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Hey parents: Aquinas will help you get through those grueling years

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Daniel Esparza - published on 03/21/24

St. Thomas Aquinas understood existence as a dynamic process of moving from potentiality to actuality. What we are is a mere seed compared to what we could become.

Building upon Aristotle, St. Thomas Aquinas understood existence as a dynamic process of moving from potentiality to actuality. What we are is a mere seed compared to what we could become. This struggle for fulfillment, rooted in the very nature of being, also reflects our spiritual journey. As creations of God, we are each called to mirror His own goodness.  However, the path toward this divinely ordained actuality is seldom a gentle stroll.

This tension between our present selves and our potential selves is dramatically pronounced in raising children. Those turbulent terrible twos, threenagers, or the teenage years are all marked by rebellion and self-assertion. These phases can surely wound a parent’s heart.

Yet, consider the Thomistic perspective: our children, like all beings, possess an innate potency. This includes their potential for self-determination, moral reasoning, and the burning desire to shape their own destiny. Their seemingly disrespectful challenges are, in fact, the crucible in which they transform.

Aquinas would remind us that the very structure of being demands change. Just as it is the nature of the acorn to become an oak, it is within our children’s nature to strain against the limitations of childhood and strive towards their unique potential as adults. We, as parents, must not mistake this natural unfolding as a rejection of us, but rather as an essential step in their self-actualization. Our role, much like that of a skilled gardener, is to nurture this growth.

An ongoing battle

Now, this battle between potential and the present self is far from being confined to early childhood or adolescence. We too, as adults, experience this ongoing struggle. Our own complacency, fears, and shortcomings can hold us back from reaching our full potential in Christ. Witnessing our children’s bold (if sometimes clumsy, misguided, and tiring) efforts reminds us that the journey towards our best selves is a lifelong endeavor.

Therefore, when tensions arise, recall Aquinas. View the defiance not as malice, but as potency seeking expression, actualization, fulfillment. Offer support but understand that they must wrestle with themselves to discover who they are meant to be. It can get messy, but with wisdom, patience, and a constant grounding in love, we can give our children (and ourselves) the best chance to grow into the vibrant, fully-developed persons they (and we) are meant to become.

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