Days of Fragmentation and Wholeness, available at: ForYourMarriage.org


Happily Even After

Days of Fragmentation and Wholeness


July 21, 2010

by Josh Noem

One of the constant challenges of family life with small children is trying to get a word in edge-wise.

It is routine to carry on two or three conversations at one time. Stacey and I can be in the middle of discussing a recurring issue, trying to dig in and get to the bottom of something personal and important, when suddenly one child needs help with the toilet, one needs help with homework, and the other needs help with tying a shoe. It is stressful to simply try to keep track of who is saying what to whom.

For me, in particular, it is difficult to stay engaged with the process, when such a conversation requires me to both think and identify how I might be feeling. I think it is like this for many other men—speaking, thinking and feeling seem to be three separate functions, all requiring focus in their own right. (Stacey, like many women, seems to be able to function in all three areas instantaneously.)

Last night, I was bemoaning the challenge of this aspect of family life. This morning and throughout today, I discovered the other side of that equation.

In the span of half an hour this morning, I had a significant exchange with Stacey and with each one of the kids. I went upstairs to retrieve something from my room and side-stepped into the boys’ room to sit next to Oscar for a few minutes. I observed him playing with his Legos and stepped into his shoes for a moment. (How does one create water with square and rectangular shaped Legos?) I gave him some affirmation and we exchanged a hug.

I then joined Stacey on the front porch—she was finishing the chocolate-chip pancakes I had just made her—and watched her joke with Lucy, who was asking for piggy tails to match her mommy. Simon, meanwhile, plopped down in the small rocking chair next to me and explained he was taking a halftime break from an imaginary football game. All of this transpired in the span of 15 miutes in the middle of the first sunny, clear, bright morning we’ve had in several weeks.

A busy, ever-moving, dynamic family life can often make my days feel fragmented. But the other side is that a busy, ever-moving, dynamic family life can make my days feel richly integrated. I am at my best when I can recognize this harmony and take a deep breath to offer God my gratitude.

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Parenting the “Now More Than Ever” Teen

Parenting the “Now More Than Ever” Teen

I feel like a war-worn, battle-tested survivor today after parenting the kids alone while Stacey is away. In one day, two of the three children abruptly outgrew their school uniforms—their pants just all of a sudden didn’t fit. Next, I held lines with a hormonal, irrational, and emotional teenager over an utterly nonsense issue without escalating. Finally, I had to break out the sewing kit to make repairs to two non-clothing items, once during breakfast and then again during dinner.

The key to it all, looking back from a comfortable distance, was holding lines and boundaries and avoiding escalation. Escalation is how we describe what happens when a conversation continually rises in intensity and then boils over.

I usually have the line-holding thing locked down. That part is easy for me. It is just that I easily escalate as I hold those lines because I become offended if they are crossed.

For example, Oscar began a conversation just before bed by saying this, “Daddy, I feel like you outright lied to me…” I called a time out right there and had him go back to his room and think about a better way to begin that thought. I told him that I did not intentionally deceive him, and accusing someone of lying is a big step. He consulted a dictionary and held his line—he felt like I lied to him.

Understanding that he had come to this conclusion thoughtfully, I let him proceed with his statement. He was talking about something utterly insane—he felt like I was preventing him from going to bed sooner—so I called a second time out and told him to hit the sack because the conversation was not going to be productive.

Now, if it was still an issue in the morning, we could talk about it then, I told him. He was miffed in the moment, but I’m pretty confident he got over it in 15 minutes. Our poor son has hormones raging through him and he just isn’t himself sometimes. In some ways, he literally is becoming someone else—his voice is changing and his body is transforming into an adult’s.

There is an old saying that is ringing more and more true to me the older I get: the boy is the father of the man. The line means that the habits and proclivities we cultivate in our youth shape the adult we become. Looking back, I see this as true in my own life. Looking ahead, I see that we have a responsibility to help Oscar cultivate the man he will become one day.

That lens changes what lines I hold with him and why. I used to hold lines about respectfulness because I felt like children should honor their parents (which they should, of course). Now I hold those lines with Oscar because I want him to become a respectful man who communicates thoughtfully when he matures.

Oscar is changing, and his changes are transforming our family, and asking more out of us as parents. As a teenager, he is highly sensitive to anything that even smells hypocritical, and this is calling us to more integrity and honesty in our parenting. We have to be able to hold lines in a firm, but loving manner, and to absorb escalating emotions without making him feel distanced. We can clearly see that he absolutely needs firm boundaries now (more than ever), but that he also desperately needs to feel heard now (more than ever).

On top of all this, we must maintain and perhaps even increase our physical affection for him. Touch is one of the ways Oscar receives love—he has always responded to physical affection, whether a rub on the back or a sudden hug. As he grows into his teenage body, which starts to resemble an adult body, it seems natural to give him more space and privacy. While he does need those, he also continues to need bodily expressions of love.

So in many ways, he is asking us for that which is most difficult to give right now—parenting him is like swimming upstream. Balancing all of that is not easy, but true growth never is, and it will make us stronger swimmers in the end. We are taking another step in the way family life is calling us to grow towards perfection.


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