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Timely Guidance and Inspiration for Parents of Children in Crisis
The bestselling authors of The Roller-Coaster Years, Parenting 911, and Cliques draw deeply on their faith and the rich Catholic spiritual tradition in this guide for parents of children in crisis.
In Good Parents, Tough Times, authors Charlene C. Giannetti and Margaret Sagarese focus on the spiritual well-being of the parent as much as the behavior of the child. The authors draw...
Timely Guidance and Inspiration for Parents of Children in Crisis
The bestselling authors of The Roller-Coaster Years, Parenting 911, and Cliques draw deeply on their faith and the rich Catholic spiritual tradition in this guide for parents of children in crisis.
In Good Parents, Tough Times, authors Charlene C. Giannetti and Margaret Sagarese focus on the spiritual well-being of the parent as much as the behavior of the child. The authors draw parallels between the real-life struggles parents face today and those endured by the saints. They believe that the qualities that enabled the saints to face great troubles—charity, knowledge, faith, hope, patience, serenity, truth, and humility—can help parents cope with a troubled child.
“This book provides what every parent needs: a chance to learn from the saints and to look to them for encouragement and practical advice.”
—Scott Hahn, author of The Lamb’s Supper
“Deep, yet simple and practical, this book will help parents and all who have teens in their lives to know better how to listen, pray, and help.”
—Fr. Paul Keenan, author of Heartstorming
“[Good Parents, Tough Times] not only offers parents the saints’ very practical advice about raising teens with faith, hope, and love, but also helps parents receive the grace of the saints’ powerful intercession.”
—Bert Ghezzi, author of Voices of the Saints and Mystics and Miracles
I made a major mistake this weekend. My fourteen-year-old daughter took me to my limit. I slapped her. I pray God will give me the strength and knowledge to deal with her.
My daughter was caught shoplifting. Every day I wake up scared to death of what she will do next. I am losing my health over this. What can I do?
I have a fourteen-year-old son who is out of control. I find myself saying as a mantra, “I love him, I love him,” just to remind myself that I do during the worst times.
These sentiments and others like them come from parents whose struggles with their adolescents have taken over their lives and reduced them to despair. We have often heard such laments from parents who come to our talks or visit us online at www.parentsoup.com. Many of these parents are in shock. They don’t know what has happened to their child, and they worry that they have lost him or her forever.
These are tough times to parent an adolescent. School shootings, substance abuse, sexual harassment, AIDS, eating disorders, violence, depression—all are part and parcel of our children’s world. The messages our children receive from the media contradict the values we try desperately to teach them. At the same time, we are with them less. With more dual working couples and an increasing number of single-parent homes, our children often spend time after school home alone and are more vulnerable to outside influences.
We know from our experience as parenting experts that the issues that crop up during adolescence are complex and resist easy solutions. Sometimes parents reach a point with a troubled adolescent when it seems that change is hopeless. We’ve tried everything humanly possible, and we are frustrated by our lack of progress. At this point, we need to look to a higher source for help and inspiration.
In this book, we will look to the saints, ordinary men and women who faced challenges, tragedies, and violence with incredible courage and fortitude. Their lives were filled with miracles and mystery. The heart-wrenching tales we recount within these pages can inspire and encourage all of us to build our spiritual character, develop coping mechanisms, and multiply our religious resources.
We hope that whether you are a mother, father, stepparent, or grandparent, you will keep this book close at hand. The drama will entice you to turn the pages, while the stories themselves will bring home the truth that all things are possible with God, even rescuing your out-of-control child.
The Trials of Parenting
How do you parent a struggling child? It helps to be up-to-date on the latest parenting techniques. But even the most well-intentioned parent armed with this information needs more. A parent needs faith, love, hope, and the patience of a saint.
We came to this understanding the hard way, through our own parenting conflicts. How ironic, we thought: here we are, the experts, advising other parents, and we are unable to cope ourselves. We did everything humanly possible, following our own dictums, yet when all was said and done, we felt helpless. We worried about our children becoming depressed, falling in with unsavory friends, or possibly resorting to substance abuse.
As we worried about our own children, we listened to other parents who felt powerless. One mother asked: “Why should parenting involve so much suffering?”
Her comment brought to mind the Virgin Mother. She gave birth in a stable. Her child ran off to the temple, and she panicked until she found him. Jesus took on a lifestyle that was, to say the least, unconventional. He opened himself up to ridicule. Mary watched him be dragged through the streets and die on the cross. Where was the joy in her parenting?
Considering Mary’s struggles led us to explore the lives of other saints. Learning about them had been a big part of our religious education, and we saw that they might be able to offer the help we had been looking for. Many saints did not lead saintly lives in the beginning. These individuals are accessible to us, and their lives and words offer much inspiration.
Some saints stand out because of their own experiences and how they coped. St. Monica’s son Augustine acted out during adolescence and resisted Catholicism. For thirty long years Monica prayed for his conversion. It finally happened, and he went on to become a saint himself, an encouraging outcome for all mothers with headstrong sons.
Many saints lived in biblical times, but their lives and experiences parallel our lives and many of the situations facing our children. With her prayers, St. Rita managed to turn around her abusive husband and two difficult sons before they died. Dealing with an out-of-control child often places great stress on a marriage. How many couples could find comfort in St. Rita’s example?
St. Agnes was only thirteen when she was martyred. A beautiful girl, she was aggressively pursued by many suitors, but she chose to remain a virgin. Could we pray to her that our daughters will find the strength to use good judgment in their youthful relationships? What about St. Jude, the patron saint of hopeless causes? What could seem more hopeless than attempting to parent an angry, defiant adolescent?
