Mathematics has never been my strongest suit, except for the gold medal I won in the grade 5 multiplication competition (#humblebrag), so the thought of balancing equations and memorising formulas generally sends me into a cold sweat. Imagine my horror as the guest speaker I had invited to talk about raising sons starts explaining the ‘equation of influence’ we have as parents, educators and parishioners. Fortunately, Chris kept things simple and focussed on how to balance the negative influences on our children with positive influences, so no need to solve 3y=4+4y.
Chris reminded the audience of the importance to have positive influences in children’s lives “especially in this day and age where the influences on them do not stop at the school gate, or, when they get off the school bus, but pursues our young people home through their mobile devices, or, on their computer games that they play with their peers to all hours of the night.” The danger of online influences are very real in households that are digitally connected through smart phones, iPads and gaming platforms. In a 2017 article, Cameron Williams warns of the dangers that we open our children up to by allowing them to scroll through seemingly benign YouTube videos, which have been found to contain inappropriate material.
Whilst we have absolute responsibility and authority over the digital content we allow our children to consume, we have less influence over the day to day influences at school, playgrounds and public transport. As parents, we decided that helicopter parenting wasn’t for us, besides being a bit too controlling for our nurturing style, we simply didn’t have the energy to maintain the constant hovering. We also accepted the limited amount of influence we can have on the day to day lives of our children and that we would need to teach our children how to manage/filter who and what should come in and out of their circle of influence.
Parents can point their children in the right direction, suggest the safe alternative, encourage the smart choice and advise the wise move but ultimately they have the freewill to decide for themselves. Chris said, “Raising our sons is a shared responsibility – whether we like it or not. Some of the factors that make up the equation of influence we can choose, but many others come into our sons lives without our knowledge, and are literally beyond our control to stop”.
It is easy to consider the role of Mary in the life of Jesus as a backstage presence, rarely offering recorded dialogue or direction, but that doesn’t mean she was without influence. Rather, Chris argues that “the scriptures record that the first miracle of Jesus was done at the marriage at Cana at the behest of Mary. … It is a good example of the positive influence that parents can have on their children – as part of what I would call the equation of influence.”
Mary models how to ‘do good quietly’ and be an unseen, but important presence in the lives of our children.
Mary’s mission would undoubtedly be difficult, but the challenges that lay ahead were no reason to say “no”. Things would get complicated, of course, but not in the same way as happens when cowardice paralyzes us because things are not clear or sure in advance. Mary did not take out an insurance policy! She took the risk, and for this reason she is strong, she is an “influencer”, the “influencer” of God. Her “yes and her desire to serve were stronger than any doubts or difficulties” (Pope Francis, Christus Vivit #44).
Mary is a model for parents who suffer from the numerous doubts and difficulties that come with raising children. When we teach our kids to ride a bike we dare to risk a fall, when we trust them to catch a bus or drive a car we trust that they will be safe, our influence cannot protect them from danger. Mary’s influence on Jesus prepared Him for how to face the trials that He encountered. Whilst Mary couldn’t carry His cross, or help ease the pain of betrayal, she modelled how to lean on God’s strength and persevere.
Many families send their children to Catholic schools and Parish Youth Ministry to increase the number of favourable factors in the influencing equation, to stack the odds in favour of the positive influences. In talking about Marist College Canberra, Chris explained, “This school is not just an educational facility – it is place of formation for our young men. It is my sincere hope that the teachers and students at Marist, along with our parish community and our families will have the most significant influence on our sons, be the biggest factors that count in their lives. But we shouldn’t take this for granted and we need to support and collaborate with the positive influencers that we value in order to raise our sons together”.
Catholic education and youth ministry have some influence on the faith life of young people, but for many it is fleeting and according to the Pew Research Centre 2016 study, it doesn’t carry the same force of parents who demonstrate a commitment to religion.
It is true that our comments and advice are not always welcomed by our children – but as Chris says, “what is important is that we speak with love and support so that they know they will always they have a safe place to come to when things in their life get tough”. To Chris, the ‘X’ factor in the equation of influence involves sending them to schools like Marist, which provide an additional factor in the ongoing task of raising our children together.
The X factor also includes partnering with the Holy Spirit and relies on the strength and persistence of our prayers. May we all strive to be like St Monica who never ceased to be a positive influence on her son.
How are you balancing the equation of influence for your children?
Copyright 2019 Nathan Ahearne