My daughter is the Picasso of finger-painting with food. Applesauce, syrup, hummus and whatever, she’ll decorate any part of our house with it. One day I discovered a chocolate handprint on my bedsheets.
Making any of the children clean even a single dish or pick up a dirty sock is pure torture. They’re willing to drag it out literally forever and either my wife or I have to sit and watch them while they clean. If we don’t, they begin playing with the very first toy they pick and, hours later, the job still isn’t done.
And these kids sure do ask a lot of questions! To answer them, I have to dive deep into science books, old philosophy lectures and the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
I think we’d all agree that parenting is supremely fulfilling. It’s also supremely exhausting. The type of people in the checkout line of the grocery store who make snide comments about the size of a Catholic family often make a point of exclaiming how tired I must be. They say it as though it’s a bad thing. They say it as though it’s an amount of work that no sensible person would undertake, that it’s disproportionate, that there are far more rewarding ways — childless ways — to spend time.
The unstated charge is that parents have made the silly choice to remove themselves from the more important aspects of adult life. This is supposedly why parenting is so tiring — it takes maximum effort but is of minimal importance.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
G.K. Chesterton said that parents are engaged in the enormous task of introducing children to a world. They’re showing children how to live, how to think, how to find God and how to be happy. Nothing could be more important. Parents are “shut up in a house with a human being at a time when he asks all the questions that there are, and some that there aren’t.” Anyone who has spent time with children knows the constant stream of questions, the curiosity, the way they stretch their wings to fly, their attempts to tackle tasks for which they are entirely unqualified. It’s like trying to parent a whirlwind.
Time with children isn’t dreary. Quite the opposite; it’s almost too exciting, for one never knows what’s around the next corner. Children gallop wildly to see what’s over the horizon, what secret whisper or hint of the divine might be waiting there. They’ll climb any tree or scale any rock and try to touch the sun. Chesterton writes, “I can imagine how this would exhaust the mind.”
If you’re a parent, you are everything to someone. It feels laborious because the vocation is gigantic. Every bit of effort is worth it. Every ounce of love echoes through eternity. Knowing this, how could we help but rise up from our weariness and take joy in every single moment of this vocation?
Father Michael Rennier is vice-rector of the Oratory of Sts. Gregory and Augustine. A former Anglican priest, he was ordained in 2016 under a pastoral provision. He and his wife, Amber, have six children.