Somewhere along the way of my parenting, I gave up yelling and spanking. It was very hard to do. My mom yelled and spanked, though (worse for us kids) my dad would occasionally use a belt. I fell into the habit—I believed in the “Do it! Do it now because I told you to!” But I loved my husband more than I loved being a “Kennedy . . . and always doing everything the Kennedy Way.” Also, I felt so distant from my children at the end of a long day; I didn’t want to be a spanker, nor a yelling shrew. My husband showed loving tenderness towards me and asked me to change. So, I did.
Today’s Mass readings are rich in insight and direction, like the beautiful phrase from Joshua, “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” Andy and I (after initial awkwardness) became prayer partners. Every morning, we started with prayer. After he left for work, I took the children to Mass. This was no easy feat; however, my children learned early on how to hold a baby, how not to talk at Mass, and how to “behave” in the pew. In the evening, we prayed a family Rosary; we enthroned our home to the Sacred Heart, consecrated ourselves to our Lady, and tried hard to live in the Spirit. How, you may ask, did we do this?
We loved each other into wholeness, through our relationship. We believed in “being in relationship” with our kids. It meant we needed to be vulnerable with each other and be vulnerable with our kids—or else we could not be intimate. When I say intimate, I mean that newborn baby kind of love you experience when holding an hours-old child . . . the miracle of love. We wanted to stay intimate with our kids and not wake up one day unable to share, to converse, to play, to work, and to laugh together: to be close.
We came to this place of vision and discovery via suffering and loss, grief and hardship. This allowed for change, specifically because “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted, and those who are crushed in spirit he saves” (Ps 34). Greater than devotionals and family prayer was our individual openness to Christ, to the movement of the Spirit, and the embrace of a loving Mother—altogether united with a merciful and loving Father in whom we placed all our trust.
We did our best to raise our fourteen children in the way of faith by making as visible as possible the invisible love of the Trinity. We had boundaries, we had rules, we had structure; but we also had play, dance, laughter, and big conversations. And, of course, we ate. Mealtime was so important, especially on feast days, holidays, birthdays, and—you name it; there’s always room for a celebration. Our children knew that they could trust us. We gave them freedom to choose so many things, but always choices we could live with, such as, “Do you want to carry your towel to the beach or leave it here? Oh, leave it here. Okay.” When said child gets out of the water freezing to death, I can deliver empathy—ergo the responsibility falls on the right shoulders. No lectures. No yelling. No “I told you so.” Just affection—after all, I know what it is like to make a mistake. Down the road, we would occasionally ask them to have faith and to trust us with a decision we had made without their input. They generally did trust we were there for them.
Saint Paul tells us, “Brothers and Sisters: Live in love, as Christ loved us” (Eph 5:21).
And so, we have tried to do so, tried our best, never shying to get up after a fall. Where else would we go, but to God? Our Gospel today from John: “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”