Over the last few days I have caught myself aimlessly scrolling through my social media accounts.
Maybe that isn’t something I should be freely admitting to, especially during Lent when I’m supposed to practice greater self-denial and distance myself more from the world around me, but there it is.
In all honesty, nothing was even engaging me; it was merely like my fingers were on autopilot, scrolling and scrolling down the endless newsfeed. After what seemed like a few minutes, but in all likelihood was probably 30 minutes or more (Crazy how social media wastes time like this!), I finally put my phone away. Though nothing had engaged me, something had become embedded in my thoughts.
Sadly, I recalled the faces of the friends of my youth—the faces of many friends who have walked away from the Church.
While I know that different circumstances and experiences have caused each of them to step away from Catholicism and pursue “their own” ideas of the world, I nevertheless noted a certain commonality. Now, I don’t presume to know the detailed nature of their upbringing and family life; still, much can be observed as an outsider, and even more as the occasional visitor, and your friend’s confidant.
I quickly realized that the majority of these friends could be classified into two groups: the first are those who had religion shoved down their throat in a rigid way, with little or no explanation or guidance to develop a piety of their own; and the second, those families who reserved religion for Sunday mornings and did not practice any kind of continuity in the day-to-day weekly life of the family. In many cases, this latter group was also guided by the “My child is my friend” parenting philosophy.
This is by no means a ruling or a judgment on any of these families; it is simply an observation, and sadly one that has been fulfilled many times over.
Haunted largely by this latter group, I walked away from my thoughts as if from a warning.
With a firm resolve I decided:
I will always be a parent first, and I will do everything in my power to help my children get to heaven.
Remember that your primary job as a parent is to get your child to heaven, not to make sure your child has fun.
The reason I focused on this latter group is because I’m naturally not the rigid, let-me-spoon-feed you type of parent. What I can relate to though, is the desire to always be liked. We all want to be liked. I think that’s a normal human instinct, a survival mechanism likely.
But being a parent is a role and a commission to do what is best for your child, not to be best liked by your child. At one time or another, I think we have all fallen into situations where we felt trapped between our desire to always please our kid and our obligation to parent them. But that’s what parenting often is—being stuck between a rock and a hard place.
When as parents we put friendship before parenthood, what we’re actually doing is relinquishing our parental authority, and you better believe that your kids will take advantage of it. The sad thing is that this approach may also backfire; one day your kid might decide that you are not the friend they would pick for themselves anyway.
Perhaps this is a hard lesson to learn, but it is nevertheless important that we do learn it: we are not doing our kids any favours when we try to be their friend instead of their parent, when we give in to our child’s every demand, when we allow them to not participate in family activities, do their chores, engage in family prayer time, or attend Mass because “they don’t want to” or “don’t feel like it.” This sets us on a path that will be harder to step off of as time goes on, and trying to reclaim our parental authority will be that much harder as our kids near adolescence.
So how then do we be good parents, loved by our children, but also respected by them?
First and foremost, remember that your primary job as a parent is to get your child to heaven, not to make sure your child has fun. If that is not your primary goal, it will come through in your parenting.
How each of us does that will vary and depend on many factors, including ours and our child’s character, the virtues they naturally acquire, as well as the vices they struggle with. But if we can manage to find the right balance, to parent with loving authority, our child will not only be holier for it, but a whole lot happier too, and our desire that they choose this Faith for themselves will be that much more conceivable.
Here are a few ways to get started:
1. Pray for them and for yourself. It can’t be said enough, but prayer truly is your greatest tool as a parent. If you yourself don’t pray, you can hardly expect your kids to. Besides, you can’t share what you don’t know.
2. Show them that prayer is a part of life. The one thing many adults who have left the Faith recall is that outside of Sunday Mass, there was usually no additional living out of the Faith taking place with the family. So pray as a family during meals, pray together in the mornings and in the evenings, teach your children different prayers that compliment the different liturgical seasons, read to them from the Bible, tell them stories of the Saints ... There are countless fun and natural ways available to us that help bridge that gap between Sunday-living and the rest of the week.
3. Don’t try to be their best friend, but show them that God is. Guide them towards developing a relationship with God. God is always present and waiting to hear from them, even if it’s just to hear them say, “Hello” or “Thank you,” as the mood strikes them. And make sure that they see you practice this yourself, that they see you turning to God outside of routine prayer time and not just when things are not going well.
4. Be firm but kind, as Maria von Trapp sings in “The Sound of Music.” We can only earn true respect from our kids through love, not fear; respect given out of fear is respect that is coerced and will eventually fade. Permeate your home with love.
5. Be quick to forgive their mistakes, even if and when they need correction. If already at a young age, a child feels they cannot turn to mom or dad and find forgiveness there—beings who also make mistakes and have many faults—it will be that much harder for them to comprehend how a perfect God could possibly forgive them much worse transgressions.
6. Spend time with your kids, play with them, and make sure they know that you will always make time for them. The easiest way to model our values, our virtues, and our Faith is through ordinary day-to-day interactions.
7. Don’t delegate teaching to strangers, friends, or the t.v.. It is your responsibility to teach your child how to be grateful, kind, empathetic, honest … and what each of these truly means. There are so few years to lay this foundation for them, and if it’s not there, the world will teach them its version, and it’s one that’s a whole lot easier to live out.
8. Set high expectations. Let me be clear, what I don’t mean is this: “I only want to see A’s on your report card.” or “You must become a classical pianist so practice, practice, practice even if your hands are numb, oh and I don’t care if you hate piano.” No. What I mean is, teach your child to not settle for something lesser or quit something just because it’s easier to do so. This is actually a great disservice to our children and their self-worth. But all that aside, this is a lesson that has more to do with the spiritual life. Learning to resist temptation, to not settle in a state of sin, to fight against our bad-inclinations—this! Holiness is THE highest expectation set by God, and we know that God is the most loving parent we have.
9. Be overprotective. Again, let me qualify this by saying that helicopter parenting is not what I have in mind here. Rather, be aware of how and with whom your child spends their time. If you have reason to be wary of who your child is friends with, don’t dismiss that. You may not be able to choose your child’s friends for them, but you can limit their interactions with unsavoury classmates, even if you have to endure being called “mean” or “unfair” for some time. Our companions rub off on us more than many of us are willing to admit.
10. Be involved in their life. As an adolescent, I counted myself as one of the privileged few who regularly “hung out” with my family. Many of my friends didn’t, at least not as teens. The weekend would come and each person would retire to their own corner. I know this is a great sacrifice on the part of the parents who just want some hard-earned peace when Saturday arrives, but make that sacrifice, even if to a small degree some weekends. How we spend time with our kids during those early years are not just joyful memories in the making; they’re something to return to when the alternatives presented by their friends are shady ... at best.
Of course, even with the most amazing and loving upbringing, some children will still leave the Church to their parents’ greatest heartbreak. After all, every one of us has free will. But it is not for us to say that they will never come back. Take the time now to give them something real to come back to.
And when my kids are all grown up and maybe have families of their own, whether they have remained faithful to the Faith I have passed on to them or not (Though I have great hope that they will!), I can at least take some comfort in the knowledge that I really did try everything within reason—anything that an ordinary human being can be expected to try.
In the end it’s not about being perfect, it’s about trying.
Saints are not born—they are made.
"Do small things with great love." – St. Teresa of Calcutta
We believe that Salvation begins in the home, which is why MMH Press is dedicated to helping parents discover the foundations of their motherhood and fatherhood as revealed in God's plan for the family. We seek to inspire Catholic parents to transform their home into a sanctuary of love, to raise their children in the Faith, and together lead a joyful and fulfilling family life.