International Day of Families – A couple tells their story
15 May marks the International Day of Families, established by the UN in 1993. In parishes, social centers and spiritual centers, the Jesuits and the Society of Jesus accompany families seeking to harmonize the demands of contemporary life with the Christian faith.
On this occasion, we offer you the testimony of a Roman couple: Vittorio is part of the communication team of the Jesuits’ Euromediterranean Province (EUM), while Marta is a middle school teacher. A simple, true testimony, rooted in experience.
By Marta Pensi and Vittorio Paciaroni
On 13th March 2013, while Pope Francis blessed the crowd in St Peter’s Square for the first time, we were watching him on television, holding our 7-month-old daughter in our arms.
We were in another house, in what now seems like another era, but above all we were in a completely different mental and spiritual space. We were frightened, not by the natural fear that inhabits a young parent, but by the inert terror of those who do not look to the future with hope. Yet that very child - and her sister who would arrive a couple of years later - would make us intensely desire to change our lives to be better people, and better parents.
We both grew up in Ignatian spirituality and ways, and we share foundations that, even in the most difficult moments, make us feel we are looking in the same direction: faith as dialogue and relationship on a daily basis, unconditional trust in each other, the knowledge that children are entrusted to us and we are an instrument for their growth, the importance of friendship, gratuitousness and honesty.
However, since we became a mother and a father, we slowly realized that some of our fragilities, born from our respective family histories, which we had been almost comfortable avoiding facing up to that moment, were becoming evident in our relationship with our daughters. We had disproportionate reactions to inconsequential events: a whim, an unexpected occurrence, a behaviour we did not understand, and we would lash out. We were constantly tense, angry, unable to give encouraging words, either to the girls our ourselves.
These frailties that blocked us were also an obstacle to our spiritual life. How difficult it was during the Spiritual Exercises to do a “composition of place” about the Father re-embracing the youngest son coming home; how tiring it was to believe that Someone could tell us: “You are precious in my eyes”...
And so we were finally able to ask ourselves: is this what we desire for our daughters? We are the only parents they will have in life, and they have the right to have a functioning, loving, smiling, grateful mother and father.
The first step then was to recognize that we needed help, and to move to seek it. With the support of psychological therapy and a constant “cry” to the Lord, we got in touch with our “inner child” who had the face of our daughters. We realized that first of all we as children needed to feel loved, wanted for who we are, that we have the right to make mistakes without fear of losing the affection of other people, that there is something wonderful and sacred in being children. And all this we try to bring into our parenting every day.
If we used to perceive the commitments of family life as a tiring and suffocating imposition, today our goal is to spend truly quality time together. We have always tried to walk, as a family, at the pace of the youngest; now even more so, we want to involve the girls in the things we enjoy and, at the same time, we don’t shy away from the idea of all of us watching Harry Potter or going bowling together; and we do this with a lot of fun, with the feeling of making up for some lost time!
Sure, the road is hard, the journey is long and mistakes are always around the corner. Sometimes in the evening, we feel the pain and the frustration of having yet again reacted poorly, of knowing that we haven't been the best support for them. But this daily re-reading exercise makes us savour the beauty of consciously experiencing their growth and life together. Today we have a little more mercy towards ourselves, and are more aware of the beauty of our humanity. We try to keep Pope Francis’ suggestion in mind and never let the words “may I?”, “thank you” and “pardon me” be missing in our family. But above all, we wish that our daughters always hear from their parents’ voices: “it is a great gift to be your mom and dad.”
Today we are finally able a little more to perceive the phrase from Isaiah 43 as being addressed to us, and we step more naturally into the scene of the merciful Father, because we long to be that Father who runs to his son and says to him: “You are precious in my eyes.”