God chose YOU, with your mind, abilities, messy house, love handles, pretty lips, no time, YOU, to be the stand-in for Him, the shepherdess if you will, that will lead these precious souls back to Him.
by Hope Schneir
One thing I’ve noticed in our generation is a rapid decline of parents who understand what it actually means to parent, and a corresponding incline of parents who seem to be born into said parenthood, with invisible handcuffs. I don’t want to be snarky toward these people; most sincerely love their children and are well-meaning, I’m sure. It’s just that I repeatedly see a cultural shift away from the strong, apron-wearing mothers who sleep with one eye open and know the value of fresh air and hard work, toward the indulgent, shoulder shrugging weak women who are too busy checking their own Instagram to pay attention to what their teenage daughters may be posting.
I’m here to tell you that Woman, you can do better. We all can. And it’s not too late.
The culture is STRONG, (don’t we know it) and we are in uncharted waters with iPhones in almost every pocket, (young and old), which at worst brings sexual addictions, horribly inappropriate conduct, and at best, a dopamine addiction (what basically every smartphone user has to a greater or lesser degree). Divorce rates are up, parents are busy, kids are lonely, and most have the internet, unlimited, inescapable, at their fingertips. This is having a devastating effect on our youth, and it’s time we muster up a bit of a militant mindset regarding the fact that our most precious jewels are on a sinking ship, and it may take heavy infantry to reclaim them.
The reality is stark, the future is bleak... it’s enough to make me want to drink a whole bottle of wine and blow my nose and go to bed. Yet it has dawned on me: I can’t change the world, I can’t change the culture at large, but I can change my world. Pretty much the only thing I can control in life, is that which I am obliged to, namely, to make my four walls the best they can be, protect my family, and raise them as well as I am able. Yes, the only thing a woman can change is her kingdom.
You know you are a queen, right? God chose YOU, with your mind, abilities, (and lack of abilities), messy house, love handles, pretty lips, no time, YOU (!), to be the stand-in for Him, the shepherdess if you will, that will lead these precious souls back to Him. That is your first and only goal, and you’ve got to give it all you’ve got. You are the queen of your 1,200 square foot apartment, or farmhouse, or wigwam, and you need to fasten yourself a scepter from a leftover paper towel roll and begin your reign. Do not let the culture dictate the rules of your house, and compromise the dignity of your family. Read up. Think about the families you admire, and work towards creating your own purposeful family culture. Every family is meant to look different of course, and what is good for the goose is not always good for the gander. Your job is not to look like the perfect Catholic family next door, but to be the best version of what you (and your husband) can offer. We need to lead by example, but also encourage our children to be even BETTER than we are. So, it’s time to reclaim your rights, while you still have them. A few things to note here:
You may need to take away things that you had previously granted your kids. THIS IS OK. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that parents are the primary educators of their children. Anything that is a threat to your throne as the primary educator of your children, deserves death by hanging. Or at least a 4 week vacation on a desert island. It is your right, and your duty, to correct any wrongful practices that have sprung up (even if you consented to it for a time). Remember this corny bumper sticker? A woman is allowed to change her mind! Keep that phrase in your back pocket. Your people may not like it, but they will eventually get over it. You feed them and they are welcome to not eat if they don’t like living with you.
The best defense is a solid offense. Work to create a positive and unique family culture, and do this with your husband. Discuss with him what kind of family you want to have; think back on the things that you loved to do together when you first met, before life slapped you in the face. Maybe you have new ideas about things to share with each other and your children, either way, create a family identity that is known for its positivity, not its restrictions. We are a beach family… We are a musical family… We read a lot… We like to play sports…. We go camping every summer… We like to cook… fill in the blank! But above all… We are a Catholic family. We utilize the sacraments whenever possible. We know how to apologize to each other and to God. We celebrate the feasts, wear scapulars, love babies and the less fortunate. We look for the glory of God everywhere, and we find it. We use our gifts to serve others, we try to make sacrifices, and we labor to store up treasure in heaven, knowing that only there will our happiness be complete.
