On April 27, our family (belatedly) celebrated St. George’s Day. My husband (English) launches the same lecture series every spring when the patron saint of Ireland garners worldwide attention (it may have something to do with the green beer), while the feast of England’s dragon-killing patron goes largely unnoticed in this country. Thus, we must compensate.

I agreed to make dragon (pork) ribs, while our three boys decided to do some decorating. A pile of white paper, a box of markers and possibly three rolls of tape later, the kitchen and living room were festooned with English flags and bunting, blood-tipped swords and axes, shields and some sort of hotdog bun-looking thing with a red, ketchup-y squiggle that I think was supposed to represent butchered meat. Nothing gets little boys in an artistic mood like dragon-slaying gore.

As I surveyed (with some amusement) the scene, I thought of all the articles I’ve encountered in the past several years celebrating the childless-by-choice lifestyle. They invariably show young, attractive adults, often vaguely described as “partners,” off doing amazing things in exotic locales. And then emphasize how they are free – free! – to do whatever they want, because they aren’t strapped down by responsibilities and financial obligations and diapers and brats and et cetera. Basically, the articles focus entirely on the stress, limitations and difficulties of raising kids and never mention all the weird little moments of joy, the way children make your life immeasurably richer. It’s an amplification of costs that deliberately omits the benefits.

The truth is, parenting is one of the great experiences of life – perhaps the great experience. It’s a grand and unpredictable journey, because no matter how mindfully and faithfully you attempt to do your job, your children will gain free will and be faced with difficulties from which you cannot protect them. In fact, it’s God’s own journey, begun millennia ago with Adam and Eve and marching onward, through the many generations and centuries, to a conclusion only he knows. When we parent, we are joining this procession through time, passing our history and traditions – our story – onto the next generation. Then we step back, because we must respect that our children are on their own journey away from us and, hopefully, in the end, toward God.

I try to remember this while I’m shepherding my scraggily band of children through Mass (where they are frequently “energetic,” as fellow parishioners observe). Or when they can’t sit still at appointments, or when they commit some monumentally embarrassing social blunder. Kids are all messiness and wildness, but the chaos is generative. Without it, our society, our church and our world are stagnating. That isn’t to say I don’t lose patience with them – last Sunday, my three boys attended a second Mass (in Spanish, as it happens) because they were so poorly behaved at the first one. Only the threat of a third Mass restrained them.

When I was a child and my sisters and I protested that there was a Mother’s Day and a Father’s Day but no Children’s Day, my mother would say, “Every day is children’s day.” I did not agree with her then, and my mind has not changed. If I rarely got to do what I wanted in childhood, I suppose I still rarely get to do what I want in parenthood. But always getting what you want may not be as desirable as it appears – the fable of the Ant and the Grasshopper jumps to mind –because our perspective changes over time. Dancing away the summer brings great pleasure today, but hunger tomorrow.

When I managed to sneak away for a solo overnight hotel stay in April, I was savoring a very crisp Sauvignon Blanc (New Zealand) and appetizers at a hotel bar when I started chatting with a nearby couple. I told them I was on parenting hiatus, and the husband (father of two) assured me I’ll be very glad I have four children when I’m in my 60s. I think the current view that children are “obstacles to self-fulfillment,” as one article put it, is supposed to be the hip, trendy repudiation of the outdated notion that marriage and parenthood are achievements (rather than burdens). Think of my rather ordinary conversation at the bar – any young adult who is listening to the wisdom of preceding generations will understand the future fallacy of today’s solely self-serving individualism.

As Pope Francis often reminds us, community is the cornerstone of the Christian life. Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Grandparents’ Day – all of these Hallmark holidays invite reflection of our roles and obligations in relation to one another. Wherever we are at this moment in time – elders remembering their late parents, adult children caring for ailing, aging parents, parents raising children, children just entering the world as young adults – we are inextricably linked to one another, to our families and ancestors in a lineage that stretches all the way back to the first children created by God himself. Our relationships may be messy (and Lord knows, if we have young kids, our houses too), but that, too, can be generative, as it forces us to move outside of ourselves, beyond our temporary whims and desires and into greater communion with others and with God.