Watching my children with their offspring over Christmas, I was reminded of the challenge in raising a young family, keeping up with meals and multiple activities, often after a broken sleep in a world made more frantic by the speed of communications.
Today’s young parents often struggle without the support of their parents which was almost constant a few generations ago. How do people from other countries cope without family support?
While pushing my granddaughter on the swings one day, I got talking to a young Japanese woman with her five-month-old daughter. When I asked if her baby had brothers or sisters, she said, ‘Oh no, I am not coping with this one, I couldn’t do this again.’
My Japanese friend was going through the usual issues of a young family and, after further probing on my part, she said she had been to Plunket, ‘but all I needed was someone to talk to who had been there and could help me talk it through’.
Side-by-Side Mentoring is one way in which we, as a church community, can offer support and practical knowledge to young parents. It is a way of saying to parents ‘You belong to us. We are here for you and we want to help if you need us’.
It is a way of connecting those who have learned a little about being a parent with those starting out.
Mentors offer a listening ear and help to connect with those agencies which might be needed from time to time.
For a faith-based community, a church which values family life, a people who care, there can only be one response – let’s do it!
A church response
When a family presents a child for baptism, the church community welcomes the child and promises to help the family raise the child ‘by word and example’. What strategies are in place in our parishes to simply ask ‘how is it going with your little one?’ or ‘your child is beautiful, you are doing such a great job’. Mothers have told me these affirmations mean everything to them. They tell parents they are valued and they open the door for conversations about the issues that are troubling them.
When you look around the pews on Sunday, think of all the love, experience and wisdom in your community. Consider also the young parents who may have had their child baptised but rarely make it to Sunday Mass. How can you share the gifts of the faith community with them? This is basic evangelisation. Through your interest in them they can believe in a God who loves them, a community who is there for them, and they no longer feel alone.
In his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium released in November 2013, Pope Francis says ‘an evangelising community gets involved by word and deed in people’s daily lives; it bridges distances, it is willing to abase itself if necessary and it embraces human life’. Getting involved in the lives of young parents would have to be one of the most rewarding forms of evangelisation, enriching your own life as you love another family.
Catholic teaching holds parenthood in high honour. In the domestic Church that is family, parents are recognised as co-operators in the love of God the Creator. It is therefore the role of the whole church to support parents as they raise their children, as well as to honour and thank them for bringing children into this world and sharing their love with them.
Sue Devereux is an adviser with Archdiocesan Pastoral Services.