When the Road Forks: Parenting with Forks- What Does a Donkey Know about Me and My Children?

June 13, 2021

Life as a modern parent is fast! Sometimes it feels like we are rushing through our lives like we are moving through a fast-food restaurant. We don’t need no stinking forks, kids! Shove your lives down your trap like french fries! 

My family has made a lot of decisions recently. After weeks of relentlessly looking for a summer job, one of my girls finally figured out an unconventional way to transform her summer; while the other nose dived directly into a desire to serve that she has had for years. 

Only months earlier, one of my daughters sought clarity as she discerned which path she would take for college. With many great options, she could eventually see the forked road ahead. Which college was the best decision for her? Which path would she choose?

I have walked along with my daughters as they experience fork-in-the-road moments of morality, friendship, mental health, academics, and team sports.

We, as parents, do not like the discomfort of uncertainty. Why would we? We are dealing with uncertainty in our own lives! It is difficult to add on the uncertainty of your children as well. 

Too, we, as humans with experience before we had children, have repeated patterns that shape our parenting. These patterns are like voices of old retired tapes in our minds. For me, I hear voices that say, “Teach them to be tough.” Or, “Life’s not easy!” Or, even, “It’s not supposed to be easy; try harder!” Untended, these old retired “voices” can complicate and muddy the waters of our parenting. 

At one point in his autobiography St. Ignatius becomes angered by a Moor who disrespects the Blessed Mother and decides to discern whether or not he will kill the Moor by seeing which path a donkey picks in a forked road. We, like St. Ignatius, can become tired or even lazy in our discernment for ourselves and provide space for our own children to discern well. 

Sometimes in my fatigue of parenting, I long for a good donkey to decide. At other times I literally ask myself, What does a donkey know about me and my children? I take the time by slowing down and providing ample time to distinguish the voices. 

  • What is a voice coming from God and the good?
  • What is a voice from clutter, confusion, or even conspiracy? Is this not from God?

In Christus Vivit Pope Francis encourages walking with young people as they develop these sensitivities

The second kind of sensitivity is marked by discernment. It tries to grasp exactly where grace or temptation is present, for sometimes the things that flit across our minds are mere temptations that can distract us from our true path. I need to ask myself what is it that the other person is trying to tell me, what they want me to realize is happening in their lives. 

Asking such questions helps me appreciate their thinking and the effects it has on their emotions. This kind of listening seeks to discern the salutary promptings of the good Spirit who proposes to us the Lord’s truth, but also the traps laid by the evil spirit – his empty works and promises. It takes courage, warmth and tact to help others distinguish the truth from illusions or excuses. (293)

This kind of sensitivity and listening to one’s own life takes deliberation and time. The busyness of parenting can sometimes prompt us to depend on a donkey more than this 500-year old process developed by St. Ignatius. 

Recently, when my daughter was discerning colleges, I stopped many times in my urge to push through and just decide. I stopped and sought Ignatian wisdom, slowing down to help her notice her own creation by God and therefore her own desires from God. I said a million times, this is God’s unique call in you! The complexity of it all was difficult at times and I felt the want rise in me (and her) to seek a donkey and “just” do whatever was the easiest path. The finances, forms, and figuring plagued our family. We did, though, help my daughter discern well not just for college, but for her life asking big questions like:

  • Who am I?
  • Whose am I?
  • What am I called to be?

Of course, the answers to these questions can only be answered with 17 years experience and I expect they will change, but the value allotted to her own being and relationship to God as a beloved creature is learned for a lifetime! 

Parenting with the intention that your child’s life is worthy of a sit down dinner with forks is important. Often we treat parenting like we are constantly in a drive through shoving our lives, like fries down our throats. Our kids deserve forks! With a good fork, clarity and self-worth comes. With self-worth, a young person can be made aware of the dignity allotted to us each by God. With God, our fast paced world can be transformed! Our young people are longing for a sit-down dinner with a full place setting! 

There are so many secular and religious books dedicated to strengthening our relationships with our young people. The core of discerning with teenagers is the time in building a meaningful relationship. In building this relationship, we teach young people how to treat their friends, themselves, adults, and God:

  • Slow down and fight the rush that society has taught us that we should be satisfied immediately or have answers automatically. Just. Slow. Down. 
  • Have long talks that don’t conclude with answers. Practice leaving questions open so that God can inspire. This gives the young person an example of allowing God to do God’s work! 
  • Pray. We, the adults, must pray so that our old retired voices don’t complicate the decisions.. We can encourage our  young person to pray in a reflective way using, for example, the Examen. Try Fr. Mark Thibodeaux’s app “Reimagining the Examen.”
  • Talk much, much less. If we must speak, ask questions! Even if we have super practical advice, ask the young person their plan in dealing with the practical aspects of the situation. Advanced level parenting challenge: ask without sarcasm (I fail at this constantly).
  • Make it visual. We often use sticky notes on a wall, but we used digital formats as well. For example, I ask my teens to develop a spreadsheet of colleges they are interested in at the beginning of their freshman year. Put the categories that matter to you in your spreadsheet. Be creative! Side note, we almost always end a big discussion with super low-tech, sticky notes on a wall. 
  • Take your time in deciding. You know that point in which you are very tired of talking about something and would pay money for someone else to figure it out? Go one degree less than that. Do not short-change decisions because they teach our  young people to be deliberate and give themselves the worth and dignity that God has granted them. 

There is no complete and absolute program or path to parent a child. The best and most useful tool that can be given to us was given to us by God in our very creation. We were created by God as a parent to the young people we have been given. Treat each day as a gift and trust our creation and our Creator.

Going Deeper: 

  • If you are wondering how to continue to discover God’s vision for your life in the midst of all the busyness and change as we return to ‘normal’ I want you to know you are not alone. I am inviting you, as a community, to journey with our team to truly discover and live God’s vision for our lives – a vision where we are overwhelmed no moreWe begin this community journey today,  June 14th, and finish on July 23rd. The weekly content is self-paced, so it can fit easily into your schedule. I hope you can join us! You can learn more about this online retreat and enroll here.

 Photo from canva.com 

Stephanie Clouatre Davis graduated from Loyola University New Orleans. Stephanie speaks to adults and teens around the nation at parishes, high schools, and dioceses in various venues including retreats and conferences. With humor, joy, and stories, Stephanie not only fully engages her audiences but also inspires them to challenge themselves and build a stronger relationship with God. She lives in Covington, Louisiana with her husband Michael and two girls Emma and Abby.

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