Talk to your kids about this family culture, and also about the restrictions that you need to make for their good. One line I stole from my own father is “When I go before God, I will be judged for how I did my best to raise you, during the short eighteen years I had you under my roof. This is not about you, this is about me, and wanting myself to get to Heaven.” I love this because not only is it true, it shifts the focus off of you being a power-hungry dictator, to just another sinner doing your best at the Mercy of God. Another great line I learned from the headmaster at our school: It’s not that I don’t trust you, It’s that I don’t trust human nature. The beloved disciple at the last supper asked “Surely, not I, Lord?” when Christ spoke of the one to betray Him. John shows that in his humility, he knew he was capable, as we all are. Given the right set of circumstances, any and all of us are prone to ruin, and it’s foolish to think we are somehow above normal human temptation.
Many of these thoughts come about because of a situation I’ve run into with my oldest son, over my rule of optional flip phones at 16, and no smart phones until 18. I realize many amazing families have varying opinions on this, and several families I know balance earlier phone use quite well, so nothing against that per se, I’ve just given it lots of thought and I’ve decided I don’t want to let my high-schoolers have them. I’m allowed to have that rule if I want to, regardless of what the rest of the world is doing!
I love that my teenage sons fawn over their baby sisters and not their IG feed, and I love that they can make friends with all sorts of cute girls without me having to worry about who they are, or if they are going to text them sexy photos later that day. I have too much to handle in my life to take on babysitting underage iPhone users, so I’m opting out, because that’s what my gut tells me to do, and mostly, because I’ve had such a difficult time navigating appropriate phone use in my own life, that I can’t expect a person without a fully developed brain to be capable of this near impossible task.
But naturally, my kids want them, particularly my oldest son, not for any malintent, but because that is the way most of his peers communicate. So we’ve had several intense conversations debating phone use, and my favorite of one of these conversations climaxed at “Well, if you want to give your kids iPhones at age 15, you totally can!”, to his reply “But I don’t want them to have iPhones! I want them to have flip phones!... But I still want an iPhone.” He smiled though he was frustrated, and I was grateful for a moment of victory in our conflict.
This conversation reoccurs every couple months, and it continues to be a point of struggle at times, but in a weird way it’s made us closer, and it’s been an empowering reminder to me that it is okay to raise your family against the status quo. Maybe you are against sleepovers. Maybe you want everyone take off their shoes when they go in your house. Those things are not my things, but I am in favor of parents who have rules, for God himself has rules with us, and it’s only out of love. I actually think that appropriate and reasonable rules will, surprisingly, make kids feel more loved.
Keeping teenage girls modest, (hard to do!), caring about how kids spend their free time and what they watch, read, and do, takes work and the actual interactions with your pouting, hormonal preteens and teens can be daunting. It’s not a stretch to say the world is against you. But let me remind you, Jesus Christ is for you, and so is human nature. Deep down, the ties that bind parent and child are stronger than any worldly inducement. And why? Because even deeper down, more than anything else, we all want to be loved, especially by our parents. The natural love that exists between parent and child (albeit at times strained or awkward) is true, and is the original and most primal of human loves. Even if it begets some strife, by setting restrictions and guidelines you are sending a message that you care, and conscious or subliminal, this message will eventually get through.
If your kids do have smartphones, make sure that you and your spouse are forming their souls more than their phones are. If you are worried that’s not the case, it’s your right and duty as a parent to rectify the situation, and by that I mean take it away (and not just for an hour) while they still live under your roof and eat your food. One woman I know was so mad about an incident of deceit around her son’s phone, she threw it out the car window into a snowbank as they were driving on the freeway. Isn’t that so righteous!?! It’s easy for a woman to darn a vulgar pink hat and pledge rebellion against a country that protects her, it’s harder for a woman to actually rebel against a culture that is pulling our families apart and our children into the dark. Whatever the direction you discern your family is called to go, regardless of the cultural tide, be daring and strong enough to follow that.
Originally published in Soul Gardening Journal.