By: Gregory Popcak
In the Book of Sirach, there is a powerful reminder of the importance of raising our children to be faithful, godly people.
Do not yearn for worthless children, or rejoice in wicked offspring. Even if they be many, do not rejoice in them if they do not have fear of the LORD. Do not count on long life for them, or have any hope for their future. For one can be better than a thousand; rather die childless than have impious children! (16:1-3).
In light of this, you can see why the Church places such an emphasis on parents as the “primary educators” of their children. Scripture and our tradition are clear that “job one” for parents is the commitment to raise whatever children we have to be faithful, moral, godly young men and women. This can be an intimidating reality for moms and dads who often were not raised in faithful homes themselves or, if they were, can feel like everything in the culture is conspiring against them. In such a hostile environment, what does it take for parents to succeed in their mission of raising their children to be children of God? Let’s look at 4 things that can help you succeed.
We can’t do it alone. Raising godly kids requires us to go to God to learn how to do it. Telling our kids about the rules and outward behaviors isn’t enough. They have to want to choose to be good and godly as a response to their feeling God’s active, loving presence in their lives. Godliness and moral living has to be more than a “duty.” It must be our logical response to feeling loved and called by God to be more and live more abundantly for the sake of his love. Prayer makes this possible. Praying for our kids is a good first step, but it isn’t enough. We need to practice dynamic family prayer and also see that our children are developing their own, personal relationship with Jesus Christ and his Church. Practicing dynamic family prayer means that we are doing more than saying rote prayers in a mindless way that allows us to check off the family-prayer box. It means that we, as a family, are gathering together daily to bring our joys, struggles, questions, and concerns to the Lord. The specific way you pray (formal or informal prayer, devotional or spontaneous) matters less than that you are bring your lives and heart to it. My book Parenting with Grace offers many suggestions for how to do this.
Secondly, teaching our children to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ means teaching them to have their own prayer life. To teach them to ask Jesus to live in their heart and minds and to turn to him to share their joys and struggles. It means seeing that they get a few moments of personal prayer before we join together for family prayer and it means talking openly about our faith walk with our children and asking them questions about their relationship with God so that we can guide, encourage, and mentor them on the way.
In Beyond the Birds and the Bees our book on the moral formation of children, we spell out the vast number of studies that show that the most important thing parents can do to raise moral children is to be a family that is extraordinarily close and extremely affectionate. Amazingly, affection has been shown to supercharge the development of the “moral brain” (structures that play a role in self-control, empathy, and pro-social behavior). Children raised in households that researchers call “extravagantly affectionate” are much more empathetic, have better self-control, and are more likely to be both generous in their dealings with others and faithful in adulthood. When your faith is seen by your children as a direct contributor to the closeness you enjoy as a family–especially in relation to the closeness found in your children’s friends’ households–faith and values tend to “stick” much more than they would in other households.
3. Dads Take The Lead
Research also consistently indicates that dad’s role is critical in the moral and faith formation of children. When moms take the lead, there is about a 50/50 chance children will grow up to own the faith and values of their youth. When dads are the primary teachers of faith and values, the rate of a child’s retention of their religious and moral roots increases exponentially. Researchers believe that this is because even in two-career households, fathers continue to set the tone for how children deal with the outside world. When fathers are faithful, children learn that faith is not just something that goes on at church or in the house. They learn the importance of taking their faith to the world as well. Moms tend to provide children with a sense of a need for the spiritual, but children look to dad to lead the way in what it means to live their faith.
4.Tell them the Truth
Many parents are afraid to have honest conversations with their children about difficult topics but our faith has much to say about life & death and love & sex. Shying away from these conversations sends the message that our values are too weak to face such topics head on and undermine our credibility in our children’s eyes to respond to the things they are most curious about. Be prudent about how you answer their questions. When they ask for a drink, better to not turn the fire hose on them. But do give simple, honest, unflinching answers to their thoughtful questions. Beyond the Birds and the Bees can help you discover how to talk to your kids in direct, sensitive and faithful ways, not just about sex, but about all the questions that relate to the moral formation of children.
The good news is, raising faithful, moral, godly kids is not an impossible mission. It is something that any family can do that is committed to having an authentic relationship with God and living out the call to intimacy that is at the heart of the Christian walk. For more help on raising godly children, call your PaxCare Tele-Coach today and get the skills you and your family need to succeed.