Then there is St. Joseph. Imagine the faith necessary for him to marry a pregnant woman and accept her destiny as the mother of God. He was hardworking, honest, and humble. How many fathers could learn from him?
Consider Mary’s own parents, St. Anne and St. Joachim. Their daughter’s unplanned pregnancy threatened their happiness, but they faced this trial with great faith and courage. Could parents whose daughters face unplanned pregnancies draw solace and strength from the examples set by these two great saints?
All these saints took a leap of faith, and from them we learn that sometimes it is the only thing that can take a parent from the despair of today to the hope of tomorrow. After we have done everything humanly possible, all we can do is continue to trust in God. And to help us strengthen our faith and belief, we can turn to the saints, ordinary men and women who also struggled with everyday concerns and managed to rise above them. Their examples can inspire us, comfort us, bring us closer to God, and, ultimately, help us restore our relationships with our children.
The Power of Prayer
The old saying “God helps those who help themselves” still resonates. Praying for a troubled adolescent is a way of helping, although of course prayer is not always enough on its own. If a parent suspects that a child is using drugs, for example, the adolescent may need counseling or perhaps even something more serious, such as a rehabilitation or wilderness therapy program. Along the way, however, prayer can occupy the mind and spirit and create a sea of calm in the middle of a storm. It can be a refuge when all else has failed.
Prayer is not a passive activity. A parent can pray and feel as if she is doing something. The routine of prayer, the rituals involved—saying novenas or rosaries, lighting candles, attending Mass—provide an activity and a focus. Concentrating on the saints makes the exercise more personal. It’s like taking a journey with a friend. The saints travel with us in spirit to offer support and understanding. Their lives, too, were once filled with turmoil. They can empathize. We know they are listening.
This book is organized into eight chapters, each focused on a specific virtue: charity, knowledge, faith, hope, patience, serenity, truth, humility. Within each chapter we will draw from real-life experiences of parents we have met at our talks and online, and we will draw parallels between these crises and those endured by the saints.
We will guide you on reestablishing a connection with the saints through various activities—praying novenas, reading the Bible, reciting the rosary, and making pilgrimages, to name a few. We have also provided discussion questions at the end of each chapter that you can use on your own or in a small group, depending on your preference. Some questions are more appropriate for personal reflection, while others lend themselves more to group discussion. Choose whichever questions fit you best. These exercises are simple yet will produce profound results.
We live in modern times, but the problems parents face today echo those confronted by the saints. Their lives still have relevance. The Bible says, “There is a season for everything, a time for every occupation under the heaven.” These are tough times to parent—and times to look to heaven, to the saints, for inspiration.
[Love] is always ready to make allowances, to trust, to hope and to endure whatever comes.
—St. Paul, 1 Corinthians 13:7
Loving our children during adolescence can become a soul-searching struggle. How do you love a chronically angry, stubborn teenager? How can you respect a slothful, cruel, or promiscuous adolescent who shows no inkling of your values? When you are on the receiving end of continual hostility, and even verbal abuse, how do you respond with kindness?
And yet a child cannot survive, much less flourish, without the love and support of adults. Unconditional love is the birthright of every child. A parent is supposed to love a child. All parents fully intend to love a child—forever and always.
Then adolescence happens. Some children are bent on behaving in ways that mothers and fathers and stepparents find repugnant. Many such parents find themselves thinking the unthinkable: I don’t like my child anymore. And they harbor a secret shame because their hearts have become so cold toward one of their own. Many have come to us with such unchari-table confessions. One mother pleaded:
Help! I don’t like my daughter! My eleven-year-old daughter is full of anger. She tried to strangle a classmate because the girl “pissed her off.” I have not admitted this—even to the counselor we’ve been seeing—but I am having very negative feelings toward my daughter. She is my child, but I can’t stand to be around her. And I am embarrassed by her. She has a bad attitude from the moment she gets up in the morning till she goes to bed at night. She has alienated herself from all the girls in her class, from her siblings, her stepfather, and everyone with whom she comes into contact. She is very good at hurting everyone around her. I wish I could say this behavior is new for her, but it’s not. She has been this way since she was a little girl. It’s just getting worse. My husband and I have come to the conclusion that this is the way she is, and we will just have to deal with her the best we can. I am scared for her, for myself, and for our family.
Running out of love as a mother, father, stepparent, or caregiver is a double-edged sword. You have to deal with emotional bankruptcy and the self-inflicted judgment of being inadequate. A parent’s love and ability to nurture aren’t supposed to run dry. When they do, guilt rushes in to fill the empty space.
This love drought happens at the worst possible moment. The fact is that when your child is at his or her worst, that is when your love is needed the most.
Perhaps the image of Christ turning the other cheek to derision comes to mind. Yet when your child hurts you deeply, it’s not always possible to be so Christlike. It’s hard to emulate Jesus’ gesture because your own child isn’t supposed to be your nemesis.
In this chapter we will show you how to reconnect with love. We will deliver a number of transforming lessons and introduce you to the saints who can show you how to live those lessons. To help you keep love uppermost in your mind and in your actions, we are going to send you on a scavenger hunt for concrete tokens that you can hold on to when you need to love more and love better. We will help you find ways to renew your capacity for warmth, understanding, forgiveness, and affection when you are faced with rebellion, defiance, and even hatred.
