A Catholic Convert in Ottawa

Posts Tagged ‘parenting

At Mass on Sunday, the priest filling in for our pastor talked about Mother’s Day and about the fact that parenthood is a lifetime job—not something we can simply walk away from.

Makes it seems pretty daunting, doesn’t it? It should. Being a parent is more than a job.

Parenthood, like marriage, is something we shouldn’t enter into lightly. No matter how old our children are, we still want to protect and care for them just as we did when they were infants and we were their whole world. But the larger their world grows, the more we realize how limited our ability to protect and care for them really is.

grad photo

My son and I after his Grade 8 graduation ceremony two years ago

I speak from experience. My son recently turned 16, and while we still play a guiding role in his life, his world is so much bigger than this house and the people in it.

We need to pray every day for guidance in being good role models for our children in our work, family, community and faith lives. For the courage to answer the hard questions they bring us and the resourcefulness to find the answers we lack. For the strength to model and instil in them values like honesty, integrity, empathy and compassion and to support them, whether or not we agree with their choices. For patience when they question our decisions and compassion when they make mistakes.

A tall order, it’s true, but one that God can fill through the Spirit.

Whether we’re married, divorced or single parents, we all need parenting resources to draw on. Instead of looking only to family and friends, parenting books or programs, and counsellors, I pray that we would also look to our heavenly Father and ask him to increase in us the spiritual gifts and the values we need to raise our children. May we remember these words of Jesus in Matthew 7:7-8*:

“Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.”

(*Scripture quote taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, 2nd Catholic Edition.)

Remember the story of Sisyphus from Greek mythology? As a punishment for his lying and trickery, he was forced to roll a huge boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll back down—over and over again for eternity.

Sometimes we might feel like we’re pushing that boulder, trying to deal with a huge problem that we don’t think we’ll conquer before we run out of steam—our children’s acting-out behaviour, the struggle to find a good job, relationship problems, or even a bad habit that we just can’t break.

We can start to feel discouraged, defeated, even broken.

We won’t find our strength in other people, although we may welcome their active listening and support. We won’t find it in hobbies or physical activity, although they may help us relax. And we won’t find it in comfort food or cigarettes or caffeine or alcohol or compulsive rituals.

But as followers of Christ, we have a faithful source of strength to draw on to help us keep going, as we read in Isaiah 40:28-29*:

The LORD is the everlasting God,

the Creator of the ends of the earth.

He does not faint or grow weary,

his understanding is unsearchable.

He gives power to the faint,

and to him who has no might he increases strength.

When my son was a little boy, he was full of energy and ready to push boundaries and test rules. Children don’t come with an instruction manual, and so I was learning as I went along—and I was tired. Often, at the end of the day, I would ask God to give me strength and help me be a good parent. As I look back, I can see that God has never failed to strengthen me to take on the next day’s parenting challenges.

Whatever obstacles we may be facing in our lives, we need to remember that nothing is too hard for the Lord:

  • When Sarah doubted she would be able to have a child, the Lord asked Abraham, “Is anything too hard for the LORD?” (Genesis 18:14) And in their old age, Sarah and Abraham had a son (see Genesis 21:1-7).
  • When Jeremiah wondered how he could be sure that the people of Israel would return from exile, God asked him, “Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh; is anything too hard for me?” (Jeremiah 32:27) And Israel returned from exile, as we read in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah.
  • When those who heard it would be difficult for the rich to enter the kingdom of God wondered who could be saved, Jesus told them, “What is impossible with men is possible with God” (Luke 18:27).

May we always remember that no challenge is too great for God to walk through with us and that he will hold us up when we are weak.

(T)hey who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength,

they shall mount up with wings like eagles,

they shall run and not be weary,

they shall walk and not faint.

~ Isaiah 40:31

(*Scripture quotes taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, 2nd Catholic Edition.)





The first grey or white hair.

The first laugh lines.

Income tax deadlines.

Weight gain.

Things can creep up on us until, with a shock, we notice them. But then that’s true of good things, too, like warmer weather and longer days, plants beginning to sprout in the garden, or a child’s fifteenth birthday.

Yes, my son recently had a birthday. As I said to my mother in an e-mail, “Can you believe that your baby’s baby is 15?”

