A Parent’s Perspective
When I was 20, a few of my good friends decided to head off on the adventure of a lifetime inter-railing around Europe. While I saw it as an unmissable opportunity, my parents were a little more wary. I had no problem with the prospect of blowing all my savings in my eagerness to see the world. My parents weren’t quite on the same page and, in the end, wisdom prevailed. I waved farewell to the intrepid travellers, still believing that I’d definitely pulled the short straw when it came to parents. It didn’t take me long to bounce back, but, all these years later, I still have slight feelings of having missed out, and I sometimes journey into the world of ‘what if’ and ‘if only’.
I don’t think I’m the only one who looks back at various decisions and wonders what might have been. My father often talks of how he almost ended up in Canada and, even though he was a wonderful teacher, his youthful desire was to be a doctor. Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken has an appeal and a poignancy about it that many of us can relate to. There’s something about the road we didn’t take that always leaves us wondering.
Reflecting and reassessing
I always find that the period leading up to Christmas is a particular time for pausing, reflecting and reassessing our situation. I know we all complain that Christmas comes earlier every year, but there’s something about the strains of I’ll be Home for Christmas and The First Noel that transports us back to another time and another place and we can almost feel that magical, sacred atmosphere of bygone Christmases.
Often, with the memories come the regrets and the questioning. Once again the ‘what ifs’ come into view. Even in the year that has almost past, we’ll have had good and bad experiences, the times we got everything exactly right and the times we messed up horribly. Maybe, in the words coined several years ago by Queen Elizabeth II, it was an annus horribilis or horrible year.
We have the choice to keep beating ourselves up about where we went so badly wrong, wishing we could turn the clock back and do things differently, or we can accept that the past is gone and try to develop a sense of acceptance and serenity about situations that we can’t do anything about. In his book, Interior Freedom, Rev. Jacques Philippe, the writer and preacher, wrote about how we have a natural revulsion for situations that we cannot control. He believes that the situations that really aid our growth are the very ones that we don’t control. It’s a step beyond resignation to, in the words of Philippe, “say yes to a reality we initially saw as negative, because we realise that something positive may arise from it”.
As we prepare for Christmas during the Advent period, it’s a particularly good time to focus on how we’re doing as a family, with a particular focus on how we feel we are parenting our children. I’m sure that I’m no different to thousands of parents who are inclined to analyse our children’s lives and look for our own part in their particular difficulties or failings. When things are tough, we may forget what an amazing privilege it is to have been given the gift of children. But, yet again, we focus on where we’re getting it wrong. “Maybe Mary should have taken Art instead of Music,” “Would Jack be happier in school if we’d waited another year?” and sadder soul-searching – “Why didn’t we see the signs of Dan’s depression?” We ruminate and try to rewrite history, to no avail.
During Advent, we can work on reigniting a sense of joy in our parenting role. Advent is a season of hope and renewal. What better area to work on than our vocation as parents and our relationship with our much-loved children? It might help us if we write down a few of our fears and disappointments and what we desire for our child’s future. We can pick one or two to pray about during Advent. There’s a saying that when you have small children, you have a thousand joys and a thousand worries. As they get older, our experience might change. Maybe the worries are starting to outstrip the joys, maybe our relationship has become a bit strained. It’s all these fears and anxieties that we bring to our prayer time.
Even a few minutes every day, away from the hustle and bustle of Christmas fever can make all the difference. Sadly, Advent is often a case of ‘too much, too soon’. Instead of a time of peaceful preparation, we’re overwhelmed with winter wonderlands in all the shops, the Christmas movies on cable TV and halls decked with ivy when Baby Jesus is nowhere in sight.
Having a time of silence and prayer, away from the climate of consumerism will help us to prepare our hearts and minds for what Pope Francis described recently as “opening the door to the Lord”. Leaving our worries and regrets behind us and helping our children and other family members to seek out a prayerful sacred space will bring us all a little closer to being in the right place spiritually to make Christmas a true welcoming of the Child Jesus.