God the Celestial Alchemist
In medieval times a mysterious science called alchemy surfaced. Alchemists holed up in castle laboratories, stewing over cauldrons and beakers, trying to master the transmutation of base metals into gold. Alas, the alchemists never quite succeeded at materializing those King Midas fantasies. It turned out that there was no scientific way to change common worthless metals into gold. There is, however, one alchemist who can transform anything common into something of value: God. He is a celestial alchemist because he can transform us with his love. If we turn to God, even in our meanest or our most hard-hearted state, he can overhaul our hearts by infusing us with his everlasting love. When you are hate filled and feeling loveless, realize that transformation is within reach.
Transform Vengeance into Forgiveness
A teenager pushes you over the edge. You rave inappropriately and say things you wish you could take back. You feel disgusted with yourself after a screaming match. This behavior becomes a pattern. You don’t like the person your child has become. And even worse, you don’t like the person you have become.
One way to rediscover love is to embrace forgiveness. The first step toward forgiveness—and toward finding your way back to being that loving parent you so want to be—is learning to forgive yourself. You are, after all, only human. Even though you are the adult and your son or daughter is the child, you are still a person who needs love. When your teenager withholds love and delivers only anger and pain over time, it’s natural for you to lash out or silently turn away and harden your heart.
Be honest with yourself. Acknowledge your diminished capacity to love this child. Only then can you forgive yourself and commit to trying harder.
The next step is to forgive your child. You have every right to be angry at a misbehaving teenager. A teen who dumps on you, your spouse, and his siblings is betraying you and sabotaging the family. Yet you must learn to separate the hurtful ehavior from the child. You had no trouble making that distinction when your son was five or six. You would say, “I love you, Jake, but I don’t like the way you hit your baby brother.” Now, it’s harder to make distinctions between who he is and how he acts. His behaviors—disrespectful talk, lack of consideration, brooding tantrums—pollute nearly every family interaction.
Stepparents can have an even harder struggle with forgiveness. A stepparent “inherits” a child after committing to a new spouse. This communion creates an unnatural family unit, a family of strangers. Love doesn’t naturally bloom between the stepparent and stepchild in the same way it does for the remarrying adults. Stepchildren want their old families back, not the newfangled hybrid.
Stepmothers who are raising stepchildren teeter in positions of authority, often without having the support of the biological mother or the goodwill of the child. Many of these women find themselves raising an exiled teenager, meaning one whom Mom couldn’t handle any longer and shipped off to live with Dad and the new stepmom. Stepfathers are in many cases the head of a blended household and receive little gratitude—much less love—for their contributions of time, energy, and money.
Raising a troubled teen is hard enough. Being responsible for someone else’s troubled adolescent is a burden no one but those in the predicament can fully appreciate. So if you are in such a situation and resenting every minute with your stepchildren, forgive yourself for not being able to measure up to your fantasies of the kind of stepparent you think you should be. And forgive your stepchild. He is involuntarily stuck in the trauma of his parent’s divorce. He is a hostage in a future he never wanted or planned for himself.
We know that converting resentment, even hatred, into forgiveness is easier said than done. Let God inspire you, as he is the perfect model. Think of how he forgives our sins, no matter how many, how mortal, or how frequent. All we need to do is ask his forgiveness, and he grants it. God’s forgiving nature is mirrored in the lives of many saints. St. Maria Goretti is just one.
Maria was born in 1890, one of six children in a farm-working family who lived in Roman Campagna. Her father died of malaria when Maria was just six. Her mother became one of the original single working mothers. With no man to support her or her children, Mom took her husband’s place in the fields. Maria stayed at home and took over the household duties and the raising of the younger children.
As Maria grew into early adolescence, she began to look older than her age. When she was twelve, she caught the eye of a neighbor, a twenty-one-year-old young man by the name of Alessandro Serenelli. He began stopping by when Maria’s mother was working and flirting with the young girl. Maria was instantly uncomfortable. She discouraged his advances but was reluctant to tell her mother about them for fear of causing problems. To her way of thinking, her family had already seen enough hardship and catastrophe. Suppose she made trouble and her mother got fired?
One night, Alessandro visited and forced himself on Maria. When she attempted to fight him off, he stabbed her fourteen times with his knife. According to what we know of this incident, their final conversation went something like this:
Alessandro ordered, “Submit or die.”
Maria replied, “Death, but not sin.”
Before she died, Maria uttered her last words. They were strange and unexpected. She said that she wanted to be with him in paradise.
Alessandro left his victim bleeding. When her mother came home, she rushed Maria to the hospital. She clung to life for the next twenty-four hours, long enough to display concern for her family. What would become of them without her help? she worried. Furthermore, she prayed for the soul of Alessandro, forgave him, and hoped this incident wouldn’t bring ruin on his family. Then Maria died.
In the aftermath of this cold-blooded crime, Alessandro expressed no remorse for murdering the young girl and was sentenced to thirty years in prison. During the eighth year of his incarceration, he had a vision of Maria. Dressed in white, she stood in a garden, carrying white lilies. She offered the flowers to Alessandro and smiled lovingly. He was stricken with regret and became totally devoted to the memory of Maria.
When released from prison, Alessandro begged Maria’s mother for forgiveness. Eventually Alessandro became a Capuchin lay brother and told many of his vision and how it changed his heart. When Maria Goretti was canonized in 1950, her mother and her murderer both attended the ceremony.
St. Maria Goretti managed to hold on to love and exude forgiveness even as her own life ebbed under the knife of a murderer. If she could forgive the loss of her life and the man who cut that life short, she can help us find forgiveness for the crimes and shortcomings we experience in our life and within our family.
