A debate is raging on social media because of the comments made by a Catholic writer. The writer, who is a mother, came from a family of 9 and in her comment she stated that all of her sibling and she are practicing Catholics. She then went on to outline what her parents did which led to the outcome of having 9 adult children who are still practicing their faith.
The raging debate seems to be focused mostly on the second paragraph of her comment. That’s where she begins by outlining a few of the things that her parents didn’t do. And she is right, you don’t have to check a bunch of boxes in order to form your children properly in the faith.
On a side note, the raging debates seems to stem from fellow mothers believing that the author was dismissing or down-right denigrating home school or the Traditional Latin Mass. And though I don’t know her personally, I feel quite confident in stating that I do not think that she was saying that at all.
Great Results Aren’t a Given
My problem with the comment. Well, I don’t really have a problem with her comment. She was right to share her experience and encourage parents to recognize that there isn’t necessarily a list of boxes that must be checked. But, my issue is with the fact that great parenting does not automatically equate to great results and we need to keep that in mind when we have these discussions.
I’ve listened to many distraught mothers as they poured out their hearts, telling me how they did everything humanly possible in raising their children. They created loving homes, worked hard at their marriages, instilled the basic tenets of the faith in their children…and still a child or children have gone astray. Someone got involved in drugs, another is living with a girlfriend, still others don’t go to Mass, the list goes on.
My Own Parent-Teacher Conference
I know the trouble personally, too. A few years ago, I found myself engaged in a parent-teacher conference of sorts. Since we’re home schoolers, those generally look like me getting pulled aside by a fellow parent so they can inform me of some disappointing situation my offspring has engaged in or facilitated. When on the particular day I’m thinking of it was one of those uncomfortable conversations.
Embarrassed, I was informed of something a child of mine was engaging in and exposing someone else’s child to. I stood there rather speechless. I had addressed this issue with my children MANY TIMES, there was no way on earth that the offending party did not know that this action was AGAINST our family’s beliefs and standards. But, still it happened.
I Got Schooled in Parenting
And what smarted all the more was that the informant offered a parenting lesson to me. I got told that I needed to be proactive in forming my children! I bit my tongue thinking about the implications of that comment and the myriads hours of my existence I’d dedicated and continue to dedicate to properly forming my kids.
I’ve got to say that as a young parent, I read the child-rearing manuals, I attended parenting talks, I intently weighed advice and studied other successful families. My husband and I made it our priority to set good examples and instruct our children in the faith.
We believed, wholeheartedly, that a solid formation would net good results. That is, of course, what the books promise, right? Do this and this will be the result.
Running Headlong in the Opposite Direction
Time and experience, however, turned that notion on its head. My husband and I have learned that sometimes, in spite of our best efforts, a child will run headlong in the opposite direction. Sometimes they make heartbreaking mistakes regardless of thorough training in the virtues.
This reality is perhaps the most agonizing part of raising children. Because as parents we tend to have great expectations of and for our children. We want to hold fast to the conviction that diligent, thoughtful, loving parenting will result in productive, virtuous, obedient progeny.
She Did Everything Right, He Did It Anyway
My husband and I were at a pro-life benefit once when this actuality came into focus for me. A video testimony was playing on the jumbo screen. The speaker was a middle-aged, Christian woman who’d volunteered countless hours at the pregnancy care center. She described how she’d helped to educate and care for numerous young, unwed mothers.
She’d poured herself into pro-life work and she thought she was making a real difference. Then her own teen-aged son unexpectedly got his young girlfriend pregnant. The speaker felt broadsided.
She’d done everything right. She’d taught her son in word and deed, the truth about life. She’d expended her energy and prayers helping young mothers and their babies. She assumed that her own child would understand the lessons and make the right choices in his own life. But he didn’t, not completely. He still engaged in pre-marital sex and got his girlfriend pregnant.
Before that moment watching that video and hearing her testimony, I’d witnessed my own young children making poor decisions in direct opposition to their father’s and my admonishment. Like the child who ended up with third degree burns after taking a risk we’d repeatedly warned against. Or the one who inflicted hurt on another family by breaking our rule against name calling. And even though we’ve filtered our internet, regulated our media exposure and talked frequently about the dangers of inappropriate content, the limits have still been breached.
Sitting there listening to that mother’s testimony, I recognized that we often think we have the ability to harness our children’s free will. That is to say, we think that our right formation of our sons and daughters will prevent them from exercising their wills in ways which are destructive or expressly forbidden.
The Prodigal Son’s Mom and Dad
Remembering that it was the same mother and father who brought up both the prodigal son and his dutiful brother, I imagine that perhaps those parents stood wringing their hands when that son demanded his inheritance and then fled the cocoon of their family home.
Maybe they felt like failures when the prodigal son used their hard-earned resources to finance his life of partying and debauchery. Maybe they asked, “Where did we go wrong?”
