What my Confessor Taught Me about Parenting my “Bad Sleeper”

I went to Confession one recent Saturday morning, planning on receiving the sacrament before Mass. As I drove to the church, I was doing my examination of conscience, and growing increasingly nervous. When I arrived at the church, it was dark and empty – except for the priest praying his Liturgy of the Hours in a pew. Frantically, I checked the bulletin on my phone and, sure enough, Confession wasn’t scheduled for that morning.

I don’t know about you, but when I’ve mentally prepared myself for Confession, I have to go through with it. It’s too nerve-wracking to think about having to get up the nerve to go at a later time or date. So, I sat there wrestling with myself, “Do I go up to him and ask him if he’ll hear my Confession before Mass? Or do I just leave him to pray in peace? How will he react if I ask him?”

Finally, I found the courage to walk over to him and ask, “Father, I didn’t realize that there wasn’t Confession this morning, and I was wondering if you could hear my Confession?” Before I’d even finished speaking, he smiled genuinely, stood up, and said, “Of course! Yes! Yes, there’s ConfessiDSC09535-001on! I’m sorry I wasn’t in there.” I know that priests are “supposed to” be willing to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation whenever the faithful ask (within reason), but his joyful eagerness took me by surprise. He was willing to drop what he was doing, so that my needs could be met.

I have two little girls, one of whom still doesn’t consistently sleep through the night. She’s 18 months old, and was colicky as a baby, and still often wakes up in the middle of the night (or wee hours of the morning), loudly demanding our attention. I try to have a good attitude about it, and not to focus on how exhausted I feel at times. She’s been “sleep-trained,” she has her basic needs met, but she still wakes up wailing sometimes. It’s frustrating having to deal with random nighttime wake-up calls, especially when they don’t happen on predictable days or at predictable times.

I found myself thinking of that little girl of mine, when I was praying after Confession.

My husband teaches at a seminary, and it is a joy visiting there for Mass and a meal. I’ve enjoyed getting to know the young men who are training to be priests, most who are only a few years younger than ourselves. One of the greatest joys, though, is seeing how complimentary our two vocations are. Our family finds so much consolation from seeing them living out their faith, and they find consolation from seeing us live out ours. We have so much to learn from each other.

My recent Saturday morning Confession was a reminder of that. After Confession, I was praying and reflecting and I realized what an absolute comfort it was to have found a priest who was eager to hear my Confession. I try to go to Confession fairly regularly, but I still find that time beforehand to be as nerve-wracking as if it were my first Confession. Confessing your sins is a very vulnerable experience, and often wrought with emotion. To be met, in that moment of darkness, by a “father” wanting to comfort you and lead you back into the light? That is an absolute blessing.

When my girls wake up at night (and they’re both young enough that even the older one sometimes wakes up) they are typically crying and confused. They can’t tell time, and don’t know if it’s morning yet. They want to be reassured, to know that they are safe and that they can go back to sleep. I wish I could say that I always greet them with tender words and lots of patience – but I don’t. In fact, I’m usually focused on how their “neediness” is affecting my sleep.

The tenderness and patience of this priest – even when I was clearly interrupting his prayers – made me re-think my nighttime parenting. What if, when my girls wake up crying and cranky, I try to eagerly respond to their calls? I know that seems like a lofty goal – but what if I showed them the same eagerness that I would show Christ himself, were he to call me in the middle of the night? What if I were willing to drop everything and serve them with joy? It certainly gives me some food for thought this Lent.

 

Michele Chronister is a theologian (married to a theologian), mother to two little girls, and freelance writer on the side. She is received her BA and MA in theology from the University of Notre Dame (’09 and ’11) but her favorite way to use her degrees is answering her preschooler’s questions about faith at bedtime. She is the author of Handbook for Adaptive Catechesis and the co-author of Faith Beginnings – Family Nurturing from Birth Through Preschool (both published through Ligouri publications). She has also contributed articles to Catholic Digest and Catechetical Leader, and is a member of the National Catholic Partnership on Disability’s Council on Intellectual and Development Disabilities. When he oldest was a baby, she realized that their family life had taken on a sort of monastic rhythm – eat, pray, play, sleep. Prompted by this, she started the blog My Domestic Monastery (www.mydomesticmonastery.com), where she shares inspiration for families wanting to grow in holiness.