When he was a colicky baby, or a toddler throwing tantrums, the days could seem pretty long, and I wondered whether I’d make it till he was grown up. No other challenge I’d faced could measure up to the challenge of parenting.

football warmup

My son warming up for a football game last fall

I can hardly believe that I’m the mother of a high school student who needs to shave regularly and can beat his dad at basketball.

Of course there are challenging times now and ahead of us: grumpy mornings, discussions about homework, the prospect of another driver in the house (less than a year away, my son has taken to reminding me). But I wonder whether I sometimes miss the small blessings while caught up in the day-to-day details.

When children are young, there are so many firsts to be thankful for: the first smile, laugh, step and word; the first haircut and first day of school; the first game or recital. We fill albums, real or virtual, with photos of every big or small moment. As they get older, the more gradual changes may pass almost unnoticed. And then, one day, we’re driving in the car, talking about dating or university or racism or the environment, and we realize this child is nearly a grown man or woman.

I pray we would notice and give thanks for the ways we are blessed each day that our children are part of our lives—and that we would share these blessings with our children.

Every good endowment and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

~ James 1:17*

(*Scripture quote taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition.)

My teen years are long behind me, but I clearly remember the challenges of dealing with body changes and emotions, maintaining good grades, keeping up friendships, choosing a career, and generally trying to make good choices.

Although I was blessed with supportive parents, some close friends, and great teachers, being a teenager was hard. As the parent of a 14-year-old, I know it still is.

Why would we choose to make it harder on our youth by shaming them?

Over the past few years, I’ve seen many stories about parents who forced their teens to wear sandwich boards stating what they did wrong, or who posted messages on Facebook detailing their teens’ transgressions. When did shaming become one of the tools in a “good parenting” toolkit?

Yes, our teens may make some bad decisions, and we have to deal with the results. But that shouldn’t mean shining a spotlight on those choices so those in our community and beyond can applaud us for our “tough love” stance or be entertained at our children’s expense.

These verses from the epistles of Paul caution us against taking such an approach to raising our youth:

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:4*)

Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged. (Colossians 3:21)

We need to throw shaming and guilt trips out of our toolkits. We’d do better to educate our children about forgiveness, unconditional love, patience, and compassion through our words and actions. To raise them in the faith. To teach them to make good decisions when we’re not around. To catch them in the act of doing good by helping around the home, working hard on schoolwork, showing a commitment to their extracurricular activities, and putting into action the values we’ve instilled in them.

If we’re looking for parenting advice, I pray that we would turn away from the shame-and-blame stories and look instead to fellow parents (and grandparents) raising their children in the faith, to the scriptures and the Catechism, and most of all to God in prayer.

(*Scripture quotes taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition.)








heart institute

Visit the University of Ottawa Heart Institute’s website for heart-healthy advice.

When I was growing up, there weren’t that many overweight people. So those of us carrying extra weight stood out.

Now, with our supersized, over-salted, over-sugared food, more and more North Americans are overweight, as Dr. Andrew Pipe of the University of Ottawa Heart Institute discussed on 1310 News this morning.

At the same time, eating disorders are on the rise, particularly among girls aged 10 to 19, as the Canadian Institute for Health Information reported last week.

Even though we know that we need to eat more healthfully—such as by choosing more whole grains, fruit and vegetables and by cutting back on sugar and salt—our often-on-the-go lives make it a challenge to improve our diet and pass on healthy eating habits to our children.

If rising levels of obesity and eating disorders don’t motivate us to make changes, maybe we should look into our family medical history to see whether heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes are less than rare. And consider s. 2228 of the Catechism:

Parents’ respect and affection are expressed by the care and attention they devote to bringing up their young children and providing for their physical and spiritual needs.

Shouldn’t providing for our children’s physical needs include helping them develop a healthy relationship with food? I’ve struggled with this for much of my life, and I don’t want my son to do the same.

