April 12, 2024

By Heidi Comes

Parenthood: the scariest hood you’ll ever go through. That magnet has been on my refrigerator since the early years of parenting. Right beside it is a photo of the Divine Mercy Jesus; not necessarily intentionally placed, but the parallel is fitting nonetheless. Divine intervention, divine mercy and divine grace are the only possible ways to face the role of being a parent and expect an outcome that resembles success. All ages are challenging; however, parenting adult-ish children (which is an oxymoron), no one prepares you for.

Being a parent alongside my husband is the joy of my life. Having children, especially a handful of them, has been the greatest blessing, and we know that the best is yet to come. But sometimes, I think people are afraid to admit that the good stuff can be really hard. I am thankful we don’t have to do it alone. God doesn’t call us to the vocation of married life and parenthood only to watch from above and chuckle at our inabilities and shortcomings. I don’t know how anyone could stumble through parenthood without the presence of Christ in the sacraments, and I surely wouldn’t want to try.

In the early years

When we had five kids 10 and under, even the smallest activities could cause quite a scene. The attention we drew when taking five children into a grocery store or attempting to make it through Mass without a meltdown (I did get better at controlling my emotions eventually) was epic. Because of the living, breathing, circus act of life we lived, people felt compelled to offer us bits of wisdom along the way. Heaven knows we needed all we could get.

I tried to respond graciously with a nod and smile each time someone shared a nugget of advice with me. However, at that stage of motherhood, I was so sleep-deprived that I am sure I looked slightly deranged. No matter what we were dealing with, whether it was taking away the pacifier from a 3-year-old or trying to potty train an almost 4-year-old, someone always had advice for us. The self-doubt one has as a young parent is real. No book prepares us for the middle-of-the-night questions that arise.

Some advice was helpful, but much of it felt like judgment at the time. Of course I didn’t want my son to have a malformed mouth because of his pacifier, and no, I didn’t want my daughter crawling into my bed every night until she was 10. But if either meant I could get four solid hours of sleep, I was willing to take my chances. Because even in those parenting shortcomings, we were still doing our very best.

I used to believe nothing was more difficult than finding the strength each day to prepare myself for the energy that greeted me every morning. And at that stage in parenting, pacifiers, potty training and sleeping through the night felt like the biggest problems on the planet. And no amount of caffeine could match the energy levels of five children under 10. It was divine grace, divine mercy and divine intervention that kept us moving forward.

The next big thing

We have been blessed to have friendships throughout our married life with people in varying stages of marriage and parenthood. As we watched more seasoned couples navigate middle school and high school years with their kids, we longed for the independence they seemed to have. Oh, how awesome it would be when we could leave the house without the kids for just an hour. Or what a feeling of triumph to not have to dress three people other than myself for Mass.

As we gathered with these friends and shared our parenting struggles, they always graciously attempted to convey that it doesn’t get easier, it just changes. One friend reminded us often to settle in and enjoy the moments because “bigger kids = bigger problems.” It was never said to scare us or minimize our situation. It was a reminder that every season of parenthood requires God’s grace and the big things we felt we were facing could usually be solved with a little patience and a nap.

Today, we are parents of teenagers and young adults, with three teens and two post-20. I am proud to report that no one has a malformed mouth because of pacifier use and none of them sleep between us each night, despite claiming that our bed is the most comfortable in the house. So, the struggles of early childhood have all but disappeared. Our home functions on harmony and peace, long restful nights of sleep, and is virtually drama-free.

Not at all. It isn’t so much that bigger kids equal bigger problems, but the solutions are often far more complicated than they once were.

The broken hearts are no longer about being snubbed by their friend at the school lunch table. The hurt is much bigger. Who gets to sit next to Mom at Mass isn’t the fight. Finding and understanding God’s call in their life is what looms large. So much of what they encounter and are exposed to on a day-to-day basis leaves a deep wound in their hearts, and climbing up into Mom’s or Dad’s lap at the end of the day to find protection and acceptance is no longer socially acceptable.

On good days, our kids still come to us with their burdens. On great days, they listen to the wisdom we have to offer. But many days, they hide away in their rooms and attempt to deal with life on their own.

Parenting at this stage requires us to know and convey to our children that even small mistakes can have life-long consequences. Finding ways to do this while still communicating that there is forgiveness readily available at the Sacrament of Reconciliation requires grace. Some days, everything feels so big.

Where did all the advice go?

When we are sitting in Mass and I am slightly annoyed at what one of my daughters chose to wear, no one is there to offer me wisdom anymore. Instead of a sibling squabble about where to go to eat as a family, we are now trying to help our children navigate the choices of where to spend a small fortune to further their education. The same people who knew that we shouldn’t let our youngsters sip on a soda at McDonald’s don’t seem to have any advice on raising teens and young adults.

I think it’s because no one knows precisely what to do. Even those among us who look like they have it all figured out are often holding their breath praying that no one sees inside their home when the gloves come off and the struggles surface. Others take the “it is what it is” approach and watch the chaos in front of them like it could be much worse. All we can do is look to God for guidance and grace.

Finding and extending grace

It is at this stage that I am even more appreciative of my parents and the love and grace they extended throughout my growing-up years. It also brings a strong realization that they made it through on coffee and Jesus.

In our own experience, many hours have been spent in prayer and before the Blessed Sacrament. At every Mass, we lay down the failures, doubts and fears we have as parents and give them to Christ. For my husband and I, it continues to be deeply important to foster friendships with other Catholic parents who are just as confused by the actions of their children as we are. We laugh, cry, and pray for each other, sometimes over a glass of wine. These friendships are not just a distraction from our “real” job, they are a gift from God to remind us that we are not alone.

Raising children is the greatest joy, but it isn’t for the faint of heart. As parents of young adults, we are excited to grow in our understanding of and relationship with our children. We are filled with hope by what God will reveal to us as we strive to be the best parents we can be, relying fully on his divine intervention, divine grace and divine mercy.

Nothing meant more to us in our early stage of parenthood than when an observer would walk up to us at a restaurant or after Mass and compliment our children on their behavior or even share their own story of raising a big family. These interactions seemed to stop once our children outgrew those mischievously charming adolescent years. There is something about the face of a surly teen that keeps people at bay.

The next time you see a family with all teens and adult-ish children out together, smile and encourage them. It could be just the grace they needed that day.

Heidi Comes is the director of Campus Ministry for Dakota State University and the high school youth coordinator for St. Thomas Parish in Madison. She is a wife of 25 years and mother of five.