Parenting is one of the most rewarding and beautiful endeavors I have ever had in my life. It is also one of the hardest. I’m the Dad of two boys, both under the age of 4. I am convinced that no one is ever really prepared to be a parent. In many ways, I certainly wasn’t prepared. On the positive side, I have never experienced God more fully than participating in the process of bringing a child into the world and nurturing him. I was not prepared for how much my heart would grow in its ability to love. My sense of unconditional love has been transformed since the day my first son was born. There are stretches of days and sometimes weeks when the boys delight us with their growth and learning and affection and wonder at the world. I was unprepared for all of this goodness. Maybe that’s grace.
I was also unprepared by how hard parenting can be. Sometimes the stretches of days and sometimes weeks aren’t so much blissful as they are a grind. It is during these stretches that instead of affection, we get tantrums. Instead of wonder at the world, we get obstinate resistance. Instead of harmonious flow, life with kids can feel more like constant frustration. It is during these stretches that I know I’m not always my best self: not always as patient, kind, or loving as I know I could be. What makes it all more pressure-packed is the fear many of us parents carry: that what if these frustrating stretches and our own mistakes in handling them do permanent damage? What if these stretches of discord turn into patterns? What if we dig a hole with our kids that we cannot get out from?
Frequently I wish we could step away and take a class on how to do this parenting business, or I wish we had a daily parenting support group. If I were in high school or college, I would go on retreat to get away, reflect, recharge, re-evaluate. I often wish I had a catalyst like that to help me appreciate the blissful moments more and to change my approach to some of the negative patterns. The ability to do this seems foreign to me now though, in light of the daily demands of work and family life. And so I’m left, often wondering, how I can find the kind of space I need to get perspective and stay balanced?
Maybe as we approach the Feast of St. Ignatius, the answer is right in front of me, right in front of my Jesuit-educated worldview. In the ministry I do with college students, my colleagues and I often encourage them to engage St. Ignatius’ Daily Examen in those stretches of life when classes and homework and club activities and on-campus jobs add up to one-great-big-old life-sprint. The kind of life in which, if you’re not careful, you can look up at the end of it and a year has gone by and you’re unsure of what just happened, what you learned, even unsure of who you are now. The Examen, we tell them, is an easy way to create some space in their days to reflect, recharge, and re-evaluate. The Examen, we tell them, is an easy way to make space for God, for listening, for re-connecting with who they are at their deepest core. The Examen, we tell them, can be a spiritual life-preserver when we might otherwise drown in the bustle of daily life.
Substitute “house chores” for “classes.” Substitute “diapers and laundry” for “homework.” Substitute “meal planning and cooking” for “club activities.” Substitute “working parents” for “on-campus jobs,” and suddenly I realize I’m in need of that spiritual life-preserver too. Feels a lot like I could use a Daily Examen for Parents.
Here is a stab I have taken at adapting St. Ignatius’ Daily Examen into a daily practice specifically for harried parents who ultimately long for living and parenting in ways that reflect a belief in and a relationship with a loving God. I share it, not as an expert in getting this stuff right (neither the parenting nor the regular reflection), but as a fellow pilgrim along the journey with you, who is thirsty for ways to slow down, for ways to make meaning of the messiness of having children, and for ways to stay afloat when it would be far too easy to drown.
A Daily Examen for Parents *
How am I grateful for my family today? How have they loved and supported me?
Before I review my day, I ask for clarity and honesty as I search for God and as I look at myself and my kids.
From my interactions with my kids today today….
What did my kids do or say that made me smile, laugh, or pause in joy?
What did they do or say that challenged or frustrated me?
How did I respond to my kids with love and patience?
How did I respond to my kids out of frustration and impatience?
When did I feel closer to them? More distant from them?
How might my kids have tried to communicate deeper needs to me underneath the surface of their actions and words?
Have I noticed God’s presence in the midst of any of this?
What might God be inviting me to consider when I reflect on these experiences in my family?
What is my response to God who is present in the life of my family?
A LOOK AHEAD
As I consider my family’s day tomorrow…
How can I be an instrument of God’s love in my family tomorrow?
How can I honor the gifts of my children more fully tomorrow?
If you’ve ever been educated by the Jesuits or studied Ignatian spirituality, then you know we’re called to be active and not called to merely just read about these practices. Ignatius Loyola himself might say: Don’t just think about it… live it. So I’ll challenge myself to do this Examen at least once this week – to truly listen to my days and to the voices around me, not as just the everyday din of the mundane, but instead as constant invitations to a life of joy and meaning. I will try to grow the practice into one that I do multiple times a week, maybe even daily sometime later down the line. But I also know that with all the other pressures of parenting, I don’t need to give myself another unrealistic one. So once this week. That’s where I’ll start. I invite you to join me and, more than that, I wish you peace along the journey that is parenting.
* Adapted from the Daily Examen for Cultural Diversity by Debra Mooney & Cheryl Nunez. Find more versions of the Daily Examen or other Ignatian-inspired resources at Jesuitresource.org.
Since entering Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio in the fall of 1997, Greg Carpinello has been a part of Jesuit institutions ever since. After graduating in 2001, Greg was an intern at the Jesuit Spiritual Center in Milford, Ohio before returning to Xavier as a retreat coordinator until 2006. After earning an MA from the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry in 2007, Greg worked in the Office of Campus Ministry at BC. Now, he and his wife, Maura, live back in Cincinnati with their son, Andrew, who was born on Leap Day of 2012. Greg serves as the Director of the Dorothy Day Center for Faith and Justice at Xavier.