Maybe, the neighbors whispered, “You, know, if they’d just done X,Y or Z then that prodigal son never would have run away and burned through all that money. He would have been a good son and stayed in the family business.”
Suffering in Union with Christ
Indeed, that woman in the video never dreamed that she’d find herself seeking counsel at her own clinic. However, her son’s choice humbled her, taking her from adviser to one needing advice. And that temporary role change better equipped her to empathize with her future clients. Also, she was blessed with a grandchild because her son had learned from her the value of all human life.
Remember, suffering in union with Jesus always works for our good. And though that mother wouldn’t have chosen that particular hard-lesson for her son or herself, God still used it to bring about unexpected blessings and grow her in the virtues.
Home Was Where He Ran
Whatever the reason was for the prodigal son’s revolt, home is where he ran to once he’d lost it all. Though he wasn’t expecting the welcome he got, he knew that home was still the place he could go to repent and to heal.
For all of the anguish his father suffered during his absence, the prodigal son’s father experienced overwhelming joy at the sight of his return. And this is a very important point to make. The prodigal son wasn’t disowned. On the contrary, his father kept hoping and praying for him. And when he repented his father welcomed him with open arms.
St. Monica modeled that kind of mercy and unending love for her stray son, Augustine. She never quit praying and begging for his repentance. It’s said that he resisted his mother’s attempts to correct him for 17 years. St. Monica wait 17 years for her son to finally listen to her!
I found this little detail about St. Monica which I have reflected on from time and time when I’m worried about my own children. “Monica did not lose faith. She continually fasted, prayed, and wept on his behalf.
She implored the local bishop for help in winning him over, and he counseled her to be patient, saying, ‘God’s time will come.’ Monica persisted in importuning him, and the bishop uttered the words which have often been quoted: ‘Go now, I beg you; it is not possible that the son of so many tears should perish.’”
Tears are Wasted
In the course of raising our own brood, my husband and I have shed tears over the fact that all of our best efforts have not always been enough to counter the temptations of a secular world. So, if you’ve shed tears too, you are not alone. Your tears matter, but so too do your continued prayers, fasting and sacrifices.
Just like the parents of Cain and Abel, of the prodigal son and his dutiful brother, and of Joseph and his plotting siblings, we can only do our best to form our children well, to love them unconditionally, stand firm in the Truth and to pray for them without ceasing, but at the end of the day they are individuals, as are you and I.
Children Aren’t Automatons
Though, as parents, we’d prefer obedience over rebellion, my husband and I have come to the conclusion that growing up sometimes requires hard lessons and painful trials. Children are not automatons into which we can program our expectations. And out pop our desired results.
know that we’d all like the book, conference talk, podcast or prescription that can insure the end results, but it simply does not exist.
While we may think we’ve harnessed our children’s juvenile will by following this or that bit of advice or program, before long we need to release the reins and not every son/daughter is going to stay on course. Even great families who seemingly do all of the right things still suffer prodigal sons and daughters. I will say it again, that’s an important fact to remember.
Should We Hand Them to the Village?
What then is a parent to do? Throw up our hands in despair? Throw caution to the wind and allow children to raise themselves? Hand them over to the village? Or maybe find a nice wolf den to deposit them in?
As parents, we’re obliged to mold the hearts and minds of our offspring. We must cultivate their roots in a stable foundation, so that even if they wander the seeds of Truth will remain embedded in their conscience; capable of blossoming in due time.
5 Concrete Things We Should Do
- Let dad take the lead. Statistics show that fathers make the difference when it comes to children continuing to practicing their faith in adulthood. So, please, dads take the lead and moms allow them to take the lead. But, if that isn’t your situation, don’t give up. St. Monica’s husband didn’t convert until a year before he died, when Augustine was 17 years old.
- Live as a Domestic Church. Don’t relegate faith to an hour or two on Sundays. Be every day Catholics whose faith shines into every corner of their household and lives. Encourage your children to express their faith by creating their own bedroom shrines with favorite saint statues, holy cards, rosaries, etc.
- Surround your family with faithful examples to the extent you are able. It is easier to grow in the faith when you have a solid support system to help you. Get involved in service projects at your parish or with your home school group. Invite other families to dinner or attend communal events in your parish.
- Discuss the reasons for this hope of yours with your children. Help them understand why you are Catholic and why we believe what we believe and give them the space to ask questions and pose challenging ideas. If your children don’t understand the why’s behind their faith, then they are more easily led into other ideas or misconceptions when they venture out in the world as young adults.
- Consecrate your family to the care and protection of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Enthrone the Sacred Heart in your home. Have a patron saint for your family. I often beg Our Lady to make up for my deficiencies as a mother and I’ve invited St. Pio to be our spiritual father.
I take no pleasure in learning some fault or indiscretion a child of mine has committed; however, I do take comfort in knowing that my children are free to exercise their wills. They are not constrained by me or my expectations. Because as C. S. Lewis so wisely pointed out, “…free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having.”
…free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having. -C. S. Lewis