I had one morning this week when I could sleep in late. Only one. Every other morning had something on the schedule requiring an early rise and, no doubt, with it a crazy morning of scrambling around trying to get everyone else up, fed, dressed, and out the door on time. But today, today there was nothing going on (except our regular schedule of school, laundry, dishes…) , so today I planned to sleep until at least 8:30. I was hoping for 9. My youngest had other plans. At 7:30, I heard her loud, demanding cries from down the hall. She was up, and she wanted out of that crib. I tried to get her to go back to sleep. I brought her into my bed and snuggled her and patted her back and practically begged her to sleep another hour or so, but no such luck. She refused to cooperate and instead spent the time putting her little fingers in my mouth and my nose and attempting to do some acrobatics while sprawling across my chest. Needless to say, I gave up pretty quickly.
I know she is only 17 months but there are times, brief, fleeting moments usually, but times still, that I wish she was a little more self-sufficient. I wish she had the independence to occupy herself in the mornings. She could, at least, play quietly in her crib for a while so that I could sleep until I had to get up.
I read somewhere, years ago, that studies of different cultures have shown that parents raise their children to value the things most important in their respective cultures. For example, in certain cultures, the tribe or community comes before the individual and, in those cultures, children are raised to value the group and to sacrifice personal desires for the good of the whole. The children do learn this concept and live accordingly from their youth, somehow. In America, the most valued trait is independence. Children are raised in this country to be independent because, according to our culture, independence is the key to success. Sometimes I think the things I read and hear about are a little silly but this one seemed to be true. Look at the world we live in. Children are put in daycare at 6 weeks old and from infancy start to live much of their days independent of their parents. Young children start school at the age of 2 or 3 and all of the sudden are expected to conform to the rules and norms of an institution for several hours a day. If these children have trouble separating from their parents the usual response is give it a couple of days or weeks. They will adjust. And they do. Our children do learn to be independent of their parents and families. Children have their busy lives and parents have theirs- oftentimes separate from one another.
Young women are told they must get a college degree and prepare to support themselves. Even married women are encouraged to work and make their own money, just in case something happens to their husband, or their marriage falls apart. Or, maybe it is because being dependent on their husband financially would mean they have had no success of their own and their lives would have no purpose. It is seen as weak to depend on a man. So, husbands and wives too, lead busy lives, running in different directions. Everyone is self sufficient. Everyone is capable and successful. But, are our families benefiting from all this great success? Are our children better off for their wonderful independence?
The divorce rate is skyrocketing. The foster care system is busting at the seams. Thousands of babies a day are aborted. It seems half the population is on anti-depressants. Maybe independence should not be the true measure of success, or at least, maybe it should not be the greatest measure of success.
God made us dependent on one another for a reason. What we as humans desire most in life is connection to others. What we strive for most is love and acceptance but in our culture everyone is so busy being independent and self sufficient there is little time for connection and little time for love. Jesus was born into this world utterly dependent. He was a helpless newborn needing the care of His mother and (foster) father. Our children come into the world the same way, utterly dependent on us. I believe that dependence is one of the things that connects us and make us feel fulfilled. Children are supposed to depend on their parents and parents are supposed to be dependable. No, I did not want to get up early today and care for my energetic toddler before the sun was up but she needed me. As a mother, I know that being needed gives my life purpose. And so, we depend on one another. She helps me get myself going for the day, she brings me joy with her silly antics while I am trying to sleep. She stretches me as a person and teaches me the value of sacrifice. I care for her. I get up with her and keep her safe from harm as she plays. I feed her breakfast and change her diaper. I love her and show her she is lovable.
Husbands and wives are supposed to be dependent, as well. Just as St. Joseph provided for his family, men are to provide for their families today. Just as the Blessed Mother nurtured and cared for her family, her Son and her husband, we, as wives and mothers, are to care for our families. The more we depend on one another the stronger our families are, and the more respect we have for each other and ourselves. Each of us is called to succeed in life but true success is not marked by complete independence. Ironically, I find I am most successful in my own life when I realize I am utterly dependent on the grace of God. It is then that I grow as a wife, as a mother, and as a person, in holiness and in virtue.
Even as an adult, Jesus choose 12 apostles to work with Him. Though they were not always as dependable as they should have been (how many times did His closest friends fall asleep on Him during His agony in the garden?), Jesus never threw His hands up and said, “That’s it. I’ll just do it on my own!” He depended on His apostles to support Him and, more importantly, to continue His work here on earth after His ascension. Who are we to think we can live completely independent of others, doing it all on our own? I am grateful to have a husband who allows me to depend on him and is willing to depend on me. I am grateful my children have depended on Tim and I their entire lives. My family, though perhaps not very successful in the eyes of the world, is strong and loving. We are connected to one another and we depend on one another. Above all ,we depend on God-- a dependence I hope I never outgrow.