By Genevieve Suzuki
In fall, my daughter prepared for her first confession at St. Martin of Tours Church on El Cajon Boulevard. Part of the process was I, as a parent, had to attend a few sessions with one of the coolest nuns around.
Dressed in a sweatshirt and pants, Sister LaVern Olberding doesn’t look like those nuns who urged Maria to climb every mountain in “The Sound of Music.” Happily standing in front of the parish hall, Sister LaVern patiently waited for us as we parents trickled in, sometimes armed with coffee, wearing weary, wary looks.
I admit my mind is prone to wandering during lectures. As a student, my notes were often filled with squiggles, random shapes and cartoon characters. But as a parent who sometimes finds myself lost as to how to handle my rambunctious kids, Sister LaVern’s talks were welcome presentations.
Because our kids were working toward their first confessions, I originally assumed we would be learning about all of the wonderful ways we could make our kids feel guilty for committing their childish sins against us. My 8-year-old would be sorry for turning her once-neat bedroom into something straight out of “The Exorcist.” My 2-year-old would be contrite for hurling a Hot Wheels car at my head.
Instead, Sister LaVern talked to us about how to be better parents to our children. After I got over the initial “why do I always have to be the one getting busted” indignation, what the nun said really made sense.
“There aren’t problems,” she told us. “There are opportunities and situations. You are getting a chance to be the best version of yourself.”
She went on to advise us that a big part of being the best version of ourselves is having patience. She also asked us to think about the moments we were challenged by situations involving our kids’ actions.
I thought about how I snapped at Quinn to climb into the car quickly so we wouldn’t be late for the class. “Hurry up! If you’d gotten ready sooner, we wouldn’t be having to rush!” I had groused.
For her part, Quinn hustled into the car and quietly mumbled her apology.
I wasn’t being patient. I also wasn’t being fair.
If I was being fair, I would have structured the morning so she would not have had to rush. I am her parent and I need to create opportunities for her to succeed. Allowing her to watch TV instead of focusing on her tasks set her up for this timely failure.
Don’t get me wrong: Quinn should learn take responsibility for herself. But Sister LaVern is right. All too often my default parenting style is like an angry drill sergeant rather than the best version of myself. The best version of myself would have made sure Quinn was ready and in the car without my barking orders. We could have quietly gone through the morning.
“Relationships are about impacting each other with grace,” said Sister LaVern. “When someone is doing something you don’t like, you still need to show them love. Love is different from like.”
With the New Year right around the corner, we have all been given the perfect opportunity to be the best versions of ourselves. We can start anew with our families as our calendars reset to Jan. 1, 2018. And while I’m not promising I won’t yelp and screech after getting a tiny Porsche to the head, I can certainly change the way I handle the situation and show love to my 2-year-old tormentor, who may also need to learn to be the best version of himself.
If you’re interested in contacting Sister LaVern, you can email her at her very apropos address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
— Genevieve A. Suzuki is a local attorney who lives and works in La Mesa.