Sometimes mothering experiences sprinkle down upon you like a gentle rain, the shirt-spotter kind of rain and nothing more. Other times we are overwhelmed and things “come in threes” as my grandmother used to predict that they would. I will never forget my initiation into the world of multiple sick children, a flash flood upon my garden of pre-school parenting, my grandma’s words making sense to me for the first time. My older three children were 4, 2, and 1 when they came down with chickenpox within hours of each other.
The sweltering July heat and Illinois humidity grows bumper corn crops and even bumperer rashes. I don’t believe there was a single crevice on those miserable little bodies that wasn’t affected! Having air conditioning in only one room of our old farmhouse, I set them up on the hideabed with fans blowing the air around them and a baking soda paste covering them from head to toe. I rationed out the Benedryl and fed them popsicles while we watched endless episodes of Sesame Street and Reading Rainbow. Why wasn’t that the week Mr. Rodgers did a special on skin and childhood diseases? And we all waited, day after long day, for Dad to get home from work!
When our children are sick, the world seems to stand still. They are needy and restless, they are not easily entertained and our hearts break for them because they are feeble and cannot understand why they feel the way they do. I remember thinking of Psalm 103: “for He knows how we are formed, He remembers that we are dust.
I was so blessed by my conversation with Kathie Kordenbrock as she talked about this “dust factor,” the physical limitations of children and the importance of mom’s remembering how children’s bodies work and the needs that are unique to them. As moms, we often forget that children need lots of time for physical activity and just as much if not more time to explore the world around them without being encumbered by “seat work” and pre-scheduled lessons. They need time to think and process the new experiences they have and they need to continually be introduced to new thoughts and ideas as well.
It had been a long time since I taught anything to a 5 year old but while I wandered through the natural history museum with my granddaughter, I consciously bent down to look at the exhibits from her eye level, to see what she was seeing, to answer the many questions she had about the animals and plants we were discovering together. As she talked to me, I realized that it was comforting to her when I explained what we were looking at, for a grandma to know answers to so many things that were new to her. I could feel her small hand relax in mind as I told her about the buffalo and the raccoons and the huge skeleton of the whale that hung above our heads. Children need the assurance that they are being mentored by people who adore them and that no questions are silly and all are worthy of real answers. They need to feel that both their bodies and their minds are safe.
Children also need the comfort of having a family meal time where the food is nutritious, delicious, and almost as satisfying as the conversation around the table. In our American culture, people eat meals in between their other activities; it is the half-time refreshment. We have much to learn from other countries where the meal is the main event and begins with choosing the best ingredients, preparing the food in the kitchen, often together as a family. The culmination is the relaxed time of eating and discussion, the coming together after a long day, each sharing their own day’s experiences.
As my children have begun leaving home, I have come to realize that there was a certain comfort for them around the table. They could count on the fact that, no matter how bad the day had been, supper time would be spent enjoying a meal mom had prepared with them in mind and that we would all be together. And that relaxing time was spent talking and listening to each other, laying the groundwork for greater talking and listening yet to come.
A very important part of feeding our children is making a space for those great thoughts and exchanges to take place, an opportunity for children to stretch their ideas and impressions in a safe and relaxed environment while the whole family is participating in something they enjoy. After all, Ronald Reagan was correct when he said “All great change in America begins at the dinner table.”
We also need to remember that comforting a child’s soul is a responsibility we have been given and we ought not to take it lightly. While we spend many hours helping our children memorize Scripture or the catechism and even more hours in actual Bible instruction, comforting a child’s soul, one of our greatest responsibilities as moms and dads, happens when we spend lots of time with them, walking alongside them every single day.
Back when my first children were toddlers, the phrase “quality time vs quantity time” was all the rage. I can remember Phil Donahue blathering on and on, assuring moms that they didn’t need to worry if they were away from their children for 12 or more hours every day as long as the time they spent with their children, no matter how little it was, was “quality” time. This seemed as nonsensical to me then as it does now. It is like saying “well, I can only give you one little bite of food so I will make it steak instead of a bite of a jelly sandwich.” How satisfying would that be? Children need both quality time and quantity time and giving it to them is a duty that God has given to us as parents. Nothing comforts the soul of a child as much as time with a parent who loves and cherishes him. And nothing is as important…no job, no ministry, no special interest, no hobby.
There are various reasons that young adults who were raised in Christian homes abandon their faith but research repeatedly shows that a nurturing, open, and comforting relationship with someone older who has invested lots of time in them is what keeps children true to the Lord.
Organic, natural family life is lived in the presence of comfort and nurturing of both body and soul, giving bread and not a stone to our precious children, turning our hearts to them as unto the Lord.