Managing the growing chorus of opinions
As our children get older, the number of voiced opinions under our roof seems to be growing exponentially by the day.
Blessing 1 wants to listen to one particular kind of music; Blessing 2, another; Blessing 3 points. Blessing 1 wants to watch one particular TV show; Blessing 2, another; Blessing 3 screeches. Blessing 1 wants to play with a particular toy; Blessing 2 inevitably wants to play with the same toy; Blessing 3 tackles and attempts to eat said toy.
What we eat, when we go to the grocery store, which playground we visit, who gets to hold the phone during grandparent FaceTime, how long is bathtime, how short is bedtime, which four snacks must be consumed in 30 minutes, how much dinner is enough dinner, how much dessert is too little dessert, how many crayons/Legos/marbles/playing cards need to be poured out on the floor in order to achieve a satisfactory playtime experience -- in all things, there is a constant flurry of various points of view, all stemming less from a desire to achieve the common good and more from the individual will. (Parents sometimes included.)
"So. Many. Opinions." I find myself frequently remarking to my husband. It's wonderful, of course. We wouldn't change a thing. But, boy, the dynamics of decision-making in our home have drastically changed over the past six years. And, inevitably, tears flow or tempers flare when opinions differ. In other words, we live in a community.
-- Helping your domestic church
Managing this community -- primarily the points at which authoritarian rule necessarily trumps spirited democracy -- is a constant balancing act, as every community leader knows. With this in mind, I went looking for some ground rules for our domestic church. And I ended up, interestingly enough, doing a deep dive into the Vatican's proposed "attitudes for participating in the synodal process," released in the September 2021 official handbook of the Synod on Synodality. Thinking about them in the context of a domestic church was an interesting exercise. Several resulting ideas, based on principles from the handbook, are as follows:
-- Take time for sharing, with honesty and courage at its roots. We should encourage our little ones to speak from their hearts, sharing their opinions and their reasons for those opinions. They should not be dismissed because they are little.
-- Listen to one another with humble hearts. Once we invite our children to speak, we owe them the dignity of our undivided attention. Put phones down, remove AirPods, look our little ones in the eyes.
-- Redefine winning. For example, we should try not to simply declare a "no" to snacks, but also a "yes" to an earlier dinner, mindful of small, hungry tummies.
-- Be open to conversion and change. Perhaps our kids have a point that we parents haven't considered. Maybe they have a suggestion that might enhance family life. Parents should seek to be open to a shift in our own, sometimes narrow or self-centered, thinking.
At the same time, as is true in the context of the universal church, we know there are things on which our domestic churches cannot compromise.
-- Mass and prayer time are non-negotiables. Participation is required, and negative attitudes must be checked at the door.
-- Following God's commandments is also not negotiable: we must put God first, be respectful, not hurt others, not take what isn't ours. We must tell the truth and speak the truth in love.
-- We must love God with our whole hearts, and think about our neighbors -- or brothers and sisters -- as much as we think about ourselves.
-- Invoking the Holy Spirit for proper discernment within our family, we must say "no" to the temptation to follow individual desires and "yes," always, to the will of God and the teachings of the church.
Such is the way of holiness; such is the path to heaven, and we owe it to our children to show them the way.
When the synod for America ended in December 1997, Pope John Paul II remarked on how "my soul is opened through the action of grace towards God, who is the source of 'every good endowment and every perfect gift' (Jas 1:17)."
As we continue to grow and journey together, may our domestic churches -- and our universal one, as well -- confidently be able to say the same.
- Gretchen R. Crowe is the editor-in-chief of OSV News. Follow her on Twitter @GretchenOSV.