Susanna Spencer has a masters in theology from the Franciscan University of Steubenville. She is a writer and the theological editor for Blessed is She, and writes on her own blog Living With Lady Philosophy. She is a homeschooling mother of four and lives with her family in St. Paul, Minnesota.
This recent New York Times article about how some babies are easier than others rang true for me this week, but I did not need an article to tell me that. When we had our first baby seven years ago, her different needs changed a lot of my presuppositions about parenting. For example, we never wanted to use a pacifier, but she was so oral we ended up giving her one. Our second baby had different needs, and we did things differently with her. Our third baby could fall asleep unassisted from the time she was a newborn.
Our fourth baby took all my nighttime parenting confidence and threw it out the window. With him I had to give up on all my human efforts to help/make him sleep, and prayed a novena to St. Jude, the patron saint of impossible causes. I was at my wits' end, waking up 4-6 times a night, sleeping at no longer than 90 minute stretches at a time, and spending 45 minutes getting the baby back to sleep.
Two things happened at the end of the novena, the baby's first two teeth broke through making it easier for him to sleep and I changed my attitude about sleep. I became less anxious about it all, and just learned to accept the wake ups and bad nights peacefully. I entrusted it all to God's care and mercy in a desperate plea, and He gave me what I needed. The baby is by no means a good sleeper, but I am handling it better with a cup of coffee in hand. (A good night is one in which he lets me sleep over six hours with one or two stretches of three hours.)
Our Lady also had a Son. I don't know what kind of a sleeper he was; I suppose we could draw from some songs that he was a light sleeper, woken by lowing cattle and such. But Mary had something which I don't, perfect virtue. If you are familiar with the 10 virtues of Mary, you will remember that four of them are lively faith, heroic patience, mortification in all things, and continual mental prayer. These are four virtues that are really helpful to have when one is a parent.
I have been thinking lately what it must have been like to be Our Lady at the foot of the Cross, having done all that she could for her son, but having to stand by and let go of him. She had to entrust him to the Father. To let him suffer, to suffer with him, but to also let him fulfill his purpose.
From a very early age our children can help us to learn how to be like Our Lady at the foot of the cross. Parenting is one long letting go. Letting go about how and when the baby will sleep, letting go of them to babysitters, letting go of them to teachers, letting go of them to college, marriage, religious vocations, different parts of the country or world, and some parents have to let go of their children to death.
To really be like Mary at the foot of the cross, we have to first entrust our children to God. My oldest recently made her First Reconciliation. We prepped for months, went over how to make confession, walked through practice confessions, but in the end I had to let her go in the confessional alone and choose to receive a Sacrament for the first time on her own. As I waited, praying for her, I thought of her as a little baby, like her little brother is now, and I was overwhelmed with the feeling of the gift of her to me but how she really is God's.
Our children are given into our care, but we must remember that they belong to God, and we can take them to Mary at the foot of the cross and ask her to help us let them go to God. And we can stand with Mary at the foot of the cross and understand something of what she was going through as her Son gave himself up for us all.