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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Raising Gianna

On Mother's Day I spent some time reading and reflecting on John Paul II's landmark document "The Dignity of Women". In it he lays out the foundation for what is now being termed "The New Feminism". He affirms women, their role in the family, in society, and in public life. He affirms that the Church too believes women deserve a greater influence in society and are important collaborators with men to bring about the common good.

I decided to read it as an opportunity for me to spend time reflecting on how grateful I am for my wife. As I was reading JPII's beautiful words sharing about Mary's fiat in the gospel and how Mary is an archetype for women and also for men. In her service to God the Father, she became Queen of Heaven. In truth as John Paul II states, Mary taught us that "to serve is to reign." He shares how Mary understood herself as being in service to God just as Jesus said of himself that he did not come to serve but to be served.

As we spent the day enjoying time as a family and Gianna (our daughter) and I offered our gratefulness to Angela I began to think of what Angela has done for me in calling me to holiness. I began to remember how she has always called me to something greater than I limit myself to. I also thought about the gift she is to Gianna as a mother. There truly is no greater role she could play than to be a mother - both in the spiritual sense and in the temporal sense. As I watch Gianna grow into herself I am so grateful that her mother is a woman of such conviction and firm resolve.

After reading and reflecting on the Dignity of Women and on my own wife's dignity I began to think about Gianna and who she will become. I want for her to know at her core that she is of great value - that her life has more meaning than what modern culture would offer her and that she truly is the crown of creation. I thought to myself, "how will we raise her to be the woman John Paul II speaks of? How will I ensure that she does not fall prey to this over-sexualized culture that uses and objecifies women at all costs?" I bet you are expecting to tell you the answer to that question and I wish I could. Truth is I thought about it all night last night and all morning today and I found no clear answer - until...

I went home for lunch today and as I sat in the living room with Angela and Gianna eating my lunch while we talked Angela told me her head was hurting and she layed down on the couch. She has been battling a headache all day. Just then Gianna went over to Angela and began to give her a massage or to "balance" her (Balance is a massage technique that I do for Gianna to relax and calm her.). Gianna new that mommy needed rest and needed to relax and she began to take care of her mommy. It is incredibly cute to watch as she does her rendition of the technique with her small little hands. Just then I got it. Gianna was doing what she saw modeled by her parents. She was taking care of Angela and nurturing her just as Angela has done for us. She was making her feel better using the same method that she has seen her daddy use on her.

That's it! We must model what we desire for her. If we desire for her to not eat sweets and we eat sweets all day long - we will not get the desired result. However, if we snack on healthy things rather than cookies and candy she too will follow suit. Just as she knows to pray before a meal because she watched us do it, she also will behave the way we show her.

She of course has two models and in order for our modeling to be successful Angela and I must be on the same page and model complimentary behavior. If Angela models a "dignified woman" but I treat her like an object or like less than I - lesson not learned. On the contrary if I treat Angela like the "dignified woman" that she is and she acts the opposite we will only confuse Gianna and she will be forced to find her own model. However, if I treat Angela the way I know she deserves and I seek to build her up as a dignified woman and she in turn lives her call as a woman of God, Gianna will not only see how she ought to be treated and accept nothing less but she too will aspire to seek holiness at all costs.

There truly is no step-by-step guide to Catholic parenting and there is certainly no guide to raising "dignified women". However, we do find in Church teaching and the Bible everything we need to live holy lives. If we as parents strive for holiness and mutually call one another - husband and wife - to holiness than our children will follow suit. It reminds me of the best advice I got when discerning my vocation. I was lost and confused by the different urgings of my heart and a friend finally said to me, "just seek holiness and God will do the rest."

The picture above is a reminder that I must lead by example. Gianna still can't say "I love you." She tries and can say each word separately but struggles with making the sentence. She does however know the sign for "I love you." She also now understands how to use it. Over the last week we have loved watching as she decides at a random moment to tell us she loves us. For no reason other than she just wants us to know. - That behavior was modeled too - perhaps that is the key to this whole thing - "love one another as I have loved you."