The parable of the talents also holds a lesson in parenting: Have no fear!
During the nine months I was pregnant with my first child, I thought I’d gotten this motherhood thing all figured out. In the tiny space of a human gestational period, I was extremely confident that I’d nailed down every health choice, dietary consideration, discipline strategy, and general parenting philosophy that I would ever face, and all I had to do was move boldly forward, secure that I had it all figured out.
Oddly enough, I think that arrogance – and I’m now wise enough to recognize it as such – served me well to some degree during that trial by fire known as first time parenting. Because I had totally put my faith in the (insane) thought that I already had all the right answers for every possible future situation, there was no room for fear.
Did I do stupid things? Oh, certainly. I remember very rabidly insisting that my precious child never (ever!) be given anything with a licensed character on it, lest she be immediately consumed by corporate America. Not only did this make me insufferable come Christmas time, but it threw me into near existential agony when my husband and I somehow wound up training for a marathon … at Disney World. Another of my Mommyzilla moments was refusing to allow the baby to ever fall asleep in someone’s arms. Oh no! That would surely delay her ability to learn to self-soothe, which would mean that she would never learn to sleep through the night (thankfully, every grandparent flat out ignored me on this one). But all that raging hubris left no room for fear, which meant that when decisions had to be made, they were made from a fear-free place.
It wasn’t until my second child was born that my inflated sense of mothering confidence got its first slow leak. This second child was born tongue-tied, and all of the sudden, decisions that I’d never planned for had to be made. A tiny thing, really, but when your foundation is built on sand, it doesn’t take much to wash it away.
The next child was even worse, in terms of stripping me of my arrogance, as this one spent the first six months of his life alternating between eating, sleeping, and screaming. Flat out, purple-faced screaming. All. The. Time. And the first moment he was quiet and happy for five minutes in a row, I got pregnant again. Of course.
Things could have gone south, real quick. After all, there I was, four kids deep, robbed of the Parenting Plan that I’d put absolute faith in, turning it very much into an idol. However, somewhere between that first pregnancy and the fourth, I’d been invited to form a relationship with God that was so profound, so amazing, that I didn’t feel the fear about motherhood that seems to permeate our culture. I lost my false god of arrogance in terms of my parenting, and found the living God who made mothering so much easier. My job was to help my kids learn to love God with all their heart, soul, and mind, while loving their neighbor as themselves.
The Gospel reading for this week reminded me of this. In Matthew, we hear the story of the three servants who are each given sums of money to tend to while their Master was away. The first two take the money and confidently invest it, earning double the original amount. The last servant, however, acts out of fear, and buries the money. This results in incurring his Master’s wrath, having everything stripped from him, and being flung out into the darkness.
All in all, it’s one of the more sobering parables Jesus offers. But for me, as a mother, it resounds as a sort of grim pep talk. It reminds me that these children I’ve been given on loan, are a treasure belonging to God, so which servant am I going to imitate in my mothering style? Am I going to imitate the last servant, who was so scared of the perceived wrath of his Master that he made all his choices out of fear? Fear motivated him to hide the treasure he was given, to bury it, to freeze it in time, locked in stasis, preventing it from ever growing bigger and better. Am I going to lock myself in the same paralysis, so afraid of my children getting sick, doing drugs, leaving the Church, committing suicide, pillaging, whatever, that all my decisions as a parent will be the equivalent of digging a hole in the ground and hiding in it? Isn’t that what this current trend of over-consumption, helicopter-parenting, hyper-scheduled and standardized-tested children really is, at its heart? Parenting motivated by fear, seeking to dig a hole and hide under stuff, under schedules, under metrics and benchmarks?