Accelerated parenting

As a dad of young children, I sometimes think that my wife and I are workers at a muddy and chaotic construction site - setting (I hope) solid foundations. Every once in a while we emerge from behind the construction perimeter fence and go out on a rare date together, only to disappear down below to our hidden foundation work for weeks or months at a time.

Scripture is strewn with references to building. Jesus was a carpenter. But as I drove past a cavernous five-story-deep hole in the earth on a recent morning commute, I realized that my humanities and theology degrees left me entirely ignorant of what the dozens of construction workers were doing down there.

When I got to the office, I called up a colleague who has served as general contractor for $250 million in area construction projects over the past decade. I asked a bunch of dumb questions about soil, bedrock, concrete and steel.

Whether you are building a family, a new wing on your interior castle of prayer, a new chapter in your career or an actual structure, I invite you to take a look at your construction site from the vantage point of a general contractor.

1. Test the soil and load-bearing capacity. "The weight of your building will be transferred to the ground," my colleague began, "to the footing beneath the column supports. Your soil must bear the load of the concrete foundation, so of course you've got to test your soil. Each site is unique. Virginia has a lot of clay. What is the bearing capacity? Will your soil bear the load, or do you need to drive piles or dig down to rock?"

Takeaway: First we need to test the soil of our own example. How strong is the foundation we stand on ourselves? Each of our children is utterly unique, with different capacities and strengths and needs. How strong will their foundation be?

2. Foundations are only 5 percent of overall project costs, but time-intensive. "Foundations are about 5 percent of the overall project cost, but before you can set your concrete foundation, you've got to dig a hole. And then the concrete takes time to cure. Test samples of the concrete are taken off-site and crushed in order to test the concrete's compressive strength - usually 2,000 pounds per square inch," he said.

"Can you speed up the concrete work?" I asked.

"You probably wouldn't use accelerators in the concrete foundation pads, since the way an ordinary job would proceed, you wouldn't load them (column supports) up as quickly."

Takeaway: Raising our children in their early years is time- and labor-intensive. These years pass very quickly. ("Is Katie already 5?") The time it takes to lay the foundations of faith, hope and love cannot be underestimated. Faith cannot be "accelerated." Shortchanging our foundation work arguably deprives our children of the compressive strength and load-bearing capacity they will need in their teen and adult years.

3. Late changes on a site are cost-prohibitive, but foundations can be repaired. "Later on in any project, the cost is high to make changes," my colleague said. " There are a lot more trades on the job. That's not a time you want to be making fundamental changes."

Takeaway: If we struggle with procrastination in the early years of parenting, we only have to consider the cost of "late changes" or "a lot of trades on the job" during our children's adolescence. Now is the moment to set lasting foundations.

My colleague and I ended our conversation on a somber note, discussing the collapse of an apartment building at Bailey's Crossroads in March 1973, which killed 14 construction workers. The cause was pinpointed as accelerated concrete work. Today we may be able to buy concrete at Home Depot which sets a flimsy fence post in 20 minutes, but big projects are quite a different matter.

I thanked my colleague and asked him to summarize the link between building and faith. He paused for a long moment and said, "The early foundation work is very important, even though you can't see the by-product for years."

Amen. And if that general contractor's exhortation still doesn't hit home, may St. Paul's words remind us of our high calling down in the construction pit: "According to the grace of God given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building upon it. But each one must be careful how he builds upon it, for no one can lay a foundation other than the one that is there, namely, Jesus Christ" (1 Cor 3:10).

Johnson, a husband and father of five, is Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde's special assistant for evangelization and media. He can be reached on Twitter @Soren_t.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015