We welcomed Kevin Middlesworth to our panel of the Heroic Meaning of Parenthood a few weeks ago, and we’re still reflecting on the wisdom that he shared with us, along with our other amazing guest panelists. (Here’s the link in case you missed it!)

Here’s a breakdown of Kevin’s perspective, both from the panel and beyond.


How can parenthood, which can seem to be an ordinary and mundane role, be seen as heroic?

When you become a parent, you become the main character in the great story that that little child is constantly watching. And every main character is called to be a hero. What is “ordinary” to us can be extraordinary to a child. Some of our most cherished, comforting memories from our childhood revolve around ordinary moments because these moments added up can become signs of the deeper meaning of a relationship.

When parents are actively embracing their vocation, the simpler, more mundane moments are like whispers can speak in a different way than the loud dramatic ones. They can provide clear insight into who each child is. And to properly form your children, you have to know them. You have to learn what makes them tick over the long haul of daily life. You have to observe the little flashes of their inner persons every chance you get. The little moments are ripe with these. Some of the most satisfying times I have with my children are when I am just wasting time with them, watching them become who they’ve been made to be.

I find that my children benefit from the great moments, but even those only bear the meaning that they do because of that foundational connection built in the little moments, one grain of sand at a time.

What does the journey of parenthood look like?

It is suffering. Beautiful suffering. Children come with a requirement: that you give your life for them (for them, not to them). Those who embrace the suffering find the greater joy that contributes to the spiritual and moral formation of the person. It becomes part of that singular call to become a saint. If you fight it, your children become the extra bags that you have to lug onto an airplane. They become a burden.

How can parents create and allow adventure in a parenting culture that values safety and predictability above all else?

Within reason, let your kids hurt themselves. At the right age, let them play and create where you can’t see them and they can’t see you. They need to learn how to problem-solve with the resources that they can see around them. They need to test the mettle of their own resolve. And then be sure to listen closely to their stories of these adventures. When they invite you in, don’t miss the opportunity to enter their world. This creates relational reference points for helping them to understand what they are up against in the right set of doses.

For example, my boys made a Swiss-Family-Robinson-like experience in the woods behind our house. I tried to stay scarce at critical points of their project while they were building it. When they invited me to spend time with them in it, I got the opportunity to tell them how proud I was and could help them think about what they wanted to do for the next phase.

How can parents help their children see and embrace their own callings?

Here’s my dad-who-is-in-the-midst-of-it-all opinion: unfortunately, children don’t come with an “embrace calling now” lever. At this stage, one of the things that we do is to help them imagine fatherhood and motherhood. I’ll often say, “When you are a father, whether that’s getting married or becoming a priest … ” Hopefully we are establishing a framework for them to rely on as they continue in life.

What would you say has been the biggest surprise in your experience of parenthood?

It is amazing how your children will love you by default. And they are often very ready to forgive you and be restored when we own up to our sins against them.

What is the most important thing that you would say to a new parent?

Children are a call to action. In the early years, you are the main character in the story that they will always be watching. Whether you thought you were ready or not. You are the unlikely hero. You are their hero by default. As in every story, the unlikely hero has to decide to risk it all for the sake of the good or to shrug the responsibility. The first step is to say yes to the call however it takes concrete form in your life. Every day.

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