The Venerable Fulton Sheen once read out-loud from a father’s journal on his television show “A Life Worth Living.” The father had written notes about being in charge of the children while his wife was out for the evening:
“Changed diapers fifteen times,” he writes, “they kept falling off.”
“Requested children in a kind voice to be quiet once. Told children in a firm voice to make less noise twice. Hollered at children to stop shouting FIFTEEN TIMES!”
“Warned children not to cross the street sixteen times. Watched the children cross the street forty-eight times.”
“Children asked ten times when is mommy coming home. I asked myself the same question every four minutes.”
Parenting is a challenging vocation. Underneath the piles of diapers and toys is even more serious work. After reading from the journal, Archbishop Sheen provides three parenting insights.
First, he notes that children have an instinct for eternity. This is observable from a young age, for instance, if Mom leaves the room. Small children immediately become worried because, when Mom leaves, it seems to be forever. This is an instinct that parents can turn toward God. Archbishop Sheen says, “Because a child understands the infinite, he understands truth.” If we develop our children’s desire for permanence into a desire to always remain in the presence of God, that’s a real gift.
Second, children have an instinct for love. “Every babe assumes love,” says Archbishop Sheen. He tells a story about a girl who, “Gave her mother a little perfume bottle and asked her mother to kiss the perfume bottle. And when she went to school she put it on her desk to remind her of her mother’s love all day long.” This instinct for love should be encouraged and treasured. When I first became a father, I overestimated how much I should discipline my children and underestimated how insistent I needed to be with them that they are loved. Now, I discipline them when needed, but that isn’t my primary duty as a father. My primary duty is to love them unconditionally. By doing so, they will be prepared to both give and receive love as they mature into adults.
Finally, children have an instinct for the divine. To children, parents are larger-than-life superheroes. Mom and Dad represent transcendent qualities such as justice, wisdom and mercy in a way that forever colors a child’s view of the universe. When parents are virtuous, they nurture a child’s instinct to practice those same virtues. We can’t simply tell our kids about God or send them to Church and hope for the best — we are actually living icons of those qualities in our homes.
I love how positive Archbishop Sheen is and how focused he is on working with our children, not against them. There’s no shortcut to good parenting but, if we help develop the natural instincts of our children, working in an encouraging, loving way to prepare them for happy lives, striving always to bring out the best in them, they’ll have every opportunity to grow up and thrive.
Father Michael Rennier is pastor of Epiphany of Our Lord Parish in St. Louis. A former Anglican priest, he was ordained in 2016 under a pastoral provision. He and his wife, Amber, have six children.