Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Monday, April 23, 2018

My mother always said the greatest crosses come from your family, and I would usually nod hesitantly, wondering whether she was referring to me. "It’s not possible," I concluded.

However, after many years’ struggling unsuccessfully to be a good father, I think she was on to something because I’ve seen the emotional pain that can come from parents who are estranged from their children. Sometimes we find it easier to forgive complete strangers than our own family members.

Parenthood comes with a high price tag, and I’ve met parents who are downright unhappy because of their kids – kids in all shapes and sizes, from toddlers to teenagers and 20-somethings and older. (I suspect there is an equally high number of kids who would like to trade in their parents.)

Most of the time, I love my kids and wouldn’t do anything differently even if I could. I think. I hope. Who knows?

Nevertheless, I’m worried by a recent study that suggests mothers and fathers play a mind game with themselves by exaggerating the so-called joys of parenthood in order to justify the costs of childrearing, which can top $300,000 when you factor in diapers, car insurance, torn jeans, body piercing, junk food and tuition.

Researchers at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, who published their findings in Psychological Science, concluded that "as the costs of raising children have grown, so too, have parents’ belief that parenthood is emotionally rewarding." Their study showed that the high price of raising kids leads us to idealize the joys of parenthood as a rationalization for all the money we’ve spent.

Apparently, we do the same thing when we buy a pricey car that turns out to be a clunker or a house that’s a money pit. No one wants to admit costly bad decisions.

Another study in Great Britain concluded that young married couples without children had the happiest relationships of anyone; but when the baby arrived, the relationship started to sour, and couples with preschoolers were the unhappiest of all.

In the olden days, children were considered a necessity because they supported the family either by working or caring for aging parents, and back then, there was no such thing as the "emotional joys of parenthood."

All this leads me to conclude that before entering the phase of life called childrearing, parents should assess the ROI, or Return on Investment. That’s hard to do with toddlers, but a savvy parent would be wise to have legal agreements drafted by the time their offspring reach 16 that make sure they’ll provide senior care in later years, not to mention a hot meal and a nice inlaw apartment.

From my mother, I learned that parenthood should come with some payback because on more occasions than I could count, she would say to me: "After all I did for you …"

It wasn’t that she was looking for something in return, but she sure went out of her way to let me know that I’d better do what she wanted. Somehow, I don’t have the same control over my kids.

The best parenting advice I’ve ever seen was written in 180 B.C., long before all the books and manuals and classes. In the Book of Sirach, the suggestions for a lasting and loving relationship were simple and straightforward:

Children, pay heed to a father’s right; do so that you may live.

For the LORD sets a father in honor over his children; a mother’s authority he confirms over her sons.

He who honors his father atones for sins; he stores up riches who reveres his mother.

He who honors his father is gladdened by children, and when he prays he is heard.

He who reveres his father will live a long life; he obeys the LORD who brings comfort to his mother.

He who fears the LORD honors his father, and serves his parents as rulers.

In word and deed honor your father that his blessing may come upon you;

For a father’s blessing gives a family firm roots, but a mother’s curse uproots the growing plant ….

My son, take care of your father when he is old; grieve him not as long as he lives.

Even if his mind fail, be considerate with him; revile him not in the fullness of your strength.

For kindness to a father will not be forgotten, it will serve as a sin offering – it will take lasting root.

In time of tribulation it will be recalled to your advantage, like warmth upon frost it will melt away your sins.

And all of us could benefit from the kindness and compassion that melt away sins.

 

J.F. Pisani is a writer who lives with his family in the New Haven area.