Husband & Wife Articles


A Balancing Act

With children, duties and bills to pay, how can parents be in the world but not of it?

By Stephanie Patag

One of the biggest challenges for families today is how to pursue happiness while at the same time developing the virtue of holy detachment from things of this world. It’s the job of a lifetime for us, as individuals and as parents. With such easy access to one-click ordering and other conveniences, it is difficult to maintain a spirit of simplicity and poverty. Self-denial runs against our culture’s sense of self-esteem.

To live in the world, but not be of the world, this is our calling. Earth is our home only for a while. God gives us so much – not only the intangibles, but money and material goods to use for his purpose: to care for our family's needs, and the needs of others. To do this well, we need to distinguish between wants and needs, between possessions and detachment. We do this by cultivating gratitude for what we have, whether it is more or less than our neighbor has. Our Father in heaven knows what we really need in life.

As St. Matthew writes: “Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God” (19:23-24).

After living in 10 different homes, in four states and two countries, our family’s major task is to discard things we’ve accumulated in 25 years of marriage. It’s hard sifting through mementos, and we do keep some to recall our family’s past. Following the liturgical year helps in this regard, with its natural cycle of feasts and fasting, of preparation and celebration, of prayer and self-denial.

Though a man’s job is so much of his identity, and a person’s worth is often measured by his income, my husband does his best to limit work hours so that they don’t become detrimental to his health or our family ties. Our children are watching us, and they see how much emphasis we place on being able to buy this car or that gadget. When something breaks at home, we try to model restraint and keep our temper in check, so they know the difference between valuing people and valuing things.

These lessons apply not only to material things but even to our relationships. Balance means to have proper affection for our loved ones, not detaching to the point of coldness or indifference. Our lives intersect and we should be able to influence each other in positive ways. This means breaking down walls, or not building them in the first place. In doing so, we allow ourselves to be vulnerable in ways that we sometimes don’t anticipate.

We are God’s creation and ultimately belong to him. We think of Job, and ask ourselves how we would react to losing our possessions, or even our loved ones. Would we be able to find peace in knowing that “God giveth, and God taketh away?” We know that our hearts need to rest in him alone, but that’s easier said than done.

The connected world we live in makes it far too easy to see what everyone else is doing wrong. We can work on our personal virtues, and our family’s virtues, without looking at what our neighbor is doing or not doing, except perhaps to gain inspiration when we need it. Thus, we must make judicious use of social media. If social media prompts feelings of jealousy and insecurity, or a feeling of superiority over others, then we need to take some time away and work on overcoming our personal demons. Holy indifference and humility need to grow within the family, and the Litany of Humility is a great prayer to help us learn this. Let us pray:

that others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should.

As our children grow older, detachment means we also learn to let them go. We’ve taught them to walk, physically and spiritually. We’ve pointed them in God’s direction. It is our bittersweet burden to allow them to find their way in the world and to build their own relationship with God.

Our children have vocations to find and follow. They need to hear God’s voice, and so at certain stages in their lives our children need our silence. There will be days when they don’t need our advice or our help. I’m learning not to take it personally, and to still be there without resentment when a child does need me. As we continue to follow our calling as parents, we also help our children to find theirs.

Stephanie Patag is a homeschooling mother of five children who lives in Ohio with her husband, Alfredo. She blogs on the Patheos website.