For those of us troubled parents who know we aren't doing as well as we ought and aren't sure what we're doing wrong, what would you recommend? I could echo (and agree with!) all your complaints about modern youth, were it not for the fact that I fear I'm raising more just like them.
Tired and frustrated mom
I am by no means a perfect parent and my kids aren’t perfect kids. By the grace of God we have managed to successfully navigate some of the bigger challenges of this parenting adventure. Some of our strategies were very deliberate. Some evolved by accident and were very successful. Please take a look at the series of posts on Keeping Your Kids Catholic linked on the left sidebar. It is really as much about general parenting issues as it is about faith issues. Volumes are written about parenting so condensing my thoughts to a single blog post by necessity makes some ideas very superficial. Still,I hope this helps.
First and foremost, remember parenting is a vocation. You are called to this vocation by God. He is there with you every step of the way. You just have to remember to ask for His help and guidance. In other words: Pray! Pray! Pray!
Children need to be loved and nurtured, but they are children. They are not miniature adults. God has given you authority over your children because they need you to establish boundaries for them. As they mature, you can gradually allow them more and more autonomy. I think too many parents are afraid to exercise this authority. They are more concerned with being a child’s buddy than with being his protector and teacher.
As parents we need to set the priorities of our family. We don’t exist in a vacuum. God created us as individuals as well as part of a family that exists for a purpose. We must orient our family towards serving this purpose. Please see this post where I discuss Cardinal Arinze’s five pillars that support a Catholic family. Our families must be oriented towards the eternal rather than the material world. Our priorities are set by this standard. From day one, my children have been taught that our family goals, expectations, and standards are not governed by what everyone else is doing. We answer to God, not the Joneses. So from an early age they have been conditioned to be different.
In practical terms, what has this meant? Our faith has been front and center in our family life. Mass is non-negotiable. We will attend Mass every weekend. Traveling, sports, or the desire to sleep in do not keep us from Mass. We always say grace before meals. We pray for each other and try to pray together when we can. I wish that we had been more diligent about saying a family Rosary. When we have done it I can definitely see the fruits of such family prayer.
We have raised our children with pretty strict standards for manners. As soon as they were talking, we have expected them to answer adults with a “yes ma’am”, “yes sir”, “no ma’am”, and “no sir”. All requests are accompanied by “please” and all favors are received with a “thank-you”. This level of respect has continued through their high school years. This aspect of their upbringing has probably elicited more positive comments than anything else. Good manners open many doors. More importantly, good manners train you to think of others. They teach humility.
We have lived a pretty modest life when it comes to material goods. Our income has afforded us a very comfortable lifestyle, but that doesn’t mean the kids received everything we could afford to give them. We have never purchased a gaming system. We have computers and computer games, but no Nintendo, X-box, Playstation, or whatever else is out there. We didn’t subscribe to cable television until we had to get cable to get the high speed internet about three years ago. Even so, we only subscribed to the bare minimum we could get away with and still get internet service. It really isn’t much more than the broadcast channels, the shopping channels, and C-span. The kids get presents at Christmas and on their birthdays, but anything in between has to be from their pocket. No one gets (or even asks for) designer clothes. We shop for quality and value—not status. The teens drive the family minivan. They don’t get their own cars. As a committed bibliophile, I admit I have splurged on books.
We have insisted that the kids spend their time on worthwhile pursuits. That is part of the motivation behind the absence of video games. Those gaming systems are time sinks and after you have invested endless hours in them, what do you have to show for your efforts? Instead we have had a ready supply of books, bikes, and soccer balls. The kids fill their days with Boy Scouts, music lessons, and sports. Through Scouts as well as the parish youth group they’ve engaged in a lot of volunteer work. When they were young I would try to take them with me when I delivered donations to the St. Vincent DePaul thrift shop. They need to learn to share their time, talents, and treasure.
These family standards have set my kids apart. I know it has not always been easy because they may not have been up on the latest television show or as skilled as their peers at the latest video game. However, they have also learned that they can survive being different. I think this adherence to principles set by a power higher than the popular culture has made them far more independent in their thinking. This has made it easier to resist peer pressure.
Keeping a family focused and disciplined is not easy. It takes a tremendous amount of energy on the part of parents to make it work. Parents must be consistent in enforcing family standards and these standards are ideally established early. However, don’t give up hope if your children are older and you haven’t gotten off to the start you think you should have. No family is beyond a need for improvement and no family is incapable of improvement. Stick to the principle I call Pizza Dough Spirituality. Keep prodding and nudging your family into little, very manageable changes. With prayer and God’s grace you can bring your family to holiness.