Take cues from Maria. She didn’t spend hours telling tales about her unwanted suitor. She could have complained to her mother, his parents, and others about his leering looks and suggestive comments. Maria prayed for this thorn in her side rather than rail against him. Imitate her reticence. Don’t spend time rehashing your child’s misdeeds or the nasty remarks she directed at you. Don’t harangue your spouse about the character flaws of your stepchild. You, too, can refrain, and forgive. Forgiveness is healing. It washes away the bad feelings, quiets the urge to bad-mouth, and ushers in waves of love.
Transform Expectation into Appreciation
Who is this adolescent, the one with the sarcastic sneer or the snarling mouth? Whatever happened to that sweet child of yours? It’s not unusual for you to look at an unpleasant teenager as little more than a composite of repulsive clothes, hairstyles, and tattoos, a fresh mouth, and uncooperative ways. This is not the teenager you imagined you would have, not the person you envisioned when you bounced her on your knee.
When you are so caught up in judging the shortcomings or mistakes of your daughter, you not only lose sight of who that child was, but you also lose sight of who that child is. The good side of her personality, the skills she possesses, the accomplishments she has racked up—when was the last time you tallied these? It is possible that a great deal of a child’s rebellion is retaliation. She is lashing out at expectations you have that may not fit her or judgments that she deems unfair. Is it wrong to have expectations? Of course not. We want our children to grow up to be like us, to reflect our values, and to live up to our dreams for them. When they don’t go along with our script, it’s often trouble.
If you are trying to cope with a rebellious teen, the story of St. Alphonsus Liguori and his father should give you pause and, we hope, a new perspective.
Alphonsus Liguori was born into a noble military family in Naples in 1696. His father was a swashbuckling sea captain, a macho type who prided himself on the assumption that his son would grow up to be just like him. To Papa Liguori’s chagrin, young Alphonsus was small and asthmatic, not robust and big boned. He wasn’t likely to be the strong, daring military protégé his father so wanted. Luckily, the boy was smart, even brilliant. So Papa adapted his plan for his son’s future. He enrolled Alphonsus in the university to study law, and the young man did well.
There was only one problem. Papa saw his son graduating into a prestigious career, and Alphonsus did win a reputation for handling complex cases. Yet the young man’s interests remained with the plight of the poor. He dropped out of the legal fast track. Then, while Dad was busy arranging a good marriage, Alphonsus insisted he was too asthmatic for the rigors of spousal love, meaning sex. He wanted to become a priest.
Papa swallowed his disappointment yet again (and probably his doubts about the boy’s manhood). But parents are resilient. He considered the advantages of having a bishop vested with religious wealth and power in the family and arranged for his son to study for the priesthood at home. Papa’s visions for his son crashed again when Alphonsus insisted that he wanted to be a prelate to the poor and disadvantaged, not the rich.
The young priest lived with the knowledge that he was a failure in his father’s eyes. That is a heavy weight for any child to carry through adolescence. He relied on God for guidance. He taught the poor in Naples and reached out to the lowest rung of society. His congregation swelled with converted thieves, murderers, and prostitutes. One stormy night, his father sought refuge in the church and was amazed when he heard his son’s wonderful preaching ability. Yet he remained frustrated because this gifted holy man son of his was recognized and appreciated only by the dregs of the community, not by the cream of the crop.
Alphonsus continued his work and gave retreats up in the mountains to the abandoned village people. Eventually, his retreats became so popular that the nobility of the town traveled many miles to attend them. In his community Alphonsus was called a saint for his character and commitment. Finally, his father realized that his son’s holiness and dedication, not fame or accomplishment, defined his boy’s real success.
St. Alphonsus went on to found the Redemptorist order. He continued to butt heads with his cleric supervisors but never strayed from his desire to be the priest of the poor. His life echoed with a constant theme of rebellion. He and his father were on a collision course for most of their lives. His father fought his life plan and the way he executed it every step of the way. Can you imagine all the conversations his father had over this stubborn, pigheaded son? “My brilliant son threw away a career in law, refused perfectly wonderful women to marry, insisted on a parish in the worst possible part of town. Then, if that wasn’t bad enough, he had to head for the hills! What’s wrong with that boy? He’s determined to be a failure!”
As a parent you can surely see the father’s side. Just for a moment, now, take a look through Alphonsus’s eyes. He knew his limitations and his own mind. He had a course set for himself.
Ask yourself: Am I on a collision course with my child? Is what you want for your child the same as what he wants? If not, could that be at least part of the reason for all the anger and rebellion? If you hate his friends, his look, his music, his preoccupations—are you justified? You may be making it impossible for your child to find any common ground with you. Your expectations may be too narrow—too much yours and not enough his. Such stubbornness on your part could be fueling nasty words and family stalemates. Now ask yourself this: Do I have the son or daughter I wanted? The answer, let’s face it, is probably not.
If not, can you accept the son or daughter you have? Her negatives—purple hair, face and body paint—may indeed indicate rebellion, but could they also be expressions of creativity? Try to find what is lovable about your child no matter how truant or defiant she or he is. You wanted him to study art history; to him, art is in the four tattoos on his arm. She appears to you as little more than a shallow party girl, but isn’t being social also a talent? Turn around your critique of your child this way and that until you can see the irritating elements in a different light.
Identify what she likes and is good at. How can you help your child realize her dream, not yours? You must discover who your child is, embracing the positives and making peace with negatives. Then tell your child you are committed to helping her realize her dreams, not yours. Tuck her in at night and tell her that you love her no matter what, no matter how bad things have become between you. Tell her that love survives everything, even the teenage years.
This bedtime reassurance is a way to display your love. Our children need to see us demonstrate our love. Haven’t they seen enough signs of our disappointment and even disgust?
