DILEMMA FOR PARENTS that has resurfaced many times is how to manage raising children in the faith while working for the Church. It is a question a few of us have addressed on this blog. The hours, which require being absent for weekends and evenings poses a challenge, one that is the antithesis of involved parenting. It is an irony.
Before having children, the unusual hours of musician and Church life were easier to accommodate. In fact, I preferred it. But children lock us into very tight schedules, as they thrive on regularity. Do you have a late night rehearsal? You won’t see your young children when you get home, as they’ll be asleep. And you’ll be up at 5 a.m. the next day no matter what. No sleeping in to recover. Then one gets sick frequently because of these patterns. I don’t have an answer. I’ve never done this before. Welcome to being a parent.
Are you responsible for seven or eight services and multiple choirs on the weekend, which includes a Sunday evening mass? This is a recipe for missing a lot in your children’s life. This is something I have struggled mightily with. It has also saddened me a great deal from time to time. My children and my wife are used to it, but that is small consolation.
As a father of three young children working two church jobs, one of them full-time, I can announce today that I still have absolutely no idea how to figure this problem out. I have no solutions. Not one. But I have some observations, experiences and some hope.
OUR SPOUSES ARE HEROES
My wife is what you may call a “church widow.” She takes care of the kids all by herself all weekend long, sometimes up to twenty hours worth. She deals with all the kids at mass by herself—not easy with toddlers. For logistical reasons, they often attend mass at a different parish than where I work. As such, we are cut off even more from each other. So praying together—or exposing them to good sacred music is a rarity and something very special to all of us. (This is another cruel irony.)
Thank your supportive spouses. I tell everyone my wife is holding down the real job while I go to work “to get some rest.”
GUARD YOUR FAMILY TIME JEALOUSLY
Nothing gets in the way of family time. Nothing. I am very inflexible in this regard. Sometimes this rubs others the wrong way. They don’t understand. That’s going to have to suffice. I can’t afford to be away from my children any more than I already am.
UNDERSTAND WHAT TO EXPECT (OR NOT) WITH VERY YOUNG CHILDREN
It is close to impossible to expect a prayerful experience at Mass with young children or toddlers. It’s not going to happen. Give it up. Trade off attending mass alone with your spouse if you can. If you can’t God understands. If you get a few seconds worth of prayerful peace, you are truly blessed. If you don’t, you are even more blessed. Remember that.
We are musicians, are we not? When handed limitations, get creative. This sounds like great advice, doesn’t it? I’m still thinking of ways to get creative. I’m having trouble. One success was when my five-year-old son began to cry when I had to go to work early on Holy Saturday. They had barely seen me all week. Now it was the holiest night of the year. He started crying when I had to leave again, and it broke my heart. He had had enough.
So I did something I would not usually dream of doing. I brought him and his seven-year-old sister into work with me. I kept them busy “helping” me with different tasks while I could actually get some things done. Heck, they actually helped me for real. I got them to set up chairs and carry binders while they still think it’s fun! I was thinking brilliantly on my toes. I miraculously got some practicing done and asked them to tell me which registrations sounded better to keep them involved. I was in the zone.
Their mother picked them up a couple of hours later—they’d be asleep before the Easter Vigil even began. But they left having had a huge amount of fun because of them being with daddy at work and in the choir loft and helping with the pipe organ.
This impromptu experience created an everlasting memory for them. I entered the Vigil with my heart full and grateful to God for having such first-class problems.
BE ATTENTIVE TO THEIR INTERESTS
As they start getting a little older, be attentive to their interests—musical, spiritual or otherwise. My children have two parents who are musicians, so the genetic inclination towards music and prayer is inevitable. So, it will become easier to expose them and involve them in my work. I’m going to have to if I want to see them more. (As my mother once said, “If you want to see my son, you have to go to church.”) But I don’t want to push music on them. I hope I can be as attentive and insightful to their other interests.
Of late my son’s intellectual curiosity regarding music and church is exploding. Now, that’s something I can help with, Deo gratias! But in any regard, I’m learning to take the lead of all my children, to encourage any and all interests, while guiding and nourishing them spiritually and intellectually. They ask lots of questions, sometimes difficult ones. I thank God for this.
I finally got up the nerve to take my five and seven year old to mass I was directing and playing without my wife. The celebrant was none other than Cardinal Seán Patrick O’Malley, O.F.M. Cap. My wife thought I was crazy. Maybe this wasn’t the best mass to fly solo with them. But I was determined. “I think they’ll be ok!” I said out loud, agreeing with my wife inside my head.
Alone, they behave at Mass beautifully, but they are so close that together they conspire against us as partners in crime. Fortunately, I was working with the extraordinary Marc DeMille, who is also a patient and understanding father himself. (By the way, his Graduale Romanum is so worn out, the cover makes for an excellent bookmark.)
Ideally, I thought they would be exposed to a reverent mass with excellent preaching. The music of chant, propers, and hymns would be dignified. Hopefully, my children would leave “edified and sanctified,” I’m not sure if that actually happened. I’m pretty sure they didn’t pay much attention to the homily or the readings. Fortunately, they kept their giggling during mass somewhat to a minimum—of course this usually happened when I was playing and could do nothing about it. At one point they slowly crept up on the organ bench beside me in the middle of a hymn (pictured below). As such, I could react in one of two ways: Chastise them (and probably mess up the hymn and risk making the situation worse) or laugh to myself and be glad they love me. I fortunately chose the latter.
But they were with their daddy at Mass and watching me work, which they love. My heart was filled with joy and love. So was theirs. This meant more to them and to me than anyone will ever know.
Photo courtesy of George M. Martell, Manager of Digital Communications and New Media, Archdiocese of Boston