St. Francis and his unique flavor of Christian spirituality has left an indelible mark on the way I live out my faith in everyday life. Naturally, this includes the way I parent my children and the hope I have of raising them to be people who honor the dignity of all life and see the interconnection between themselves, God, and every living thing. Luckily for me, my kids are still young enough to not roll their eyes when I refuse to kill a bug or refer to a particularly great tree as a “her” and not an “it”.
More importantly, my husband and I try to model a recognition of human dignity. Our children see us going to death penalty protests, eating dinner at the Catholic Worker house of hospitality, and making friends with people who seem much different. Now don’t get me wrong, we miss opportunities to love our neighbor as often as anyone; but I have to hope that the fact that our kids see us trying—even if inconsistently—might shape their own faith journeys.
With all of these lofty parenting hopes in my heart, you would think that the moment I realized I was successfully raising my children with a Franciscan spirituality would have been a glorious one. The idea evokes a mental image of me grinning from ear to ear while giving myself a self-congratulatory pat on the back and feeling very holy. In reality, it was the total opposite.
After six months with us, our puppy Thunder had destroyed virtually everything in the house that wasn’t nailed down. If it wasn’t one thing chewed to a pulp, it was another; and as adorable as he was, a person can only take so much. On the day that I walked into my home office to find he had chewed through the second laptop charger of the month, I snapped.
“I think I hate the dog,” I seethed through clenched teeth after a particularly grizzly sound escaped my mouth. “I think I hate him!”
My seven-year-old son rushed to his pup’s defense, mouth agape at the severity of my words. “Mom! How can you say that?! He’s a living creature!”
I imagine all parents have had their own version of this moment; one of feeling ashamed of ourselves and wishing more than anything we could take back our mistake. I’ve had more than my fair share of such moments. We will never be perfect role models for our children, but we can teach them what it means to make amends when we mess up.
So I apologized, to both the dog and the boy, and did so sincerely. But it will be a long time before I will forget the look on my son’s face when he reminded me that our pet was a living creature, deserving of as much dignity and forgiveness as the rest of the family. It’s true that our kids need us to teach them, but it’s also true that we need them to teach us, too.