By Lenora Grimaud

God is a relationship of three persons. The domestic family is a reflection of the Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, created in the image and likeness of God. The self-donating love that exists in the Trinity is a model for how we are called to love and relate with one another. We do not choose our parents, siblings, relatives, children, and in-laws. We are born into a family organism. This family organism is expanded when we get married. We are called by the spirit of love to, at least, attempt to form relationships with all those who are part of our family organism. This is where we develop a sense of our own self—our own unique person or identity; where we dismantle the ego and replace it with the true self. Until we do this, we are really not capable of having a mature or healthy relationship with anyone. Our relationships will be immature or superficial, or they will be dysfunctional or one-sided.

A healthy relationship among adults is always a two-sided relationship, or it isn’t a relationship. A relationship is not about becoming part of the lives of others, or of others becoming part of our life. It is not either/or, it is both, or it is not a relationship. You can’t have a one-sided relationship. We invite others to become part of our life, and they invite us to become part of their life—it can’t be forced—and it has to be mutual.

Relationships are formed through mutual giving and receiving. Sometimes this is easier with friends or community outside the family. But, whether we are able to form healthy relationships with family members, or not, there is a family bond that ties us to that family, making it necessary to love them unconditionally—to love them as we love our own self. This extends out to the Church family, and eventually to the whole world. The Church is made one family organism through the Sacrament of Baptism. The family is a micro Church.

In this expansion of the human family, we cannot cut ourselves off from our biological family in order to move into another family organism. We need to remain connected and take them with us wherever we go, while maintaining our own individuality and living out of our own center. If we do cut them off, it is like amputating a part of our own body. We go through life handicapped. This includes the Church Family.

Most people, unfortunately, are ego-centered; they live out of their ego. The ego must die so that the true self can be regenerated. This can only happen by being “born again”—“baptized in the Holy Spirit”—through a relationship with Jesus Christ, the Son of God. In order to have healthy relationships, in order to love as God loves, God must become our center; but, not God alone. Our true self must enter into union with God within the center of our soul—our heart. This union is a relationship with God—a “spiritual marriage” with God. In this union, we do not become God, or dissolve into God. We do not lose our humanity, or the distinction between creator and creature. We become “one with” God, not one God, without losing our identity, our unique separateness, our soul (just as a husband and wife become one through marriage). We become of one mind, with God—one heart, one will, one purpose. God gives us a portion of his spirit—his love, grace, holiness, and gifts. We give God our body, heart, mind, and soul and are then able to receive what He gives to us. Very few people have entered into a “spiritual marriage” with God, but this is what we are all called to. We are all called to be Saints.

Some adults, after having some kind of crisis or unresolved conflict with a parent, reject and abandon their childhood and young adult life, and everything they experienced during that time. Sometimes, they abandon their faith heritage and their inner child, as well. By abandoning their inner child, they abandon part of their own self. The child is still within them, but it is lost, wounded, and sobbing. These people will never be free until they reclaim their inner child, and integrate their past with their present and future. They have to find a way to resolve the conflict with their mother and/or father, even if the parent is no longer living. Forgiveness is needed because as long as the conflict remains they will transfer more and more negative qualities onto that parent and anyone who reminds them of the parent.

There is a reason why the Commandment says: “Honor Thy Parents,” (mother and father) instead of “Honor Thy Children.” God didn’t give this Commandment because parents deserve to be honored or because he wanted to exalt parents. He did it for the sake of the children; they are the ones who will be blessed. To know how to honor lawful authority is to know how to love, and affects all our relationships. The world would be a very different place if we really understood the meaning of this Commandment. Unless we learn to honor and reverence our parents we will probably not be able to honor God, others, or ourselves. We will probably never have respect for authority, either. The Commandment is not really given to children, it is given to adult children. Children don’t really understand what it means to “honor” their parents. They only understand it in terms of “obedience,” which ends when they become adults. Parents teach their children to honor them by the way they honor their spouses and their own parents. To honor someone is to sing their praises, to lift them up. There is something in every parent worthy of praise. To honor our parents means to never judge them, criticize them, look down on them, treat them with scorn, talk about them behind their back, mock them, ridicule, or laugh at them. To honor our parents means that we do not presume to correct them or give them unsolicited advice. I remember the hurt that I saw in my father’s eyes when, as an obnoxious young adult, I presumed to give him advice on raising children. We should never presume to give anyone unsolicited advice, but especially our parents. To honor our parents means to remember them, to pay them tribute, to show our appreciation for them, to give thanks for their life and all that they have given us. To honor our parents is to always have our doors open to them; to be open to listen to whatever wisdom they have to pass on. The role of parents, when their children are grown, is to become “wisdom figures” for their families. The primary role of grandparents is to pass on their wisdom, and all that they have learned from their mistakes in life to their families. To honor our parents means to have compassion for them in their old age and times of illness; to care for them. Pride is the enemy of honor. Haughtiness is the sister of arrogance. To honor our parents is to see our parents deserving of more respect than we are. This does not include “unfit parents” who should have their children taken from them. Although, even these deserve some honor, if only because they gave life.

