Now that I have six young children, I’ve given up many expectations I had for my life. I used to dream about, “Having nice things,” “Not having my house destroyed,” and “Going to a restaurant.” Now, as I sit on my couch while the toddler chews the cushion and watch my two sons charge each other pretending to be two wildebeests, I know better. This is my life now (and I love it).
As a parent, there are certain expectations we can easily give up. After all, I’d much rather be surrounded by my little, personal hurricane of youthful clones than to have nicer things in my house. The trade is absolutely worth it. Other expectations, though, we should never give up. In particular, the expectation that our children will develop a strong faith. That expectation is reasonable, but it isn’t a sure thing. The way we raise them influences whether they make the faith their own or drift away. In the end, each person makes his or her own choice and no parent can force a child to have a strong spiritual life. There are, however, ways, we can help them along the path.
Here are some helpful tips.
Help them take responsibility. Don’t assume you’ve done all you can because you send them to Catholic school. Encourage them to serve at the altar, sing in choir, become a reader or volunteer in the parish. Mass isn’t just for adults, and kids shouldn’t be limited to participating in children’s Masses. Challenge them and give them age-appropriate spiritual goals.
Don’t shield them from struggles. Children have questions, often hard questions. It’s okay to learn that questions often have complicated answers. If they’re having trouble with their faith or asking lots of questions, help them work through it. We all must struggle for our faith, and like with any good relationship, we learn to fight for it.
Allow them to express emotions. Spirituality is not only found in happy moments but in sad moments. Don’t shield kids from the Cross or the way that faith can bring suffering. We want to present them with an honest picture so they can learn to accept not only the good but the bad.
Allow them to dictate their choices. The job of a parent is to be sure their children know the faith, that they get a Catholic education, understand the Mass, and so on. Within those boundaries, though, there is room for choice. What devotions should we pray together at home? How should we pray? What are the choices for this individual child to begin making the faith his own? At some point, everyone must make a choice in favor of faith, building a habit of making positive choices is great preparation for that moment.
Being a good parent isn’t the easiest. We can keep our children from conflict, challenges and failure, but in the end they must go through these milestones and come out the other if their faith is going to become strong. Our job is to let them, and give them support, guidance, and prayer along the way.
Father Rennier is parochial administrator of Epiphany of Our Lord Parish in St. Louis. A former Anglican priest, he was ordained in 2016 under a pastoral provision for the reception of Anglicans and Episcopalians into full communion with the Catholic Church. He and his wife, Amber, have six children.