My son is in the Epiphany of Our Lord t-ball league. He laughs and plays and his coach lets out a whoop of joy every time a kid gets a hit. The coach even congratulates members of the other team for good plays. After the games, kids run wild on the playground, sticky with popsicle juice, while parents chat before walking home. It’s a wonderful league. The kids are working on learning the game and getting better, but they aren’t pressured to become all-stars. It isn’t a select league for travel teams, and they don’t play year-round.
As a parent, I try to resist the pressure to over-schedule the kids, to have them always in a sport on the best, most expensive, most serious team. It’s funny that while the Catholic Church loves and supports families, and while we firmly teach that children are a great blessing and parenting is a vocation worthy of the Holy Family, it’s also true that if we aren’t careful, parenting can become an occasion of pride. It can become a false religion.
What I mean is, if I were to assume that if I am successful because my child makes good grades, is in all the right after-school clubs, attends the best summer camps, and plays every sport, then I would be sadly mistaken. This would be to make parenting an extension of my own desire to be seen as successful, to be sure my kids are as good as or better than my friends’ kids, as if I need to be a certain type of father and then I will be worthy. Seeking self-worth through anything that we produce or try to earn, even in parenting, is doomed to fail. In this sense, modern parenting culture has a lot of temptations to be avoided, and the pressure to create self-value through parenting accomplishments is dangerous.
I’m not saying that if your child shows an interest in a particular sport, that you shouldn’t let him play it or even pursue it seriously. What I’m saying is that parenting is a blessing, no matter who our children turn out to be, because our children are precious little human beings that we get to help grow up. We get to show them how beautiful the world is, how to accomplish hard things, how to overcome adversity, and introduce them to the great saints and a relationship with Jesus Christ.
The Church supports families not because we need strong youth sports teams at our parishes, but because being in a family, of any shape or size, is the best way to practice love. Each child is an opportunity to enlarge our heart. The more we love, the closer we get to Jesus, and in following him we discover true happiness. Made in the image of God, you as a parent, your child, and your whole family will be just great.
Father Rennier is parochial administrator of Epiphany of Our Lord Parish in St. Louis. A former Anglican priest, he was ordained in 2016 under a pastoral provision for the reception of Anglicans and Episcopalians into full communion with the Catholic Church. He and his wife, Amber, have six children.