This understanding of what it means to honor our parents is really only an ideal, however. Parents need to realize that they can only teach their children what it means to honor their parents, and model it for them, but, they cannot demand it, force it, or expect it. Honor has to come from “free will,” and from the heart. If parents have this expectation of their adult children, they will probably be very disappointed. Adult children tend to honor their fathers more than they do their mothers, not because they love their fathers more, but because women tend to show more respect and honor to their husbands than husbands show for their wives. Fathers are more likely to expect or demand that their adult children honor them. Women honor their fathers more than their mothers, and men honor their mothers more than their fathers. Mothers are more likely to be taken for granted than fathers are, because they are more accepting and have a deeper emotional bond with their children. This isn’t always the case, but generally, it is. Adult children will tend to treat their mothers as equal, and be more patronizing towards them. This isn’t usually the case with fathers. Children respect their parents by obeying them; adults respect their parents by honoring them. Generally, adult children tend to respect their parents, but fail to go beyond to really honoring them. Today, marriage and family life has been profaned and almost destroyed. This has a lot to do with our present culture, which worships equality, independence, and individualism; and rejects all authority and hierarchical boundaries. As adults, we are called to interdependence, not independence.

Children are not born with a sense of their own self. Infants cannot distinguish between themselves and the world around them, and as they bond with their mother, their mother becomes their world. As children begin to grow, they experience their self as an extension of their parents, like a branch on a vine. This is what bonds them to their parents. They respond to love but are not really able to love unconditionally, with their will. Their ego develops first and they love through their ego. The child sees the whole world revolving around them. Their ego becomes the center of the world. The ego has to grow and develop, like the caterpillar, and then when the time is right, it has to die so that the butterfly—the true self—can emerge. The cocoon, where this transformation takes place, is likened to the Spirit, or spiritual life—the Kingdom of God within.

There are two extremes that parents have to be on guard against with their children. One extreme is to lose their own self—their identity—by making their children’s lives their lives. They began to live vicariously through their children and lose their own unique self. If a parent becomes overly attached to their child, they are in danger of losing their own identity. Like the infant, they can’t distinguish between the child and their own true self. They begin to project parts of their own self onto their child, both positive and negative aspects. Parents also have to guard against letting their children take possession of their self, their life. The other extreme is when the parent tries to force their children to live out their dreams, ambitions, values, beliefs, etc. The children will not be able to develop a sense of their own self—their own unique person. This takes time, however. While the child is developing his own person, he remains connected to the parents like a new born connected to its mother by an umbilical cord. Parents have to know when it is time, and be willing, to cut the cord.

Parents are called to be their own person—to live their own life. As they do, they become “models” for their children. They model their vision of life, their hopes and dreams, their beliefs and values, their gifts and talents—without forcing their children to become possessed by their “self.” Their children, as they mature, are free to choose what they see modeled for them and to integrate it without losing their own identity, or self.

Children generally love and bond with those that their parents love and bond with. They are open to relationships with those that their parents relate with—at least until they come into their own self. They are attracted to friends that like them, teachers and other adults who like them or remind them of their parents. They generally don’t trust people or relatives that their parents have a problem with. They pick up on their parents’ attitudes and are always listening at the key hole to what their parents don’t want them to hear.

The parent-child relationship is very much like the relationship between God and humans. It starts out very one-sided. The parent gives and the child receives. God gives and we receive. There is nothing that we can give to God that we have not received from Him. We love God because he first loved us. The child is dependent on the parents for everything. The difference is that eventually the child becomes a man or woman, no longer dependent on the parents; they come into their own self and have something of their own to give. We will always be dependent on God, however, and never be able to give what we have not first received from God. God is the vine and we are the branches.

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