Obstacles for youth and the joys of young love

Obstacles for youth and the joys of young love
A Parent’s Perspective

I’ve detected an increasing sense of despondency and dismay with the realisation that any chance of life going back to normal seems a long way off. My daughter was watching an anime film recently; its themes of love and romance made her sad because she said it just reminded her of her own loneliness. In her former pre-Covid life, she was beginning to stretch her wings; she loved céilí dancing and was attending a college of further education in Dublin. She really liked going to see a film, her trumpet classes, visiting art galleries and mountain walks.

She has a passionate interest in classical music and particularly Chopin. She didn’t go in the end, a decision she now regrets”

After many years of home education, she was expanding her horizons. Like a lot of young Catholics, she liked the camaraderie and sense of solidarity she found in events like Youth 2000 retreats or Nightfever, an initiative which involved teams of young people going out into the streets and inviting people into a church to light a candle and pray. Like her older brothers and sister before her, it’s likely that she would have planned to travel abroad to one of the Catholic youth festivals or maybe to just see a new country and experience new sights and sounds. Her dream is to visit Japan and, a few short months before there was any mention of a deadly virus, she had been discussing a possible trip to Warsaw in Poland to visit the Frederic Chopin Museum. She has a passionate interest in classical music and particularly Chopin. She didn’t go in the end, a decision she now regrets.

My daughter’s story is just one of many. Young people’s lives are on hold which is unfortunate, but these are the sacrifices we’ve all had to make. It’s tough that at the moment there are no concerts, late night chats in cafés, pantomimes or picnics. Nothing much can be planned for at present but it’s not the lack of different experiences that is the real tragedy. At the heart of the very real sense of loss and desolation is the lack of human contact. My 21-year-old was very emotional recently looking at some old footage of a music festival, something that’s hard to even imagine now. Those of us fortunate enough to be happily married have a spouse to help us through the tough times and still have the benefit of something as simple as a hug when we feel down. For our poor adult children living at home there isn’t even the possibility of a date or a dinner invitation, no shy smiles across a crowded room or the joy of young love. Even making friends or maintaining present friendships isn’t the easiest with so many limitations on our children’s freedom right now. All the great saints of the Church and holy men and women put a huge emphasis on friendship as the sweet honey that makes life bearable. St Maximilian Kolbe, that great Polish saint, who gave his life in Auschwitz to save a stranger said “God sends us friends to be our firm support in the whirlpool of struggle. In the company of friends we will find strength to attain our sublime ideal.”

With Easter approaching, the last days of Lent might be a good time to resolve to work on being a good friend or making a new friend and encouraging our children to do the same. I think with extended lockdowns and families more confined to home, a lockdown can become a lockout. We know we miss others but it’s easy to get cosy in our confinement and become a bit inward-looking and insular. Even with severe restrictions, there are ways to reach out. With existing friends and family, try to go the extra mile with phone calls, letters and little acts of kindness. We all love our schedules and value our family time but should be flexible enough to make the time when we’re called upon. The dinner, housework or homework can wait-maybe that person ringing at an inconvenient time is suffering badly and feeling isolated and is dying to hear a friendly voice. Social media is great but there are a few caveats. A lonely or shy child, teenager or young adult can expect too much from Facebook, Instagram or other platforms and end up feeling even more isolated.

To gain a friend, you have to be a friend and people can soon sense irritability or indifference”

A message that’s not responded to; a perception that other young people have more friends or are doing great despite the limitations, or even online bullying can lead to a huge amount of distress. On the plus side, there is a great community aspect to many of the online events and initiatives. I was amazed at a Dominican-run ‘33 Days for St Joseph’ that attracted over 400 people on some evenings with men, women and children of all ages. There are many smaller Zoom events that include a chat element; another great way to make friends. Churches are still open for private prayer so even if you only wave at a friend from afar, at least make the effort.

To gain a friend, you have to be a friend and people can soon sense irritability or indifference. Be kind, be creative and bring to your prayer the words from the Book of Sirach – “A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter; he that has found one has found a treasure”. Let’s not underestimate the value of kind, caring friends and always pray that our children find the comfort of such good companions.