partners in parenting

This morning S and I met a fantastic doctor. He listened to us, heard my concerns, assured me we were doing the right thing, and gave us the help we needed to go forward. He was open and understanding; his staff was friendly and helpful. I left his office with the right prescription in my hand and a smile on my face.

A 180 degree turn from the last new doctor we encountered. Dr. Rude barged in the room, tossed my questions aside, barraged me with complex medical jargon, and even snuck in a snide critique of my parenting for good measure. He may have been the best technical specialist in his field, but I still dreaded every visit to his office.

Parents need good partners. Like the doctor we met today who affirmed my concerns and gave me the tools to help S. Like the teachers in our Early Childhood classes who always find answers to my questions and point me to resources within our community.

During one of our early visits with our pediatrician when S was a newborn, I asked her a question about vaccinations, confused by conflicting reports I’d read online and heard from friends. A silly question, but she took it seriously, nodding her head.

“I think it’s very hard to be a parent today,” she responded.

I’d been expecting a quick, medical brush-off. I looked up, surprised. Wasn’t parenting always hard? I had no idea what I was doing, but wasn’t that simply the learning curve of new parenthood?

“Between the Internet and the books and the new research coming out all the time, it’s hard to know where to go for answers, isn’t it?” she continued.

I was amazed. She understood. We went on to have a wonderful conversation, and I learned a lot. I left her office feeling informed, affirmed, and confident in my ability to parent.

What a blessing to have partners in parenting: professionals whose living out of their own vocations strengthens my own. Teachers, nurses, doctors, therapists, child care providers – all the building blocks of a community that strengthens families.

Churches need to be partners in parenting as well. It is a bewildering time to be raising children. New findings and strong opinions fly at you from every direction in the Internet age. Concerns my grandparents probably never imagined (Internet predators? Deadly food allergies? Epidemic bullying? Skyrocketing autism rates?) are now daily worries for the parents I know. The news is full of the latest Things To Fear, and it’s hard to sort sensationalism from truth.

To say nothing of figuring out how to raise a faith-filled child in an increasingly secular society.

Churches need to support and encourage parents, to help build healthy marriages and families, to journey with fathers and mothers as they navigate the questions and crises and challenges of parenting. It sounds obvious, a “duh” truism. But very often, our parishes and congregations concentrate on programs for children or youth and forget to help parents learn how to be the first teachers of faith.

I’m thankful that our own parish has finally taken a small step in this direction, thanks to this guide. But there remains much to be done to support parents in their vocation: through sacramental preparation, through adult education, through Sunday worship. To help parents reflect theologically about their work. To deepen families’ spiritual lives at home. To help mothers and fathers go forth to love and serve the Lord as they love and serve their families.

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