My three-year-old daughter, Hazel, has had a rough couple of days. She has been a little more sullen and moody than usual, and my mommy instincts have been warning me that perhaps there is something disturbing her physical well-being in a way that I just can’t quite diagnose.
Despite her rather volatile temperament, Hazel, Henry, and I decided to head out to playgroup this morning, hoping that a change of scenery would cheer both of us up after two days of riding an emotional roller coaster. As a mom, my children’s pain is my pain, and it’s difficult not to spend every waking moment searching for the secret to their interior peace when something is so clearly causing them distress. My fear that I somehow wasn’t the mother that Hazel needed me to be combined with a feeling of walking on eggshells lest I trigger a sudden tantrum had left me emotionally drained and physically exhausted.
We were the first people to arrive at our destination, and Hazel played happily enough by herself alongside her little brother, Henry, but it was near the end of the morning that the real transformation occurred. She suddenly decided to accept a little boy’s invitation to play with him, and I watched them fall into a rhythm together as they shared their toys and played joyfully in a world that only the two of them could see. It was as if, before my very eyes, she became more like herself again simply because she found someone she could relate to in this moment in time–someone who could give her exactly what she needed in order to rediscover her usual pleasant personality.
I realized that my worry that I wasn’t giving her what she needed over the last couple of days was unfounded. I’ve been giving her everything a mother can give, when what she really needed was something only another like-minded three-year-old could give–someone who could play with her and relate to her in her world, and with whom she could reciprocate that specific type of companionship.
The Theology of the Body teaches us that we are all unique and unrepeatable beings who were created for relationship. It seems to follow logically that this results in an infinite number of unique and unrepeatable relationships in this world, all of which contribute to our ability to fully realize who God created us to be. It is in the reciprocal self donation of the different relationships in our lives that we are able to reveal the many facets of our own personality.
“The Lord Jesus, when he prayed to the Father ‘that all may be one…as we are one’ (Jn 17:21-22), opened up vistas closed to human reason. For he implied a certain likeness between the union of the divine Persons and the union of God’s children in truth and charity. This likeness reveals that man who is the only creature on earth which God willed for its own sake, cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of self.” (Guadium et Spes)
This idea of fully finding ourselves through a sincere gift of self leads me to reflect on exactly how I am teaching my children to relate to the people God has placed in their lives. Rather than only focusing on how to respond in a virtuous way in a given situation, I am prodded to encourage them to take this a step further and ask, “How does God want me to give a gift of my own unique self to this person or circumstance?” or “What is something special that only I can do to love this person or make this situation better?”
As parents, we all want our children to be happy. But we are only truly happy when we are fulfilling God’s calling with every fiber of our being. It is through exploring our talents with prayerful discernment that we are able to determine how those abilities should be used to serve God by serving others. It is when we surrender ourselves to the glory of God by returning His gifts to Him with limitless generosity that we reach a point of self-realization, or complete knowledge, acceptance, and peace with who God created us to be.
So how do we teach our children that their worth is so great and their unique personality traits so special that they have the ability to infinitely bless others and praise God simply by being who they are? As parents, we must strive to get to know them better than they know themselves. We can only achieve this by spending time with them. Lots of time. Not hovering or smothering, but putting in the time at every opportunity that arises. Our children want us to watch their sports events and concerts. They want to have “dates” with Mom and Dad. Younger children, especially, deeply crave our attention: it’s their way of saying, “Please help me figure out who I am and what I am doing in this overwhelming world.”
We need to observe our children in various settings, taking note of their personal strengths and weaknesses. When they come to us with a problem, we can teach them to call upon the Holy Spirit for wisdom before speaking or acting. In this way, they will develop the habit of always seeking God’s voice first in this often noisy and confusing world so that they might hear directly from Him how each relationship can bring out the virtues and abilities with which He specifically blessed them.
Lately I’ve been observing my children especially closely as we read scripture, pray, and discuss moral dilemmas together. Being the unique and unrepeatable people that they are, I’ve come to realize that their individual qualities will affect their personal relationship with God as well. One of my children is more logically minded and accepts the teachings of God and the Church simply because they’re “the rules”. Another child gets caught up in pondering the mysteries of the Church and how great God is that He can work such miracles. I hope to encourage them to continue to develop their relationship with God in their own unique way, even if it is different from mine. It is only through this close personal connection with God that they will fall in love with Him enough to embrace His guidance and grace through the doctrines of the Church.
And when they fall in love with God enough to embrace all that He asks of them, to give a sincere gift of themselves to Him in all that they do and in every relationship they enter into, I will be able to send them into the world with confidence that they know exactly who they are and will be forever filled with the joy of giving.