Just like every other evening, Claire’s mother is supervising the homework of the little lady who has a tendency to laziness, especially when it comes to concentrating on schoolwork. So her mother makes a firm decision to help her overcome her ugly defect: “Now that you have understood, Claire, you are going to finish your math exercises all by yourself, and you will not go outside to play until they are done and well done.” Claire sighs, yawns, scribbles a few numbers on her scrap paper, sighs again… Her mother holds strong: “Come on, Claire, you can do it; I am going to get Peter’s bottle ready and when I come back I want the first exercise to be finished.” As soon as her mother leaves the room, Claire gets up, heads straight to the living room, climbs on her father’s lap, cuddles up and asks: “Dad, my math exercises are so hard, can’t you help me?” Her little blond curls, her charming smile, his favorite daughter’s cute little face: “Go get your notebook, I’ll help you.” When her mother comes back it is only to discover to her discontent that once again, Claire did not do her work on her own.
Who won in this little story? Certainly not Claire: she passed up a good opportunity to grow in virtue by fighting against her predominant fault. Not her mother: her authority was demolished by her husband allowing what she had just forbidden. And definitely not her father: his weakness—or imprudence—certainly did him no credit in his daughter’s eyes; she knows how to take advantage of it, but in the end, she has less esteem, less true affection and admiration for her father, who was not severe enough.
Children are quick to figure out which of their two parents is less demanding or more inclined to give in to their desires…and they take advantage of it! Yes, but to the detriment of their education. So it is of the utmost importance for spouses to harmonize their educational demands, otherwise they will diminish or even undermine each other’s authority. The best way to do so is to take the time to talk about their children and their education (when the children are not around, obviously!). What is the goal, what is each child’s predominant fault, what is the best way to help him overcome it, what efforts should be demanded and what should be let go for the time being? These are a few of the essential questions that need to be answered together ahead of time. And that way each of the spouses can share with the other what he has noticed in the children: the mother, who is more intuitive, may have guessed some secret sorrow, the father, who is more direct, will not be taken in by it. The whole family profits from this harmony: the parents are more united in their great work of education, the children are surrounded with unfailing affection, and everything works together for their greater good.
“Mom, I’m riding my bike down to Louis’s. Is that fine?” “Strange, thinks his mother, usually Dad decides on the bike rides, why is he asking me?” Prudently, she asks: “Did you ask your father?” Vianney blushes a little: “Um, no, not really.” Very strange indeed. “Well then, go ask him, whatever he says, I’ll say the same.” Vianney drops it and his mother mentions it to her husband that evening. She learns that Vianney had been told by his father to help rake the driveway, and that he was trying to get out of it; and that his father finds that Louis is a very bad influence on his boy. Thanks to the harmony between his parents, Vianney was kept on the right path, at least this time.
This harmony between the parents, which is already so important for the little details of daily life, is even more vital when it comes to the fundamental subjects: religious convictions and general views on life. An example: a mother does not practice regularly or, when she goes to Mass, it’s the New Mass because “it’s closer, you can understand everything, and I mean, we don’t want to stand out in our family.” When the father is there, of course, he brings the children to Mass at the priory, but his work keeps him away from home a lot. So the children go sometimes to one Mass, sometimes to the other; sometimes they do not even go at all. Will it not be difficult or even very unlikely for these children to end up with firm convictions on religious practice and the right position in the crisis of the Church? When in such a situation, one has to do one’s best, but the task of education becomes far more delicate.
Another example: a father tries to stay on the right course, and the boys at least need to go to a good school, since it will be helpful to them in the practice of their religion. But their mother cries: “Boarding school? Don’t even think about it!” To avoid another conflict, the father gives in…yet again, just as he gave in about sending them to a mediocre summer camp and allowing them to go to the beach with their cousins, and so many other things. He does what he can, but how can he help taking the path of least resistance every time?
Today, their children have grown up: John, the eldest, lives with a young lady without being married. Alice is civilly married to a Jewish man. Adrian, at least, had a Catholic marriage, but it was the New Mass; they both practice pretty regularly, but their two children go to the parish catechism classes, and it is doubtful whether the Faith and the practice of the Faith will survive another generation. Besides praying, what can their parents do about the disaster? They can only weep. They have one consolation: Henry, the youngest, who was always very close to his father. He suffered throughout his entire childhood from the lack of harmony between his parents. He has remained faithful to the Tradition of the Church, and he has sworn to marry only a girl who fully shares his convictions, in order to found a solid and radiant home that will transmit the essential.
Even when parents share the same ideal, it is not always easy to get along: The force of habit, the friction caused by the differences between the masculine and feminine psychology, and defects that are not fought can all come to destroy the freshness of their first love. And their children are the first to suffer from the misunderstandings and even disputes that doors and walls do not contain; they quickly pick up on the gestures of impatience or anger, the silences laden with resentment or threats. Anxiety, sleeping disorders, and poor schoolwork betray the suffering in their hearts that see a threat to the stability and safety they need so much as they grow up. The two people they love the most in the world no longer get along. Fortunately the grace of matrimony is there to help parents live according to the sacrament they have received, to sustain them in the inevitable and necessary sacrifices that alone can maintain conjugal harmony. Frequent Confession and Communion repair the hitches and give new strength for building a united home day after day.
“Mom and Dad are the same”: when children can say that of their parents, it is a source of pride, joy, and strength for them all throughout their lives.