One of the areas of parenting that I didn’t anticipate being uncomfortable with is timeouts. I wouldn’t say that Benedict has a case of the terrible twos, but I would say that he is certainly learning how to process his emotions. He’s a very easy going little guy whose bad moods can generally be managed by a simple change of scenery. Otherwise, he’s a joy to be with and lots of fun. Yet, like any toddler, his actions merit a timeout a few times per day.
I don’t like the feeling of putting him in timeout. Intellectually, I get it. I need to help him learn the right behavior today so that he can have a happy, disciplined life. Emotionally, it’s extremely difficult. It’s difficult because I see only the good in him, and so when he does something that’s bad and I have to discipline him, it makes me feel sad. I feel like I’m the one in trouble despite the fact that I’ve done nothing wrong. These emotions can be most vividly described at a recent Sunday in the back of Church.
Benedict likes to run around, and so when we corral him in a pew, he can get a bit antsy. He needed a break, so I took him into the back of Church to discuss why his behavior was unacceptable. As I gently spoke to him in the back of Church, he got even more frustrated that he couldn’t walk and began to flail his arms. I found a corner, put him in timeout, and stood with my back to him so that he couldn’t get out. A great thing about Benedict is that he generally knows his guilt and, when put in timeout, won’t attempt to flee. I looked down on him a couple of times only to find him looking hopefully back up at me. His expression was sheepish, a look of both apology and of request for mercy. In that moment, I got another glimpse into the mind of God.
So much about parenting is a reflection of our relationship with God. He’s created us, we are His children. He has such great expectations of us and, like the father in me, only can see the best in me. So when I make a mistake, what we call sin, He knows that He has to put me in timeout. Yet, it’s not Him doing it, it’s my actions that necessitate the discipline. During those times when we’re in timeout, all He wants to do is pick us back up and bring us back into the fold. We call that Confession. If we refuse to turn back to Him, and are eternally separated from Him, that is like the modern tragedy of so many families, permanently estranged.
Many people delay or avoid transitioning into the role of parent for many reasons, but I’ve found nothing to be more beneficial to my spiritual life than being a father. By recognizing my relationship with God in my relationship with Benedict, I can better understand my relationship with God and how my actions truly affect Him. Parenting is a great vocation and, like the priesthood or religious life, is a mirror of the Divine.
Chet Collins writes a blog called "Catholic Husband." His simple, easy to read reflections focus on loving and leading as a parent, and serving God.