Monsters and Messiahs: Unmasking the Holy Family
Please. We love the Holy Family: Joseph, Mary, Jesus. As the embodiment of binary goodness, we need their witness more than ever.
Think Joseph: most excellent of men who shielded Mother with Child from social shame; from his dream on, he ensured both thrived under fire. Joseph was all but immaculate, next to Mary who was, well, immaculate. Ditching his folks and dazzling his elders in the temple appeared to be pre-teen Jesus’ sole temptation (Lk 2:42-50). All this did was manifest His messianic brilliance and frustrate His parents. Any forgiveness they extended was for their freedom, not His.
Here’s the rub. We risk making the holy trio idols, not icons––mirrors of perfection that pierce neither our real families nor our need for greater holiness. We can start by owning good intentions and big gaps. Then we as parents can ask Jesus and His friends to strengthen and purify the gifts we want to be for our children. Some brief suggestions:
Model real faith to your kids. Emulate how you live from His mercy and like it. Yeah, life is hard, but He makes it worth living. Don’t separate Jesus from Church. That gives kids the weird view that we as family go at it alone cause the Body is bad.
The Comiskeys have suffered a little from not-so-good leadership, but we always show up. We draw from Jesus to forgive the Church so we can be faithful to Her. And we make our kids go with us and tolerate the pretty good experience of corporate worship.
Don’t treat kids like messiahs. They can become monsters. We have all been held captive by monstrous messiahs in restaurants, stores, airplanes, and churches. Parents who allow ‘a little child to lead them’ do a disservice to the child. And all of us. I wince for the kid who slaps a parent or tells him or her off or flings applesauce against the wall because he wanted ice cream.
What we may be witnessing is a parent trying so hard to validate the kid’s every emotion that mom or dad foregoes apt expectations and setting necessary limits. Rules become ‘suggestions.’ Unable to know the difference, the child ‘negotiates’ with a scream and a fling and gets the ice cream. Or the cell phone. Or whatever he wants.
Kids need limits; solid lines help secure a child in love. When set firmly and consistently, boundaries become a part of the child’s capacity to make good choices.
Combine authority with attunement. Annette (says Andrew) does this super well. She stands strong as the one in charge but with remarkable attunement: responding to the child with appropriate language and behavior based on a deep knowing of who the child is. As a result, she has no trouble expressing: ‘You can’t do that here,’ or ‘Please don’t talk to me like that,’ or ‘Cell phone time is up’ etc. Her authority lies in loving presence: plenty of affirmation and firm and consistent no’s.
Inviolability. Your child is not your own, not wholly. (That helps when he flings the applesauce.) He belongs to God; you are just an under-parent. Related to this is a child’s inviolability. That means he possesses a core that even a parent cannot wholly know. It’s the space reserved for his deepest self and union with the One who made him. Respect that. Mind the gap. Don’t think you know all about him. What you know is limited by the mystery of God and your child’s unrepeatable self.
Let the child’s inviolability free you from over-functioning. What we can do is help lay a firm foundation. We then trust God and the child to launch well into the world and learn how to make more good choices than bad ones.
And if you are in a crowded city and the kid wanders off, call the police, scare him, and set strong boundaries. He wasn’t wowing them in the temple.
Written by Andrew and Annette Comiskey
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