My wife had to go back to the U.S. to attend a funeral and I had to take care of our two children for five days. It was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do in my life. It was only five days for me, but my wife has been doing this for over three years. The experience was humbling. Now, I have a profound respect for my wife. Single-parents — I can’t even imagine — must have heroic virtue just to survive day-to-day, let alone help their children thrive.
We are blessed to live a life where the cost-of-living permits us to have part-time household help. Although I never brought it up to my wife, I always wondered why she would say she didn’t have enough time to do certain things when we have Lorie to help around the house for half the day. The purpose was to give Anne Marie more free time, but she would claim not to have any. Now I know. Even with the extra hours that Lorie put in, I could barely check my emails once a day, let alone get any time to read, think or relax.
Taking care of one’s children full-time and going to work full-time are really not the same thing. For one, I get breaks at work. There could be a lull in demands and I could check the news. I can go off to lunch by myself and read for a whole hour. That doesn’t happen with one’s children. Not my children. Not with daddy. I’m like a honey pot and they are like Winnie the Pooh times two. To top it off, they’re jealous of each other. Maya could be happily playing in one corner, but as soon as she sees me holding Hana, she’d storm over and complain about having a “tummy ache” and wants me to carry her.
Another difference between work full-time and children full-time is intellectual and emotional detachment. Screwing up at work is one thing. Screwing up with your kids has a different magnitude of consequences. While I have pride in my work, I don’t love my work. I do love my children and so the amount of self-giving is that much greater. That’s the thing… it’s the self-giving that is required with one’s children that is not required with people at work (i.e. supervisors, co-workers, clients, etc.) Caring for one’s children is physically, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually draining. And that’s on the good days. Even on the worst days at work, I only complain about being mentally drained.
These five days with my children has been humbling spiritually. In “The Three Ages of the Interior Life,” Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange wrote, “The great sign of love of God is precisely love of one’s neighbor. A saint who has little learning in theological matters but who has a very great love of God, is certainly more perfect than a theologian who has a lesser charity.” I have more theological knowledge than my wife. I never realized it until now, but I thought that made me more holy. It’s not knowledge that makes one holy, but self-giving to others, especially the less fortunate and the helpless (like one’s children). My wife has given a tremendous amount of herself these past three years for our daughters. Just these five days gave me a taste of the cross that she continues to bear for our family. Taking care of our girls is not torture (per se), but there’s a lot of self-sacrifice. All the virtues are practiced (faith, hope, charity, prudence, justice, fortitude, temperance). Many of the gifts of the Holy Spirit are exercised. I’ve come to realize that despite all my book knowledge about God, my wife loves Him more than me because she gives of herself more than I, especially for our children.
If I am to pursue the holiness, I need to exceed the charity that my wife exhibits. A little friendly competition doesn’t hurt. The prize is the Beatific Vision.