Transform Heat-of-the-Moment Anger into Love
It is easy to meditate on forgiveness and acceptance in the quiet of a church and to commit to treating your teen differently. Then you come home and find he hasn’t taken out the garbage, again—his one and only chore. Or you walk into her room to deliver her laundry, and you can’t find one spot that isn’t strewn with more dirty clothes, papers, and other debris. Or the telephone breaks your resolves as you hear yet another complaint from a teacher or principal about your child’s absence, lateness, or failure.
Each of us has hot buttons. When one is pushed, we explode. For this parent, it was disrespectful talk:
My son is sixteen, and all we seem to do is yell at each other. The other day we were in a department store. He proceeded to swing back and forth between abusive anger and desperate apologies because he wanted me to buy him a shirt. After shelling out for sneakers, I hadn’t the money to indulge him. In front of several horrified shoppers he cursed at me, saying things like I suck and he f—— hates me. It wasn’t one of my proudest moments, but he so enraged me that I, too, lost it. I slapped him in the face. If there is one thing I won’t tolerate, it’s a filthy mouth. For the first time I found myself despising him.
There are moments like this when your child deserves discipline, yet you must proceed calmly. You want to be a vessel of love and not a cauldron of frustration. Even the most outrageous teen needs our boundaries, but he also needs our love.
One way to master that demonstration of love—especially in the heat of an argument—is to have an anchor. There is no better way to anchor yourself than with something concrete. Resurrect your Catholic jewelry. Did you receive a Miraculous Medal or a scapular as a gift at your baptism, first communion, or confirmation? Was there a time in your life when you wore a St. Christopher medal? Is there a golden cross in your bureau drawer?
Somewhere between our childhood and our children’s childhood, religious jewelry became hollow fashion accessories. Madonna—the rock star, not our Lady—comes to mind. She co-opted crucifixes and rosaries, raising the chic factor while tarnishing their sacred essence. Your jewelry and religious accessories probably have been relegated to the recesses of an old jewelry box. It’s time to look for them. If you never received any of these tokens, it’s time to purchase one at a religious articles shop.
If you have one of these medals or cloth adornments pressing against your skin or within reach, you can work God’s alchemy instantly with a touch. A medal or cross can be a sensory cue to choose love instead of anger at a moment of frustration. Touching a scapular or a medal can be a gesture toward reaching for forgiveness rather than retaliation and can keep you from lashing out.
The History of Religious Ornamentation
You wouldn’t be the first to find these anchors helpful to your spiritual well-being. A long history exists behind the use of Catholic jewelry and accessories. Religious medals surfaced in the form of coins. Each was chiseled with a spiritual inscription or image and then fitted to be worn suspended from one’s neck. This practice dates back to the early Christian ages. The images of St. Peter and St. Paul decorated early medals, as did those of the martyrs. Christ adorned many coin medals, too, throughout Rome, Constantinople, and even North Africa.
The making and wearing of medals waned during the Middle Ages. Then, around the twelfth century, they reappeared, this time called “pilgrim signs.” Certain well-known shrines were celebrated on them, and medals became popular again. In the thirteenth century, medals were renamed “jettons.” Jettons bore the initials of the owner and pious mottoes such as “Love God and Praise Him” or “Hail Mary, Mother of God.” They were used as tickets, calling cards, and even currency.
The medals familiar to us today can be traced to around the sixteenth century. Metallic images of Jesus and Mary flourished, and the practice of having them blessed is attributed to Pope Pius V. A century later, every city in Europe had its own medal featuring Christ, the Virgin Mary, a favorite saint, or a popular devotion. Let us consider the popular items that Catholics wear.
Hold a Miraculous Medal Close to Your Heart
The Blessed Virgin Mary herself gave us this medal through a French girl named Zoe Labore. Zoe became a member of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul and was known as Sr. Catherine. On July 18, 1830, Sr. Catherine was awakened by a shining child standing in her room. The child led her to the chapel, where Mary waited. They talked for two hours. Four months later, Catherine saw this vision of the Virgin Mary again in the chapel. This time, the Blessed Mother appeared standing on a globe of the world with rays of light streaming from her hands. A slogan encircled her that said, “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to you.” This vision of Mary revolved so that Catherine could see the back as well. She made out a large letter M with a cross and two hearts. One of those hearts bore a crown of thorns. The other was pierced by a sword. Catherine was instructed by Mary to have this image made into a medal. Furthermore, Catherine was told that those who wore the medal would receive many graces and be protected by the Virgin Mother.
Catherine told no one about these clandestine appearances of Mary except her confessor, Fr. M. Aladel. She explained all the details of the medal. In June 1832, with the approval of the archbishop of Paris, the first fifteen hundred medals were created. Soon miraculous events, including healings and changes of heart, happened to many who wore the medal. Wearing the Miraculous Medal, as it came to be called, became a widespread practice among Catholics.
Catherine never told anyone in her convent that it was she who was responsible for the phenomenon. Nor would she appear at any of the hearings examining the apparitions of the Virgin. Not until eight months before her death did Catherine reveal the truth to her superior. In spite of Catherine’s privacy and humility, her visions of the Blessed Mother were recognized as official by the church. Catherine was canonized in 1947.
The Miraculous Medal has the power to grant a change of heart. When you feel as if your child is breaking your heart and your spirit, twirl Mary’s gift between your fingers. Ask St. Catherine Labore and our Lady to heal your heart with love.
