A father and his young son got on the train headed for Manhattan, but all was not going well at 6:47 in the morning. They were quarreling from the moment they sat down.
Father: I asked you four times not to do that, but you ignored me, and I’m getting angry.
Son: (Defiant silence.)
Father: If I ever did that to my father, he would have whacked me.
Son: (Very defiant silence.)
Father: I’m going to ask you one more time ...
How often have you heard that exchange? I started to cringe and considered moving to another seat. Public parenting disputes always make me uncomfortable, especially when they’re happening in the next seat. They remind me of that feeling of helplessness you get when your son or daughter is ignoring you or making you look like an embarrassment.
I never figured out what the son did or didn’t do, but I tried to help by silently begging the Holy Spirit to intervene so they could sort out the situation, because sometimes — oftentimes — family crises can’t be solved without heavenly assistance. Then I put in my earplugs and listened to some very loud Mozart.
Parenting is the only vocation where you can try your absolute hardest and come away feeling like an absolute failure — and not know what you did wrong. I guess it comes with the territory. Once upon a time, my mother uttered that familiar curse heard by kids all over the world: “I hope you have kids just like you!” Guess what? Her wish was granted.
My four daughters, who used to think they had all the answers about parenting, now have to confront their own inadequacies dealing with my grandchildren. They once insisted that all you had to do was “reason” with an unruly child and he’d see the truth and come around. Maybe if his name is Plato.
Raising kids isn’t that easy. Like most parents, I occasionally lie awake, critiquing my performance. Was I too easy? Was I too hard? Did I give them too much? Did I give them too little? Did I praise them too much? Did I praise them too little?
After weighing all the factors, I reach the same conclusion: I wasn’t the best, but I was better than the rest. I can sympathize with every father who ever was blamed for doing a less than perfect job, because parenting can be a thankless endeavor, and sometimes you do the best you can with the tools you have.
I still remember the day my oldest daughter complained that her friend’s father was a doofus, and I tried to use the occasion to get some well-deserved praise for the good job I did, so, in all fearlessness, I asked, “What kind of father was I?”
Without hesitation, she grumbled, “All right, I guess.” So much for inflating my ego. If I asked her for a letter grade, it would have probably been C- or D+.
There are plenty of success stories, though.
Whether you have one kid or nine, there’s a simple formula for success, and everything will all work out if you follow it, despite the turmoil and problems. Good parenting requires love, patience and prayer, more patience, even more prayer and even more love. I should also mention the importance of forgiveness and trusting completely in God, because everything will work out for the best if you turn your children’s care over to him.
Pray for your children, pray with your children, pray for yourself and pray that any mistakes you make are rectified by God’s love, because God can make the impossible possible ... even for parents.
Joe Pisani of Orange is a writer whose work has appeared in Catholic publications nationwide. He and his wife Sandy have four daughters.