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Obedience Struggles

alec vanderboom

I'm blessed to be a part of a Mother's Rosary Group in a suburb of Washington D. C. The kids and I started going when I lived with my grandfather. Despite moving 45 minutes away nearly two years ago, we still get to our Tuesday meetings regularly.

Father Jaffe shows our group incredible kindness. He gives us a private Mass on the first Tuesday of the month and hears our confession on the last Tuesday. (The rest of the time is informal where we moms chat & pray the rosary together and let the kids play together.) Lex has really benefited from being able to watch older boys sit quietly during Mass. I've loved having a regular confessor in Father Jaffe.

Last Tuesday, Father gave us a Question and Answer Session.

Here's my question:

"Can [Father] define the virtue of obedience for us? And give us a working definition of the goal we are trying to reach with our children in that area? Maybe give us some concrete examples of why that trait is so critical in a priest or an adult lay Catholic? It's been a long year of telling my two year old "No, don't hit your sister with your fork," & "You need to pick up your Legos the first time I ask you and not the third!" I get tired of picking up a squirmy kid and putting him in the time out chair over and over again. I could use some encouragement in this area!"

Father Jaffe, who is such a merry priest, answered with good humor. First, he explained that the etymology of obedience comes from the latin word "audire" or "right hearing." All this work of the "naughty chair" is training my son to "hear rightly" or recognize the voice of truth. This constant repetition, which drives me so crazy, is actually an important stage of development. Because I'm the one who is enforcing the rules, my son is learning to trust me (and his father) as a source of truth. Father further explained that this trust is pretty revolutionary. My son is well below the age of reason (for most kids this is around age 7). All he has in the way of guidance of his behavior is his ability to trust me. He doesn't have the ability to abstractly reason out his behavior. So his emotional ability to "trust" his mom is all that is standing in the way of total chaos right now.

I was encouraged by Father saying that even though he doesn't raise kids, he can still see pretty clearly this "flip" that happens when kids reach the age of reason. All the sudden they know when they did something wrong and are sorry for their sins. I've got to really remind myself that Lex is not "sinning" when he disobeys me. I tend to get hysterical sometimes, especially when it involves safety around Maria. (Thank goodness that girl is growing bigger and more resilient by the hour!)

I also appreciated Father explaining that our authority as parents stems from God. As a result, we can't "order" our child to do something that doesn't conform to the "truth" or God's law. That's where Sophie Scholl like civil disobedience comes in. It's also reassuring, because I'm pretty rebellious in my own family. It seems strange to say because I don't sport any nose piercings or dyed hair, but in terms of the Rupp family rules-- succeed in the world to reflect well on the family, have kids carefully spaced out five years apart, etc. They sound silly, but my parents are serious about them. My Dad didn't talk to me for six months after I told him that Lex was going to be born 18 months after Hannah. (Dad was convinced I just ruined Hannah's life by not using birth control). So its been an intense journey wrestling with the "honor thy father and mother" bit because after becoming Catholic so many of my actions are in opposition to their will & advice. What does obedience mean when a Protestant father demands his adult Catholic daughter do things contrary to her faith? And how can I expect Hannah to follow me if I'm not following my parent's will?

This "right hearing" thing makes more sense to me. I'm helping Hannah hear and happily follow God's rules. Sometimes, as Father explained, I can add some of my own rules for ease of family life (such as, we take off our shoes at the front door). But I can't order Hannah to do something contrary to the rules of faith. If every day, I try to confirm more closely to the truths of my faith- and admit when I fall short of the mark, then my parental authority is under God's authority.

Anyway, it's a tough thing, this wrestling with obedience question. I much preferred the clear lines of "don't hit other kids" and "don't run into the street" Those rules were about the child's safety and proper socialization. Now I've got all these other rules, some because I've got three kids age 4 and under now, and it's feels like I'm a police woman most days. Thanks to father, I'm aiming to be a more cheerful police woman who gives many breaks to the under seven set.

Do you struggle with any of these issue at your house?