How did you learn your prayers? Maybe it was from an elementary school teacher, a children’s book, or a pious grandmother. Or, perhaps you learned your prayers from a kindly priest, a Sunday school catechist, or a friend.
I learned mine from my dad.
You should know something about my dad: He is the hardest-working and most selfless man I know. He would come home from work every night completely exhausted, yet he still found the energy to put his four sons to bed and pray with them.
Prayer time is one of my fondest memories as a child. I remember getting the giggles and holding my breath to keep from derailing everything. I remember my mind wondering to other places and then being shocked to discover that all the prayers had been said.
What I don’t remember is my dad ever getting impatient with us during prayer time.
Big Shoes to Fill
Now I’m a dad, and I’m trying to live up to my dad’s example. It’s not easy.
I lose my patience when my children avoid getting ready for bed, or when they decide, as I’m tucking them in, that they’re hungry, they need to use the bathroom, they need a drink, they need to find that stuffed animal they haven’t played with in years. Sometimes I’m so exasperated by the whole ordeal that I don’t even want to pray, and I rush through our prayers so I. Can. Just. Be. Done.
I was convinced that this nightly routine of doing what I can – sometimes failing, sometimes not – was having little impact on my children. I would think to myself, “I’m not doing this the way my dad did.”
What Is Enough?
I was especially concerned about my autistic son, who refused to say his prayers out loud with us. I would wonder, “Is he even learning them?”
Then I overheard him playing with his younger sister one day. They were putting their toys to sleep, and he began leading the toys in prayer. Like he was daddy. To my surprise, he said every prayer in the same order we say them in, and he knew every word. It was beautiful.
My son taught me a lesson that day: Sometimes the best you can do is show up. And that’s okay.
The Perfect Parent
We have many pressures and expectations placed on us as parents. We are the child’s first experience of who God is. We are the primary educators of our children. Our homes are supposed to be a Domestic Church. Our marriages are supposed to be an image of Jesus’ own love for the Church, and our families are supposed to be an icon of the Trinity.
That’s a lot.
Then we get on social media and see how “perfect” everyone else’s family is, and it’s enough to make you want to just give up and quit. Icon of the Trinity? I’ll never live up to that ideal.
The Gospel Truth
You’re right, you won’t – not without Jesus. You certainly won’t if you don’t ever try. And at any rate, children don’t need perfect parents. There’s no such thing! Children just need parents who make the effort. Parents who pray when they don’t want to. Parents who love their children enough to even care what they do. Parents who make mistakes, but then apologize and try to do better the next time.
I’m not talking about the bare minimum. I’m talking about seizing the moment, trying your best, and giving yourself a break. If you bring your imperfect self to meet the overwhelming task of parenthood, Jesus can work with that. He can use that. He can gently shape and mold that until you become the kind of parent you were meant to be.
My hope is firmly rooted in that truth. It’s the only way I’ll be like my dad one day.