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Parenting Out of Hope vs. Parenting Out of Fear
Parenting with Sacred Scripture, St. Thomas Aquinas, and Jesus
“Train the young in the way they should go; even when old, they will not swerve from it.” (Prov 22:6)
This verse from Proverbs can sometimes feel like a cliché, Panda Express fortune cookie especially in the light of raising teenagers. Free will is one of the most beautiful and heart-wrenching gifts from our Creator; and when children move out from under the wing of parenting guidance and begin to stretch their own pinions there is a tumultuous undertow that drives parents to cling even tighter to their beloveds. This clinging, especially in regard to religious upbringing, in much like balancing a triangle on its head – one ounce of weight in either direction sends it toppling to either side.
St. Thomas Aquinas, in his Summa Theologiae, presents a beautiful launching point for how to maintain this delicate balance by pointing to a crux of our anthropology: “The senses do not apprehend the future: but from apprehending the present, an animal is moved by natural instinct to hope for a future good, or to fear a future evil.”
Let us highlight the conjunction “or” . . . this word that connects two possibilities.
The one possibility is to hope for a future good. The second possibility is to fear of a future evil. When one fears evil, the natural instinct is to either repel it away and/or protect others from it depending on the situation. The issue that arises is that when dealing with the human person, if you repel the person away you are rejecting who God calls us to love. On the contrary, if we hold tight to the person who we love or manipulate a situation to impose our will (especially in adult children), we are restricting their free will. Again, a very delicate balance.
However, when one has hope for a future good there is a perfect love that drives out all fear. (1 Jn 4:18) A Biblical perspective of this perfect love is when Judas is called to be one of Jesus’ disciples. Jesus does not repel Judas but embraces him. He does not hold him down and limit his free-will but warns him, “Woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed.” (Mt. 26:24) In the same way, this is how we are called to parent.
The difficult position of a parent of teenagers is the balancing act of knowing they are still children and that we are called to “train them in the way they should go” (Prov. 22:6) all the while affording them the opportunity to flex their free-will within the safe haven of home. While we teeter on this triangle of justice and mercy, our hearts must rest in the hope of the biblical, Proverbial promise – “even when old, they will not swerve from it.” It is hope for a future that gives us peace. It is faith that carries us each step of the way. It is love that envelops the weary hearts that battle through uncertainty and hormones that drive us this way and that as we stumble along a little way into the arms of Jesus.