Wear a Scapular, Personal Patchwork of Deliverance
Scapulars have always been vested with messages of deliverance. If you aren’t familiar with this religious article, it is a piece of fabric approximately two inches square. The scapular is embroidered or stamped with a picture of our Lady, a particular saint, or the object of a devotion such as the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
The first to wear scapulars were monks, such as the Benedictines and Dominicans. A monk’s scapular, long with a hole for the head, was worn over the tunic and across the shoulders, symbolizing the yoke of Christ. That part of the monk’s wardrobe served as a constant reminder of his spiritual ideals and tradition. Scapulars had spiritual benefits and were thought to be a protection against hell.
Smaller scapulars were given to laypersons associated with particular orders. Eventually the practice of wearing scapulars reached many Catholics.
One of the most popular is the Green Scapular. Just as the Blessed Mother chose someone to whom to reveal her medal, she selected another Daughter of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, a woman by the name of Justine Bisqueyburu, to receive her special scapular. Mary visited Justine again and again, until the sister understood what the scapular should look like. This Green Scapular of the Immaculate Heart is inscribed with the words “Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us now and at the hour of our death.” Mary directed that it can be worn by anyone and should be blessed by a priest. It was approved by Pope Pius IX in 1863. If you wear this scapular, you will receive many graces.
There are some twenty different scapulars. A Brown Scapular (worn in devotion to Our Lady of Mount Carmel) was delivered to St. Simon by the Virgin Mother, according to Carmelite legend. Simon, a religious of the Carmelite order, was on his way home from a pilgrimage in the era of the Crusades when Mary appeared to him and handed him a woolen scapular. During Simon’s vision, Mary announced, “This shall be a privilege for you and all Carmelites, that whosoever dies wearing this garment shall not suffer eternal fire; he shall be saved. Wear the scapular devoutly and perseveringly. It is my garment. To be clothed in it means you are continually thinking of me, and I in turn am always thinking of you and helping you to secure eternal life.” In time the church extended this scapular privilege to all laypersons who wanted to wear it.
Wearing a scapular was a matter of life and death to Blessed Isidore Bakanja, a twenty-three-year-old Boangi tribesman from the Belgian Congo. A convert to Christianity, Isidore was ordered to remove his scapular on a February day in 1909. He refused. As a result, he suffered a beating with an elephant hide studded with nails. The infected wounds from this punishing assault festered for six months and killed the young African. Yet as he lay dying, he said, “Certainly I shall pray for him [his abuser]. When I am in heaven, I shall pray for him very much.” Like Maria Goretti, Isidore resisted revenge and held on to forgiveness and love. Surely, the scapular played a part in bringing him eternal life as well as death, helping him concentrate on love and not hate.
With many scapulars the theme of deliverance surfaces again and again. Our Lady is an integral part of this religious article. From one mother to another, from one parent to another, her gift helps you become a more loving person and parent. Conversions and cures go hand in hand with the lore of scapulars.
If you feel possessed by ill feelings toward yourself and your child, a scapular can be a tactile reminder that you can be delivered. Just as it did for medieval monks and nuns, it can remind you of your spiritual ideals. When you hold your scapular near your heart, it can inspire you to turn away from evil feelings and toward the love that Mary has for you. Just follow Mary’s directions and keep a scapular on your person or among your belongings in your home. Pray to be delivered to love so that you can give it to your child.
In the Cross Fire, Don Your Own Cross
Since Jesus’ crucifixion is so central to the Catholic experience, it follows that the cross became a symbol and an object of respect and veneration. Devotion to the cross happened early in the time of St. Paul, one of the original apostles. The cross symbolizes Christ’s suffering, but it also came to symbolize the positive message of salvation in God’s divine plan. The cross suggests sacrifice but also the source of life—God’s love for us. Over the years after Jesus’ death, crosses were hung on the walls in homes and places of worship. Stones were engraved with crosses. When the true cross was discovered, devotions increased. Relics were distributed around the world.
The wearing of a cross around your neck can be your personal commitment to celebrating Christ’s love and sacrifice for you. Each time you look in the mirror, take a moment to recognize your cross. Get into the habit of really seeing it on your person so you can reflect on it when you and your child are in a cross fire of wills.
By getting into such a routine, a parent like this one can find the answer she’s looking for:
My thirteen-year-old is so oppositional. I don’t want to be around him anymore. I seem to have had it with him and just want him to leave me alone. I try to let go of my resentment, but it’s so hard. Now I always assume the worst when he opens his mouth to speak to me. I need to be able to bite my tongue more often so I don’t treat him like he treats me. How can I bring out his softer side? And mine?
Rely on your cross for strength. Give your child a cross to wear as well. Tell him that it is a token of your love and faith in him. This is a loving gesture that your child can understand. When he wears it and sees it, it is the reflection of your re-assurance and caring. He will have concrete proof of your love at a time when your relationship doesn’t always assure him of that love.
Lighten Your Burden with a
St. Christopher Medal
The legend of St. Christopher will surely resonate with you if your son or daughter has become increasingly harder to handle of late. This third-century martyr originally was known as Offerus. The name suited him; it conjures up his extraordinarily large, burly—dare we say oafish?—size. This girth contributed to his imposing physical strength.
Offerus wanted to align himself with the strongest and bravest leader. Supposedly he first tried a mighty king and even Satan. The king, as it turned out, was afraid of Satan, and the devil became frightened when he saw a cross along the road. A hermit guided Offerus toward Christ.
Offerus took the name Christopher after his baptism. With his wide shoulders and muscled arms and legs, he was given the job of carrying people, and even cattle and horses, across his region’s dangerous river. One stormy night, a child appeared at his door and asked to be ferried across the river.
Christopher agreed, surely thinking this was going to be a light and easy task. As soon as his feet touched the water, though, the wind howled, the rain pelted the river, and the water churned fiercely. The child himself seemed to get heavier and heavier. Christopher struggled against the elements and the weight of his charge. He dug deep down into the resources of his strength to get to the other side and place the child safely on the shoreline.
