengthen them as they face the challenges of this world. You want to have great kids? Love your spouse! It is as simple as that.
And now, seven children later, my husband and I sit back and watch the fruits of our love develop into faithful, beautiful souls whose lives are destined for joy and happiness with God. Life certainly has its challenges, and we are far from perfect in living out God’s plan for marriage and family. But knowing that God designed for us to raise holy kids, that He provides the tools to make it happen, and realizing that we don’t have to have all the answers really does take the fear and anxiety away and instead gives us hope and conviction that it indeed can be done.
Thanks be to God for that!
Anita Healy is a wife, proud mother of seven, and together with her husband, a member of the international couples movement Teams of Our Lady. She holds a degree in Theology with a focus on Religious Education from the Franciscan University of Steubenville and teaches RCIA in her community. Anita has spoken at Catholic events hosted by the Diocese of Hamilton, and has appeared as a guest speaker on the Midday Moms Channel, as well as at the Dynamic Women of Faith Conference.