It takes a family to raise a child

It takes a family to raise a child
A Parent’s Perspective

A lot of Catholic events and organisations seem to cater for 18-35 year olds; others are geared towards children or married couples with children. Single people; widows and widowers, with or without children; other lone parents and those who are married and childless can often feel a little bit out on a limb.

A good friend of mine lost her father some years ago. I was chatting to her mother a few months later and she was pondering on how her life had changed since her life partner passed away. Her husband had been a teacher and had turned down an opportunity for early retirement a few years before he died which she regretted, bemoaning the fact that they’d made so many plans that would never come to fruition.

However, what she was lamenting the most was the fact that she was now in a different category when it came to simple things like invitations to dinner or being the “plus one” at conferences and other occasions that her husband would have been invited too. Even at weddings she felt strange without her husband at her side and was struggling to adjust to her new reality and place in the world.

As a society we often fail to focus much on the unique contributions of single people or those without children. Our Christian communities aren’t a lot better. There’s often a feeling that a lone parent or a widow or widower is in need of help and support and, while that is true, we don’t think much about what they can offer to society.

My own son and daughter-in-law are married for a few years and have not yet been blessed with children. While they would really love a baby, they’re using the extra free time they have to utilise their talents for the greater good of others. One area they’ve got involved in is pre-marriage preparation where there’s a great need for Catholic input and education. My son also volunteers for Gianna Care, delivering vital nursery equipment and other necessities to mothers and their young children, while finding time to coach children in kayaking skills at the local canoe club. His latest venture is doing a bit of car valeting for an order of priests who might not always have the time to worry about their car being polished to perfection.

Catholics can think of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy in terms of offering a helping hand to strangers in need and, indeed, that’s very important.”

He, and my daughter-in-law, take a great interest in the extended family. Their place has become the fun hangout spot for younger siblings and nieces, nephews and grandchildren. It was a surprise party venue for my 18-year-old daughter and always a welcoming home-from-home for any family member who drops in. There’s no way to put a price on the assistance offered by older siblings, aunts, uncles and grandparents who provide much needed support to other struggling members of their families. I always valued the ongoing care that both my mother and father gave to my two eldest sons when I had to go back into the paid workplace for a few years to try to save for a house.

I already felt conflicted about leaving them, but knowing that they would be getting the love and care of devoted grandparents alleviated my fears and worries. When my mother died at the relatively young age of 68 years old, my father, while dealing with his own grief, always enjoyed spending time with his grandchildren, being a mentor and voice of wisdom for my all of them and for my nephew, who lived with him, always ready to drop everything when called upon to help in a crisis.

Catholics can think of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy in terms of offering a helping hand to strangers in need and, indeed, that’s very important. We may fail to see that in our very own family circle there are those in need of our aid. A lot of young people suffer from depression or severe anxiety. An understanding uncle or caring aunt can be a shoulder to cry on when no one else seems to understand.

One of my sisters, who lives less than five minutes away, has been an invaluable support especially to my three daughters. I often wonder how she never tires of constantly being called on during one crisis or another but she seems to have endless patience and forbearance. I think it’s actually a good example of Christian virtue which is the greatest gift of all that these generous relatives impart. Not having children themselves or having grown up children leaves them free to become spiritual mothers and fathers, using their gifts and talents to love, nurture and encourage children to grow closer to God.

Godparents have a particularly vital role, being involved in the faith journey of their godchildren and assisting busy parents with passing on the faith. What a privileged role to have played some small part in this great task. St John Bosco, an Italian Catholic priest who worked with street children, is a great role model for those who are influential in a child or children’s lives saying that “without confidence and love, there can be no real education.” He believed that “everyone is won by the sweetness of our words and works”, a great message for any family member whose words and work bring such solace and hope to all the children whose lives they touch.