He gasped for breath and felt confused. How could so tiny a child be so incredibly heavy? He asked, “Who are you, child?”
The child told Christopher that he was Christ, the redeemer. He praised the giant for succeeding in a task that was akin to carrying the weight of the world on his back. He told Christopher to put his staff in the ground. Miraculously a palm tree laden with fruit appeared. The miracle converted many, but the notoriety was disastrous for the gentle giant in the long run. He was imprisoned and put to death by pagan leaders.
The symbolism of the giant helping Christ bear the yoke of all worldly trials and tribulations made St. Christopher an extremely popular saint. Throughout Europe his statue became a well-known fixture in many church entrances. A medal bearing his likeness remains popular today.
When your teenager stretches you to your limits, when you feel as if you don’t have the strength to go on, press your St. Christopher medal to your chest. Share your burdens with someone who understands. Just as Christopher found the strength, so shall you. Focus on the fact that this saint got to the other side of a choppy river in a howling storm with the child in his care intact. You, too, can do the same. Keep putting one foot in front of the other and aim your eyes on tomorrow. This exercise will fortify you at a moment when you need an extra jolt of strength, patience, and love.
Rely on Love to Get You to the Other Side of Midnight
By making good use of God’s inspired medals and crosses and Mary’s scapulars, you can transmute negative emotions into love, even if that only means biting your tongue, rewriting a curse into a prayer, or walking away from a confrontation. Rely on any or all of these accessories as your spiritual crutch and conscience. If you have a treasured locket, put a picture of your favorite saint in it. That, too, can be a customized anchor for you.
Anchored in love, you will find ways to handle your child and your negative feelings. Even in a moment of rage, you can postpone a showdown by saying, “Let’s cool off and talk about this later, okay?” Even the child who is on a disastrous detour can be approached at a quiet moment and reassured with a reminder like this: “Remember when I was your hero or your whole world? I know things are bad between us now, but someday we’ll be all right again.”
The alchemy that God is capable of working is boundless. And although it may take longer, you too are capable of alchemy, in your ability to convert your emotions and experiences into love. Rest assured that you have the ability to transmute disappointment, even hate, into love. Your relationship with your child or stepchild may be a miserable one now, but love can work miracles over time.
If you can’t find any positives about your teenager, heed this parent’s experience:
I walked down the street, and a young man passed me. I inhaled his cologne. I recognized the fragrance because it’s my son’s favorite, too. That smell made me sick, because thoughts of my son these days always pain me. My reaction saddened me so. Later that day I was putting up our Christmas tree. I found an ornament my son had made as a child, a Santa colored red and trimmed with cotton balls, affixed with tacks so his arms and legs moved. I remembered the exact moment my son handed that to me. How proud I was of him at that moment. Sitting there, I felt tears roll down my cheeks, tears of love this time.
Rather than allow yourself to wallow in nostalgia and regret, find memories that can transcend time and your current crisis. Go down in your basement, or up to your attic, into your jewelry box, out to your garden, or through your china closet. There you will find something—an old Ghostbusters Halloween mask, a butterfly pin, a rosebush, kindergarten drawings, papier-mâché flowers—a memento from the past that will melt your heart. Tokens such as these can bridge the gap of heartache. Love will nourish you until you reach the other side of this midnight.
Love Is a Two-Sided Coin
Here is one side of a story and a plea for love sent to us by a teen. She was answered by a story of renewed love. Maybe in these confessions you will see the reflection of your child and, we hope, your future.
The teenage girl wrote to us:
Hi, I’m fifteen. I’m not a mom, but I have one. We do not get along at all. Why? Well, I have messed up in the past year with a lot of drinking. Like the time I got grounded for getting wasted. I got wasted again next time. I know my mom is concerned about my drinking and especially about boys. She’s heard rumors (we live in a town that gossips for a hobby) about me and my friends. In fact, those rumors got us into a big fight that even got physical. But I have changed. How do I get my mom to trust me again? She doesn’t trust me one bit. What do you do if you are truly sorry for what you did? I have tried in many ways to show my mom that I am more mature now and that I have learned from my mistakes. I’m done with guys for now. I just want to be with my friends. And I just want to make my mom and me get along.
The daughter feels that what’s done is done. She wants her mother’s love and trust back. How does she get a second chance, a better rapport with a mother who is stuck in distrust and disappointment? This mother needs to look again at her child. Do you need to take another look at your child? Perhaps you need to look ahead to the time when your child will have matured. To help you do that, read the words of this former wild child, sent in response to the young girl above:
Only time and proving yourself are key in getting your mom’s trust back. Take it from someone who knows firsthand what you are going through. At fifteen, I was you and then some—drinking, drugging, skipping school and failing, sneaking out, and having sex. My mom, a single mother, did all she could to control me. She couldn’t. I got pregnant at sixteen. My mom put me in a Christian home for pregnant unwed mothers; I ran away. I went to live with a family I knew from church. To make a long story short, it took time and a lot of proving, but I got my mom’s trust back. I’m twenty-five now, and we are best friends. I’m married with a nine-year-old and a new baby. I never knew how much I hurt my mom until I had a child. Your mom is trying to look out for you. She will come around. Don’t give up.
All love stories have two sides. Even the most cantankerous teenager has her side. You, the parent, have yours. All good love stories have ups and downs, comedic moments and tragic times. The one thing that remains constant is that thread of love. When you feel it slipping through your grasp, think back to your child’s earlier days. Relive the loving moments. Look forward to that kind of reality again.