A new school year can be a great time to make a fresh start in our relationship with food:

  • Bring our own lunches. Homemade lunches are cheaper and healthier in the long run and don’t have to be boring: during back-to-school sales, I saw collapsible bento boxes and salad containers with sections for all the fixings so the salad is fresh at lunchtime.
  • Shine a spotlight on seasonal produce. In this area, fall is prime time for apples and squash. Kids might be willing to try a new variety if they’ve picked it or helped prepare it.
  • Pick up something new at the grocery store or try a new food at a cultural festival. Lately I’ve been trying one new grocery item each week and sampling foods I’ve never tried at cultural fairs. Varying our diet can help keep boredom from setting in—and thus help keep fast food from seeming more appealing.
  • Teach our children and youth how to shop and cook. If they know where to find healthy food at the store and how to prepare it, they won’t be at a loss when they live on their own and have to cook for themselves. Preparing meals together can be good family time, too.
  • Eat at the table as a family and say grace at meals. We’re more likely to eat more slowly and connect with one another when we’re not distracted by TV, cell phones, and so on. And we can remember to be thankful that we have food on the table when many families must choose between household expenses and food. Which brings me to my last point…
  • Donate to the local food bank. With lower donation levels in summer, food bank shelves need restocking. We need to remember those who struggle to put food on the table and teach our children to do the same, maybe by having them choose several cans or a few dollars’ worth of food to donate and letting them place the items in the donation bin. Or by collecting items from grocery store donation bins to deliver to the food bank (possibly another way for high school students to earn some of their volunteer hours).

I pray that those struggling with weight issues would find the support needed to reach a healthy weight and that God would guide us in helping our families develop a healthy relationship with food.

Since my son’s birth, people have been telling me that he looks a lot like me. But his interests are much closer to his dad’s than mine: movies with car chases and explosions, extremely chocolaty desserts, sports of all kinds. When my son and I do find a common interest, like music, it helps us relate to each other better.

And so today, at barely 10 a.m., my house was filled with the sound of acoustic drums.

On a break from piano for the summer, my son had his first drum lesson last night. I enjoy a quiet house in the mornings—I’m really not a morning person—but his willingness to practice trumps that, and I hope the enthusiasm lasts.

Even before he started drum lessons, my son saw some teens playing a tambourine and maracas during the closing song at Mass one week and commented that he’d like to play drums with the band. Our music leader told me he could play a djembe with the closing song sometime. A small thing, but one that shows he understands something important about teens in church: they need to feel included and involved. And that means helping them find a way to use their talents.

How can we get our teens more involved in the life of the parish? We can help them identify talents they could use to serve the church:

  • Teens who are great with kids: We could encourage them to use their “kid whisperer” skills by assisting with the children’s liturgy or leading children’s activities at a parish picnic, movie night, or vacation Bible camp. Especially since volunteers for children’s ministry are too few and far between.
  • Teens who like drama or public speaking: We could encourage them to use their ability to project their voice and speak clearly by serving as lectors. It’s wonderful to hear Bible passages read clearly and not too quickly or too slowly.
  • Teens who enjoy the visual arts: We could encourage them to use their appreciation for colour and space by helping to decorate the church (getting all our senses involved in worship), set up the hall for special events, or create displays for parish activities.
  • Teens who are tech savvy: We could encourage them to put their tech skills to work by preparing and running slides (for churches that use a projector) or updating and improving the parish website. Volunteers for these duties tend to be scarce.
  • Teens who love music: We could encourage them to put their appreciation for music to work by joining the band, writing their own worship songs, or staying on the lookout for new hymns and praise songs to keep the music ministry fresh.
  • Teens who are outgoing: We could encourage them to use their ease in social situations by serving as greeters—a ministry whose value I think we underestimate. Visitors and newcomers feel far more comfortable and welcome when the first face they see is a friendly one.
  • Teens who have good organizational skills: We could encourage them to help in the parish office over the summer, prepare ministry schedules (for greeters, lectors, Eucharistic ministers, and so on), or organize items in storage (such as books for First Eucharist and RCIA, office supplies, or even the parish kitchen).

In parishes like mine where the youth ministry is still under construction, young people may feel attending Mass is something they have to do or, sadly, get through. But if we can help them recognize their gifts and identify areas where they could put them to use, our youth may find joy in serving the parish and the Lord.

I don’t like April Fools’ Day.

What I dislike is the practical jokes and pranks that go with April Fools’ Day. The “Kick Me” signs, the fake news headlines, the storytelling to see just how gullible someone is before the joker says, “April Fools’,” leaving the other person feeling stupid and embarrassed.

