Just Parenting

I read a post on FB just this morning that invited me to reflect deeply.  It was by a cousin of mine who lives in Britain.  She was commenting on educating her children about the legacy of Nelson Mandela, who as I write is currently in ‘critical condition’.  The 94 year-old former South African President who helped defeat apartheid has had numerous health issues in recent months and many fear that he will pass soon.


My cousin, Angela, wrote that she wants to try and educate her children about the importance of Mandela’s historical legacy and so she has been telling her two children stories about him and that her son has been enjoying it so much that today he asked to hear more.  I was so struck by the power and importance of this short story that I wanted to spend some time with all of you, my fellow “Just Parents”, as we think about how we pass along stories of men and women who fight injustice and have been so important in our own understanding of the world.

While I have known about Nelson Mandela and his work for years, he has not been an important historical figure in my own development as a “justice worker”.  Those places were long-before taken by figures such as Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Oscar Romero.   And of course, in both studying with and working for the Jesuits as long as I did, the 6 Jesuits and 4 churchwomen who were killed in El Salvador during the 12 year civil war (in 1989 and 1980, respectively) have also been highly influential in my thinking about international and domestic social policy, about humanitarian aid, about fighting against unjust structures in the world.  I read the words of these people and my heart and mind are moved and inspired.  But I have struggled on how to bring these people, so important to me, into the life of my son and with our (soon-to-be born) second child.

Narrative is so important and I think this is the genius of Angela’s approach.  Tell the children a story – they LOVE stories.  We all do.  So, the question remains, how do we ‘share stories’ about these men and women as our children grow and mature?  How do bring them alive so that the legacy of their lives and their witnesses speak to them in loving and just ways?  I remember visiting the museum at the UCA (Universidad Centroamericana) with both Dean Brackley, S.J. and Doug Marcoullier, S.J. in 2000.  As we were walking around and seeing the various cases displaying the writings and personal effects of the Jesuits and their companions, Doug made an important comment that I remember all these years later.  He said, “This is what we have to remember—that these men loved and laughed and lived well, that they were full of joy and passion.  If we only remember them the morning after their execution, on the lawn of the rose garden, we miss the most important contribution they brought to the people here… their hearts.”

As my children grow, I hope to share the stories of men and women, such as MLK, Jr., Jean Donovan and Oscar Romero because they have inspired me to see the face of God in the poor, downtrodden and oppressed.  But I also hope to convey that a life engaged in the struggle for justice must also have the elements of “love, laughter and life” to keep the journey a full one.  Maybe you fellow parents have ideas on how you do this, as well?  Please… share your wisdom!