In the meantime, keep in mind that all love stories have a hidden theme and an invisible protagonist: God. He is there to refuel your supply of love with his grace. He has provided you with stories of saints, human beings who tapped into his love when they needed it most. Several saints have cooperated with the Virgin Mary to create treasures and tokens to anchor you in the endless bounty of our Savior’s love. Wear a token of that love. Ask, and that token will miraculously change your heart.
Nothing is more important than love. Your child can’t live without it. You need it. When your child withholds it, go to God for it. In his life and his words, St. Paul (whose story we will read in chapter 2), teaches us how to love and give it priority. In his first letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul said, “Though I command languages both human and angelic—if I speak without love, I am no more than a gong booming or a cymbal clashing. And . . . though I have all the faith necessary to move mountains—if I am without love, I am nothing.”
Without love and compassion as coping mechanisms, we parents and our offspring can turn clashing and booming. Love conquers all. Find ways to feel love and to show it to your young adolescent. This can be as simple as preparing your daughter’s favorite meal or picking up her room and making her bed so that she comes home to calm, not clutter. Buy her a small token, such as her favorite lip gloss. Say the words “I love you.” Touch her even when she rushes by. When you and your child are gripped in big problems, it is in the little things that you can keep the love flowing between you. As you embrace God’s love and become filled with it, you will be replenished. Then you can give it to yourself and your child.
Prayer for Charity
Dear Jesus, so often these days I am ready to take your name in vain. At that moment, I promise to whisper your name instead. When I do, I shall look into your sacred heart. I beg you to look into mine. And look into my child’s heart, too. Where there is anger and belligerence, change those feelings into love. You are the alchemist who can miraculously make over any hard heart. You can resculpt my emotions. Bless me with the forgiving nature that Maria Goretti and Isidore Bakanja displayed so effortlessly. Flood my angry thoughts with images of your mother, Mary, who will visit me with celestial talismans, just as she visited others like Catherine Labore and Simon. When my heart is cold, warm me with your everlasting love. Replenish my spirit with your charity so that I may pass along your loving legacy to myself and my child. Amen.
Saints Who Can Guide You toward Charity
St. Maria Goretti can help you remember the innocence of forgiveness.
St. Alphonsus Liguori can remind you that all children need to be appreciated for their uniqueness.
St. Catherine Labore and St. Simon can prove to you that the Blessed Mother has special gifts of love for you.
Blessed Isidore Bakanja can urge you to rely on religious tokens to anchor you in love.
St. Christopher can carry you over the abyss of uncharitable thoughts to the safe haven of love.
St. Paul can be counted on as your biblical consultant of love.
1. Parenting a teenager who is angry, fresh mouthed, lazy, and sullen can drain you of tender feelings. When faced with acknowledging that you don’t like your child, do you feel guilty? Rather than get stuck in a quagmire of guilt, try to understand why your child has become angry, immobilized, or sad. Ask your spouse, and your child, for his or her take.
2. You may feel as if you are on a collision course with your adolescent that is marked by either constant fighting or no communication at all. Can you introduce a truce time? How might you go about doing this? (For example, you could make a rule that the dinner hour is for small talk and catch-up conversations, not for issues or arguments.)
3. Be honest: do all of your child’s “sins”—the tattoo, the sleeping till noon, the hanging out with ne’er-do-well compadres—demand repercussions? Are some about taste? Can you see the difference? Can you prioritize your gripes and pick your battles in order to make life better for you and your child?
4. Discipline takes many forms. You can use firm, rational statements and consequences, or you can react emotionally with spur-of-the-moment tirades. Which style do you most often use? If you employ name-calling (“How could you be such an idiot?”) or physical means, it’s time to rethink your tactics.
5. Do you withhold approval and love, as St. Alphonsus’s father did? When was the last time you hugged your teen for no reason, or kissed him goodnight or good-bye, or commended him for a considerate gesture? What is one seemingly insignificant gesture you could make each week—such as cooking your child’s favorite meal, renting a special video, picking up a small gift, or doing a family chore for your child—that would demonstrate your love? Promise yourself that you will try to do this.
6. When you are focused on a child’s misbehaviors, you frequently erupt in frustration. What can you do to change your emotional gears so that you resist erupting? One way is to post a holy card of a particular saint, such as Maria Goretti, on your refrigerator. Keep in mind that demonstrating such coping techniques is a way to teach your child how to switch gears as well.
7. If you wear a cross, a scapular, or a Miraculous Medal, look for a window of opportunity to explain its significance to your child. Ask your son or daughter: Would you like me to give you a piece of religious jewelry as a token of my faith in you?
8. Heat-of-the-moment battles trap you in the present. Have you ever stopped to consider that these teenage years are but a few turbulent blips in a relationship that spans a lifetime? Go backward to build a bridge toward better days. How can you relive good memories with your teenager? (For example, peruse photo albums or compile a list of good things your child has done.)
9. Consider the expression “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” How do you respond when your son or daughter acts out? Do you shut down or turn away, or do you recognize that this is when he or she is most in need of your reassurance and care?
10. Does forgiveness come easily to you? Do you hold grudges quietly but relentlessly, or do you let them go? Measuring your capacity for forgiveness is critical while you are parenting a tempestuous child. Practice forgiving yourself and forgiving your child. Discuss the difference between forgiving an outburst and holding a child accountable for unacceptable or dangerous behavior.
1. Charity 1
2. Knowledge 29
3. Faith 57
4. Hope 83
5. Patience 113
6. Serenity 143
7. Truth 173
8. Humility 199
Appendix:Prayers of the Rosary 223