When the midwife laid the first of eleven children in my great-grandmother’s arms, she told her “She will make you laugh, and she will make you cry.” How true those words turned out to be.
And how true they’d have been if said by a midwife at the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem – though there wasn’t any midwife, as far as we know. Mary was far from home and the women who helped at the birth were family members or, at best, kindly strangers.
But the words would have been true nonetheless. Jesus made his mother Mary proud and happy – and he also brought her terrible grief.
But while he was a newborn baby, then a little boy, all that grief was in the future. Like any other parents, she and Joseph had to teach their boy to make the best of things, mix successfully with the people around him, and find his way in the world.
How did they go about doing this? Look at the clues in the gospels:
The boy Jesus taught the Scriptures by his mother Mary, Henry Ossawa Tanner
There’s a strong indication of religious practice right from the start: as soon as they can, Mary and Joseph go to the Temple to present their child to God. ‘When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord.’Luke 2:22
They stick to tradition by making an offering to God. ‘ they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord…’Luke 2:24
They return to their home territory in Galilee, where they have friends and family who will provide a simple but solid community for their child to grow up in. ‘When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth…’ Luke 2:39
There is regular worship right throughout Jesus’ boyhood, even though it entails a long journey to Jerusalem. ‘Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover.’ Luke 2:41
There is reflection on things past, present and future. Luke’s gospel makes a point of telling us that Mary thought deeply about her life and what it meant: ‘Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.’ Luke 2:19
In a nutshell, the gospels urge us to raise our children with:
a stable community,
and a foundation of common-sense.
So how do you put this into practice in your own life?
The first point: when you are thinking about this, don’t be too hard on yourself. None of us are going to measure up to Mary and Joseph – and love them as we do, our children are never going to measure up to Jesus.
That said, we can ask ourselves these questions:
Are we providing a stable community life for our children?
Do we mix with people who have solid values and common sense? I don’t mean boring people – just adults with reasonable common sense.
Do we demand a fairly high standard of behaviour from ourselves and our friends when our children are present?
Do our children ever see us pray?
Do they see us help other people?
Is it obvious to them that belief in God has an effect on how we live our lives?
Do we expect good but not saintly behaviour from our children?
Do we set a high standard of behaviour for ourselves, so that they see we practice what we preach?
Phase 1: give yourself a pat on the back for what you have achieved already. Being a parent isn’t easy – even Mary and Joseph may have had some problems from time to time. After all, Christian theology teaches that Jesus was human as well as divine. Jesus was once a little boy, running and tumbling with the best of them.
Mary finds Jesus in the Temple
Phase 2: choose one or two of the questions above, and take some time to think about the answer.
Phase 3: Ask yourself how you could improve your parenting. Be honest and realistic. Could you be more calm and confident, so that this influences your child? Could you talk to someone, asking for help or guidance? People may give you some handy tips. Sometimes just talking helps. Could you do what Mary did, pondering about the things that happen in your life? Or are you doing too much of this already?
Finally, remember one thing: your children will make you cry, but they will also make you laugh. Try to concentrate on the laughter.
Bible Reflections for Parents: Bible texts with questions and a meditation exercise