Who is my child meant to be?
Saint Catherine of Siena. Our Toyota minivan has an extra “n” and on our busiest days, I could be known as Annemarie of Sienna. (Notice I did not include the title of “Saint” before my name. On our busiest days, few would describe me as saintly.) But I admired St. Catherine of Siena long before I needed three rows of seats to transport our family.
St. Catherine of Siena said, “Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.”
Those words resonate so strongly for parents, I’m not surprised they named a minivan after St. Catherine. Our family has a huge dry erase calendar on our kitchen wall and each day of the month has a large square. From dentist appointments to birthday parties to soccer practice, the calendar shows what’s going on in our kids’ lives. That calendar symbolizes for me the paradox of parenting: On the surface, we seem to have a thousand things to do for our kids—find the cleats, wash the uniforms, drive to practice, supervise homework, make dinner—yet at the same time, all of what is required of us is summed up by St. Catherine. Our main job is to help our children become who God means for them to be. We need to help them become aware of their own souls; see the truth of who they are and the gifts they have. We need to lead them out to the greater world, so thirsty for people living lives that God intends.
The complicated truth is that we need to help our children become the people they were created to be while we are finding the cleats and driving them to soccer practice. We need to help them discover their call and their true identity while we are quizzing them on spelling words and reminding them to clean under their beds. And as much as we may wish God would just descend on our family dinner and announce the plan for every family member as we pass the mashed potatoes, that is not God’s way.
Helping a child become the person that God intends often involves structuring a child’s world in a way that limits outside interference. A friend recently told me that after her daughter received a few low test grades as a freshman in high school, she and her husband decided to take the cell phone away after 9 p.m. “It wasn’t so much a punishment as it was an understanding that it was impossible for her to concentrate with all the texts coming in,” my friend said. St. Catherine might have said it like this: “The texts are preventing your daughter from being the student God means for her to be.”
For many parents, the struggle with technology and children is constant—Facebook allows friends (and non-friends posing as friends) to visit our children any time of the day or night. Gaming wreaks havoc on many families as children neglect school work and time outside in pursuit of another win and a higher score. Gossipy texting and inappropriate photos can turn a mundane night of homework into an evening of hurt and heartache. Kids and adults alike stand ready to convince our children to become what may be profitable or convenient, rather than the people God means for them to be. The thinking parent’s role in this new technological world is a cross between IT director and guard dog.
The church calls parents “co-creators with God” of their children. From this vantage point, we can see more clearly than others the pieces of our children that can stand in the way of their ability to become the people God means for them to be. One of my children struggles with stubbornness; another with impulsivity; one is working on becoming more honest; and one wishes to be more decisive. I know I am called to hold my children accountable and help them move past their struggles and do their best, yet I am also aware that children are fragile, and if I push too hard for improvement, I risk causing a collapse of progress we’ve made. I want nothing more than for my children to grow up and set the world on fire. I want nothing more than for them to be the people God means for them to be. My constant prayer is that Bill and I figure out how to work with God to make this happen.
Eighteen years into my parenting journey, Catherine of Siena’s words call to me some days; haunt me on others: Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire. Parenting carries the privilege and the burden of helping to shape the life of another. It can be so difficult to see the right path, to find the right balance, to say the right words.
I’m praying in the minivan.