As my oldest daughter turns 21 this week, I’m hyper-reflective about many parts of her life, and our lives together. It seems incredible that she’s a full-on adult. When I consider how we got here, and the fact that I have two more daughters hurtling toward adulthood, I wonder if I’ve done all I could or should to create happy, healthy, productive adults.
Of course I haven’t. I don’t know if it’s possible to do all that we know should do. But before I start bemoaning my parenting shortcomings, I remember the words of my mother-in-law as she talked with me about raising her four children: I did my best.
Several of my elders and mentors echo that sentiment, and carry it further: You’re a better parent when you’re a better self. In other words, take care of your own spiritual needs so that you can take care of the spiritual needs of others.
Parents, how are you taking care of yourself? How do you replenish your spirit when it gets low? Are you spending so much time on your children and your family’s health that you neglect your own?
When flying, if there’s an emergency, you’re directed to give yourself oxygen before you help your child. You need to stay strong so that both you and your loved one have the best chance for survival. Spiritual survival depends on your spiritual health and strength. Here are some ways to fill yourself so that you can pass the mask to your child.
Have a running conversation with God. Sometimes people ask me, “Who are you talking to?” “God,” I tell them. Sometimes I get side glances; most often I get knowing smiles and head nods. God wants to hear your joys and your struggles. Keep the conversation going.
Make space to listen to God. Just as God wants to hear your thoughts and prayers, God wants to answer those prayers. I liken it to opening the doors within yourself for which you didn’t know you had the key. God will help you find that key, in God’s time. I find it helpful to give God and myself the space to receive that wisdom.
Pray often, and pray out loud. God hears your spontaneous prayers just as God hears ornate Book of Common Prayer collects. When your children hear you pray out loud, or acknowledge the need for prayer, they’ll likely do the same.
Read the Bible. Parts of the Bible make particularly wonderful prayers, especially the Book of Psalms. Keeping your Bible visible and accessible makes it easier to grab and read when you want or need it.
Try a new way to pray. There are many forms of prayer – body prayer, centering prayer, the Daily Office from the Book of Common Prayer, and singing. Try a new way or a new place to pray. Your children will learn that many ways to pray means there’s space for new ways, such as praying with Legos.
No matter what you do to fill your spirit, be sure to do some of these things in full view of your children, or at least within earshot. Actions can speak louder than words, and your children WILL find ways to be like you, for better or worse. Nia has such a loving, beautiful spirit, and she’s growing, learning, making mistakes, and succeeding, with God’s help. I’m thankful that I did something right, but I can always do more.
We’re growing Christians, friends, and that’s a job that never ends. May God bless your journey.
How do you put on your oxygen mask?