May: Month of Mary and Mom
Ideally two parents belong together, ideally too a dad and a mom. But this is not necessarily the case today as more children are being brought up by single moms than in two-parent families.
Fewer lone parents are dads. And there are other configurations of families.
A recent article in Family Matters asked: “Who is parenting our children?”
Parents may see the children for only a short time during their waking hours, hardly enough to have the kind of influence on their development — physical, social and moral — that is best for them, with others spending more time with them.
But, as Pope Francis frequently says: “The reality is that families are doing the best they can in the circumstances in which they find themselves”. But that does not give us permission to not do our very best, discern, evaluate, learn skills and spend what time we can on our mutual spiritual growth.
The Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes stated: “Children in their own way make their parents holy.” That has always intrigued me as I wonder whether it is the stresses of parenting that turn us to intercessory prayer more often than to prayers of praise and gratitude.
In Amoris Laetitia Pope Francis includes single parents with the more difficult family situations that need to be given special care. Single-parent families, he notes, often result from the “unwillingness of biological mothers and fathers to be part of a family, situations of violence, where one parent is forced to flee with the children, the death of one of he parents, the abandonment of the family by one parent and other situations”.
“Whatever the cause, single parents must receive encouragement and support from other families in the Christian community and from the parish’s pastoral outreach. Often these families endure other hardships such as economic difficulties, uncertain employment prospects, problems with child support and lack of housing.”
Many of these issues are common to all families but the greatest difficulties are experienced by poorer families, even with two parents.
Training Pastoral Leaders
When we consider that a family is a developing system, we realise that kids are not just a generic bunch for which there are one-size-fits-all answers but that their age, personalities, interests, talents and health issues must be considered.
Pope Francis stresses the importance of training leaders who can assist in this pastoral care at various levels. That has been the ministry of Marfam (marfam.org.za) for more than 20 years, largely through producing resource materials for family education and enrichment and for years also offering a more comprehensive parish family ministry programme that uses as a starting point the vision of a parish as a family of families.
Mothers for mothers, fathers for fathers, youth for youth, has also been considered but while it does have merits I have some reservations about dividing up families like that. Is that not part of the individualist mentality of today? Mothers’ Day on May 13 is fine, but it needs kids and dads too.
The International Day For Families on May 15, is a UN commemoration and initiative since 1995 with a different focus. The theme for 2018, “Families and inclusive societies” will explore the role of families and family policies in advancing Sustainable Development Goal 16 in terms of “Promoting peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development”.
A two-day event is being planned by the Department of Social Development (DSD) to be held in Gauteng, but all provinces and civil society organisations, which includes churches, are expected to highlight the day and its objectives (any DSD office can provide information).
I would like to see that done in a uniquely African and Catholic way with the family theme, “Ubuntu: Families Do Matter”.
Recent gifts Pope Francis has given to the Church are also special for families; his exhortation Gaudete et Exultate (his letter on choosing to be holy) and his gift of the new feast of Mary, Mother of the Church. The current Family Matters magazine has suggested the image of the Black Madonna of Soweto as appropriate.
However, the feast and the concept can be enthusiastically adopted as Mary, Mother of the Rowland church (or the Pieterse or Ndlovu church). The possibilities for families with God is truly endless — we can even sneak St Joseph in, too, if we choose — but what is needed is some time, effort, prayer and the unique love of parents and kids.