These are some of the weeks each year when our families are the focus of our days. We travel to be with them, to give thanks, to share together in the bounty of God’s blessings. Our parents, our siblings and our children gather around the table with us. Or not. Families can mean many things. They can be made up of friends and neighbors, of those we choose to serve on this holiday, or maybe we have to be our own family this year. No matter who our family might be, family means love and mercy, a shared history, a community of acceptance, a safe place—home. Making a family is the work of our lives and having a large family is a calling, a vocation. A house full of children is a path to holiness.
My niece Katie and her husband John have four children under the age of ten. I asked her for her thought about making a family and I’d like to share them here.
“Before I had children I wasn’t maternal. I didn’t babysit, want to hold babies or become a teacher. I had a career and a ton of autonomy. When John and I married, I instinctively felt that having children was part of fulfilling what a marriage should be. I felt this way out of a love for my spouse, a desire to see what our children (us combined!) could be. What I didn’t realize is that for us having children would solidify our marriage bonds in a way I couldn’t have pictured. Both of our hearts expanded and the selfishness of our early married days was burned away. With each child, our bond grew as husband and wife. Four children has helped us define who we are as people by asking us who we want our children to be.
A larger family has given our children a collective sense of identity and loyalty to each other. I see my children maturing in a way they couldn’t if they were only children or if there was one other sibling (who they might compete with). First, I simply can’t attend to everyone’s immediate needs. This helps the children learn to lend a hand to their siblings, to be patient when they have to wait, to go without, or to figure out how to do things on their own. They love pitching in and being my helper and they get fulfillment by helping a sibling who needs it. Second, the love they have for their siblings is immediate and instinctive, growing their little hearts outside of themselves- focusing them on another besides themselves. They have had to learn to share- attention, toys, time, food and responsibilities. The older two also know the two year old is watching and will repeat what he sees them do. They are more careful with their words and actions and monitor each other when the other is doing something that the two year old doesn’t need to be doing.
Children, no matter how many you have, also force you to answer the ‘bigger’ questions in life that you may have put on a shelf. They ask. Everything. Like…What happens when you die? Where was I before I was in your tummy? How can God and Jesus be the same person, but not the same person (try explaining the trinity to a five year old)? Can two girls get married? What does it mean to be rich?
Then, they require things from you without literally coming out and asking. Because I know I have little eyes watching, it forces me to dig deep and consider my responses. How do I handle my anger? How do I speak about other people? How do I handle it when things don’t go my way/ when my day falls apart? Do I share? When is anger appropriate and how can I display it without being destructive?
And even in the brokenness of our own family, in our own dysfunction, on the days no one handles things well and I snap- we can always ask for forgiveness and give each other grace for being whole, flawed people. And there’s always tomorrow. It’s definitely not perfect. “
Love and forgiveness and the grace to keep trying each day. I’m thankful this year for so many things and so many people in my life. I’m thankful for my family most of all and for Katie and John and their children who are creating their own domestic Church, with the grace and blessing of the Lord at the heart of their home. Hoping you all enjoy a happy and holy Advent.