Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Everyday Grace:
Great expectations challenge parents

by Mary Cronk Farrell

(From the March 17, 2005 edition of the Inland Register)

Mary Cronk Farrell I expect good things from my children: good behavior, good manners, and good grades. Of course, I tell them Iíll love them no matter what, but I do have high expectations for them. This week as I lost my temper one more time because my youngster put off a homework assignment until the last minute, I couldnít help but wonder what message my harsh angry words was sending. It was probably not a message of unconditional love.

Iíve been pondering the nature of unconditional love since I attended a recent funeral. I hadnít been close to the man who died, but his wife had been my hairdresser for nearly 20 years. To say that she cut and curled my hair would describe her influence on my life in the barest of terms.

She was the one to hear all the wonders of my falling in love and to exclaim over my engagement ring. She was one of the hospital visitors when my first baby was born. Through my years of changing jobs, having babies, and then teenagers, she listened to my problems, encouraged me, and dispensed wisdom mainly by example. Mostly, she loved me. Always accepting, always generous, and with no expectations; she loved me in a way that is pure gift.

She gave me recipes for casseroles, raising kids, and risking love. She retired from doing hair to be with her husband as he fought a six-year battle with cancer. He had been a coach, with an impact on many lives over the years, and his memorial service brought to mind my own high school cross country coach. He, I realized, was another person who had graced my life with a positive, undemanding presence.

Some 30 years in retrospect, what stands out is that no matter how I ran, my coach treated me the same. I donít remember him expressing criticism, anger or even disappointment toward me or my teammates. There was always the same smile and encouraging arm around my shoulders at the end of the race. In training, this gentle, even-tempered man inspired us to run intervals on the track until we thought weíd drop dead, and then run around some more playing touch football. He taught us to balance discipline with fun, and he demonstrated that while winning is an accomplishment, it is not oneís identity.

I wish I could love my kids in the way both my coach and my hairdresser loved me. They make it seem easy and natural, seeming to flow from who they are as people. As a parent, Iím more attached to the outcome of my childrenís lives than someone like a coach might be. That makes it harder to be calm and accepting through all the ups and downs of their lives.

I believe it is important to have expectations for my children. It is necessary for their development and growth. The challenge is to continue to communicate love and acceptance when they do not meet these expectations. All of us fail. All of us make mistakes at times. I need to work at showing compassion when my children miss the mark.

The way to compassion is awareness. What struck me is that I get down on my son for procrastinating on his homework in the same way that I get frustrated with myself for leaving my work until the last minute. When I reflect on how my hairdresser and my coach stood by me with such gentleness and easiness, it helps me find within myself the ability to offer these qualities to myself and my children.

As parents, we must continue striving to model for our children that mistakes are part of life, that failures give us opportunities to learn. We must believe that our identity is based on the fact we are made in Godís image, not on our accomplishments. And finally we must trust that God will bring people into the lives of our children who will love them and ask nothing in return.

© 2005, Mary Cronk Farrell

(Mary Cronk Farrell is a Spokane free-lance and childrenís writer. Her new children's novel, Fire in the Hole!, is available from Clarion Books.)

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