Please don’t think that I’m a humourless, sour-faced woman. I have a healthy, if slightly warped, sense of humour and a loud laugh. (Well, it’s louder than I’d like it to be.)

I can laugh at the antics of clumsy puppies and kittens. Strange but true news stories I hear on the radio. Jokes the priest tells during his homily. Monsters vs. Aliens. The funny things children say, like when my then-preschooler son was acting up during a grocery run and his response to my scolding was to wish that I had a hundred naughty children.

The Redemptorist priest who recently visited my parish told us a woman once complained about his telling jokes during a mission because there was no place for laughter in church. I guess she wouldn’t appreciate the times at my church when the priest has gotten an answer from a child that made the rest of the congregation laugh, or when a little boy kept walking up and down the side aisles shaking people’s hands because he really enjoyed sharing the sign of peace, or when babies shrieked at a moment that seemed like an “Amen!” to a point in the homily.

I think humour and laughter are gifts from God. If they weren’t part and parcel of what it means to be human, why would even babies snort and gurgle and eventually laugh? Read the rest of this entry »

The province of Ontario marks Family Day today. A holiday created because…well, probably because there was no holiday this month. Family Day is supposed to bring families together.

One day is not going to cut it.

Despite our culture’s debate about the value of “quality time,” my experiences as a parent tell me the quantity of time we spend with our kids is underrated. Study after study shows that kids are more likely to thrive if they have a good relationship with their parents. And relationships take time.

The Catechism has a lot to say about families, including the following:

The family is the community in which, from childhood, one can learn moral values, begin to honour God and make good use of freedom. Family life is an initiation into life in society. (s. 2207)

Parents have the mission of teaching their children to pray and to discover their vocation as children of God. (s. 2226)

Thinking about my childhood, it’s not just special occasions that come to mind; it’s things like sitting down to meals together, shopping with my mom for back-to-school clothes, and getting help from my dad with geometry. The time my parents spent with me gave them the chance to share their values and beliefs with me and teach me important life skills.

If we reserve family time for a special day, opportunities to teach our kids values, share our faith with them, guide them in discovering their vocation, and prepare them for life on their own will pass us by.

We can keep our families strong by regularly spending time doing everyday things together. And family time doesn’t have to cost a fortune. Here are some examples from our house. Read the rest of this entry »

On an average day, parenting a teen or preteen is challenging, especially since this is a highly tech-savvy generation. Even young children have access to MP3 players, tablets and smartphones today—and they know how to use them.

Since my son bought his MP3 player last year, he’s become very interested in downloading music and apps; he’s also an avid video gamer, and movie night is a common event at our house. As you can imagine, we often disagree about what is appropriate for him to listen to, play or watch.

Video gamer

My son (then about 8) playing video games

It’s our job to “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6, Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition), but how much thought do we give to whether the media our children consume reflect our beliefs and values as Catholics?

We need to decide carefully what we’re willing to let our children listen to, watch or play. But if you’re not familiar with the artists, games or movies your child is interested in, where do you find help?

Read the rest of this entry »

On Sunday we celebrated the feast of the Baptism of the Lord. As a mother, my thoughts go to my son’s baptism in July 2000, when he joined the Body of Christ at the tender age of three months.

Wearing a christening cap and gown my mother made from my grandmother’s wedding dress and embroidered with his initials, my son slept through most of the service. He stirred only when the minister anointed him with holy water in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

For several years my son didn’t come to church—he didn’t want to be left in the nursery and wouldn’t sit quietly without kicking (yes, kicking) the pew ahead of us—but we talked about God and read him Bible stories. When he was in kindergarten, he started attending Sunday school. Faith in God has always been part of his life.

Fast forward to 2011, when we began attending a Catholic church. I made sure my son had and knew how to use some “standard equipment”: a Catholic edition of the Bible, a rosary and, more recently, a copy of the YOUCAT. He wanted a prayer corner in his room so, among other things, we’ve added a cross with Philippians 4:13 printed on it.

Of course one challenge is getting him to fully participate in the Mass. Read the rest of this entry »

Food for Thought

(Y)ou do not know about tomorrow. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and we shall do this or that.” ~ James 4:14-15

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