Part of my new job involves overseeing a number of foreign students living on campus. We have kids from 6 countries, and ranging from the age of 12 to 21.
While they are in the States, I’m one of the individuals that acts in loco parentis, getting them to and from doctors’ appointments and grocery runs, and putting in late and early hours at the airport on both ends of extended breaks.
When they have a problem, I have to help deal with it. It forces you to stop taking things for granted (I had to teach an 8th grader how to vacuum a floor recently). I admit to being caught slightly unawares on Yearbook Picture Day, when I found myself holding an impromptu clinic on how to achieve a successful half-Windsor knot on one’s necktie.
I also have to administer discipline. I fear I was too lenient at my last school! So far that has meant confiscating a dozen computers of students who’ve failed to heed “lights out” and get proper sleep. It’s also entailed assignment of chores when students persist in cussing in foreign languages. As I explained to one student, “If you can’t clean up your mouth, at least you’ll clean up the dorm”.
These are tasks that require patience, consistency, fairness, selflessness, and quite a bit of fortitude and wisdom. I’ve found myself marveling at how swiftly the act of parenting has caused me to grow toward holiness (alas, I yet have far to travel). While I’ve observed that internal change, it’s also made me wonder if a good deal of American selfishness arises from having fewer people who’ve been molded by the crucible of parenting.
Good parenting forces you to model the virtues found lacking (or vital) in your child. It forces you to watch your tongue, and evaluate the cultural messages and influences around you with an eye to those who are more impressionable. This heightened awareness–I’ve been told–often leads men to return to religion, and incites a shift in women away from politically liberal positions, and toward conservatism. I’ve even heard a priest argue that decline in the number of religious vocations quite naturally follows a reduction in the number of holy families.
In short, parenting is perhaps the action that most requires godliness, as it models the relationship of God to his children. Would that we had more who were willing to be parents. Would that the woman I’d hope to be the mother of my children would change her mind…