This story isn’t necessarily about religion, but it does start in a church.
My husband and I take our three sons to mass at a Catholic church every weekend. As expected, my boys can struggle sitting quietly through an hour-long service, but we’ve had a wide range of experiences from surprisingly angelic behavior to crawling under pews and lying face down in the main aisle. I always thought as a parent, I’d get better at anticipating their needs, the kids would get older and better behaved, and overall, mass would get easier. I thought I’d see linear improvement as time went on.
Instead, for the last couple of months, it feels like it’s been getting worse.
On one particular weekend, my children were so rowdy, loud, and unruly that I couldn’t keep the tears from streaming down my face after mass ended. I felt like the worst parent to ever set foot in a church, which of course isn’t true, but I was mortified.
I couldn’t bring myself to look at anyone as we hurried to the parking lot. Sometimes people offer kind comments; sometimes they offer what they believe to be helpful comments that are really just hurtful. I didn’t want anyone to talk to us after that particular mass.
I was beyond humiliated.
It can be so demoralizing whenever you feel like your parenting is on display for the masses, and it seems like you’re failing the test. It doesn’t have to be at church– it can be in any public setting. I’ve carried my children screaming out of the library, sat while they rolled in a tantrum on the grocery store floor, darted after them in parking lots hollering for them to never run around cars– the list goes on. I’ve shouldered my fair share of public judgment on my parenting, and I usually let it roll right off of me, but nothing bothers me quite like being in the spotlight in church.
For me, church is where I should be going to “fill my cup,” so to speak, not to feel completely drained. I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on it all. I keep returning to how I feel when my kids act up in church: humiliated. The Oxford Dictionary defines “humiliate” as: make (someone) feel ashamed and foolish by injuring their dignity and self-respect, especially publicly.
But my children are not (intentionally) humiliating me. The public is not humiliating me. I’m the only one making myself feel humiliated, feeling ashamed and foolish. I needed to reframe my mindset if I was ever going to get over the feelings of dread about attending mass.
I needed to turn my humiliation into humility.
The words are so close, their etymology stems from the same root word. Humility, defined as “a modest or low view of one’s own importance,” doesn’t mean that I actually think I’m a bad parent or am embarrassed by my own faults. To me, it just means I’m aware that I’m NOT a perfect parent.
Have you ever heard the expression about how everyone’s a perfect parent… and then they have kids? Everyone thinks they know exactly what they’ll do as a parent, and their actions will result in perfect children who never misbehave, eat all their food at every meal, showcase impeccable manners, never have screentime, show respect at all times, and so on. I also fell into this trap, but now that I have kids, I can readily admit I am NOT the perfect parent I thought I’d be.
I can humbly acknowledge that I’m not the perfect parent I thought I would be or still dream of being. Continuing to bring my kids to church despite their behavior has been the ultimate lesson in humility– facing my shortcomings, accepting them, and continuing to try again, week after week. It’s like I tell my kids all the time after they’ve had a meltdown: we will try again tomorrow. It’s advice I have to follow for myself.
Going to mass hasn’t gotten better for us (yet), but I’m doing my best to feel humility over humiliation. Each week is a new opportunity to try again. One day, I hope and pray to see improvement, but until then, I won’t give up on my kids, and I won’t give up on me, either.