It’s providential that I should be writing this article today, as my husband and I celebrate our ten-year anniversary. Reflecting, I can still recall the anticipation of our wedding day and the lifetime together that would follow. Everything was carefully chosen and planned, from getting married on Padre Pio’s feast day to the wedding being celebrated at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington D.C. by the priest who helped join us together and spiritually walked with us through our engagement. The Mass was also served by a dear friend who was in his formation to be a Capuchin priest. I remember entering the church and beholding the side altar, which depicted the betrothal of Mary and Joseph, the same spot that my soon-to-be husband and I had gotten engaged just six months earlier. Chills ran up my spine.
It seemed like a dream as we gazed glassy eyed at one another, so finely dressed and surrounded by family and friends. And yet, all things pointed to something higher and greater than us. We were but a small part of something so much larger than ourselves—a vow that resonated into eternity and was honored by an eternal God.
“As with most things in life, we didn’t want to face the areas that needed the most work, because they were directly reflective of our faults.”
The English poet John Donne said that “No man is an island,” and in that moment, as my husband and I were joined together in holy matrimony, I not only knew that statement to be true in a very poetic way, but also anthropologically as proof of the deeper biblical message that “it is not good that man should be alone.” He and I were now our own island together, and yet we could not live without the Church, the sacraments, the support of our family, friends, and community. We would not thrive and grow without service, charity, and sharing our now unified love with others.
The following year proved that our marriage was truly not only about us, as we welcomed our first son. Our island was getting bigger and in need of more bridges to the mainland. We needed baptism for our son and support and guidance from other parents as we entered long sleepless nights and anxiety over every bump and bruise. And just as we were navigating the balance of early marriage and new parenthood, our second son joined our family just fifteen months later. This threw me into a whirlwind. I suffered through postpartum depression and wondered how we would keep up with the large and thriving Catholic families around us if we couldn’t even handle two.
Reflecting once again, as my husband and I now await the birth of our sixth child (one of which was miscarried), I wish I could say that parenting has become easier. But the truth is that it has not become easier, but rather different as we have allowed ourselves to become different—to grow and to mold with the vocation, rather than forcing it to fit us. I find myself relying more on God and less on myself, surrendering to His mercy in the dark nights of my soul and in my parenting and marriage failures, rather than believing that I can pull myself up by my bootstraps and climb the next metaphorical mountain alone, or worse … escape.
When we first became parents, my meticulous engineer husband would stay up each night until midnight cleaning the house to perfection. Each new morning’s light shone through our windows to reveal a spotless home that hid all traces of babies, toddlers, and tired parents. Likewise, I focused on making sure that there were always seasonally decorative wreaths on the doors and everything in the home was perfectly hung and beautifully displayed. Both my husband and I seemed to believe that we needed to do more of the irrelevant that we were competent in to feel accomplished in the clueless parenting areas that most needed our attention.
As with most things in life, we didn’t want to face the areas that needed the most work, because they were directly reflective of our faults. For instance, “discipline, routine, and structure” are words that have always made me shutter. I wanted to find a way, as I had in so many other areas of life, to allow my creativity to overcompensate for my lack of discipline. At the same time, I wondered why my children were so poorly disciplined and our home was chaotic. Meanwhile, my husband prized structure but believed that he could institute it at home with the same Captain Von Trapp method of bringing his work leadership skills to the family. He wondered why his strong-willed wife and knee-high toddlers couldn’t get on board.
I’m still inclined to say, these ten years later, that my parenting advice is limited and my skills are wanting. As with many personal spiritual battles, I have gone in circles with God through the years, hiding from the demons that I refuse to battle, but at the same time, knowing they won’t go away. I do believe that all good things coming from God are meant to refine and purify us, to challenge our weaknesses and cowardice, and to push us to love more than we believe ourselves capable of doing. This is certainly being accomplished in the families that are walking with the Lord. Despite the seasons of our refusal to cooperate with the Lord in facing and correcting our faults, the truth remains that marriage, parenting, and family are inescapable mirrors. When we continue to gaze honestly at the hearts of our spouse and children, illuminated by faith and allowing the Lord to gently mold us, we will find ourselves becoming the spouse and parent we always hoped we would be.