At Mass on Sunday, I sat behind a family with three little boys – and they were a handful. They weren’t being naughty, but they were constantly moving, as little boys do. The parents had their own choreography, seamlessly slipping between this one or that, picking up the baby, staring down the eldest. It always brings a smile to my face. I have warm memories of our own young family navigating life together. It was years before I heard a complete homily, but eventually everyone learned the drill.
There were times when I used to feel like I was moonlighting for Planned Parenthood, that others would look at our particular brand of chaos and think, oh, no! No kids for me! But, to be honest, more often I would consciously ensure the five kids were clean and well-dressed, and generally well-behaved, because I was aware of being very visible. I felt I had an obligation to present larger families in a positive way. That said, I can assure you that there were many times, some rather memorable, when I failed brilliantly on that score.
It would amuse my husband and me, actually. We both came from large families and had seen our share of battling siblings growing up. Kids have their own little society, with its own pecking order and various rivalries. They learn as much from fighting as they do from working things out and making up. It prepares them for life. One thing is sure: your family members don’t hold back. They are the ones who will call you out when you are full of it. They can be cruel – and parents may need to intervene in that case – but more often they do best when left to their own resources to mend their broken friendships or to work out what’s fair. And there is a code that says you can fight with your siblings, but God help anyone else who tries.
One summer, we took the kids to a Catholic family camp. There was a veneer of Christian love and cooperation that was carried off better by the adults than the children. Someone’s precious darling was taunting one of our little guys when my daughter decided to mete out justice with a well-deserved punch in the nose. Apparently, no one ever saw anything like this. Never, ever, had there been violence at the camp. Evidently, the Barbarians had landed and were residing in our cabin. Granted, it was a little embarrassing, but we were proud that our daughter had stood up for her little brother, even though we don’t actually advocate violence. It’s the same scrappiness and love of justice that led her to pick up the fight for the unborn, the elderly and the sick.
One of the greatest gifts we can give our children is their siblings. Not only do they prepare us for life, they teach us how to love even at times when we don’t like each other much. Today, my children are grown, and each lives in a different city. After outgrowing our family home, they now seek each other out for friendship, advice, a good laugh. They arrange their schedules and travel plans so that they can spend some time together. Nothing could make me happier.
I know that the days when kids are young and rambunctious are very challenging, but the day will come when you will look back and smile. Yes, you will wonder how you ever survived, but you will be so happy that you did. God provides. He always does.