This is the final guest blogger who so graciously agreed to help me out during our moving/settling time. Melanie blogs at The Wine-Dark Sea, and she was one of the first “big-name” bloggers to begin reading and commenting at Barefoot and Pregnant. She actually clicked through to my blog via a facebook link from a mutual friend, and as we began corresponding, we found that we have tons in common. Both Catholic mothers, obviously, but we also both graduated from UD with degrees in English Lit, we both love the poetry of TS Eliot and quote it excessively, and we “get” each other in a way that’s hard to find online. I attribute this to our many years at UD, studying the same subjects under the same brilliant professors.
But for all that we have in common, there is much that Melanie does with her children, or that her children do and she relates in her blog, that seems to me an impenetrable mystery. Her family has a rich spiritual life which has made me aware of just how feeble my efforts at prayers and random, disjointed catechesis with my children really are. I read her blog often, searching for the secret to her family’s spiritual depth, so when she agreed to guest post I immediately requested a post about this. To my absolute delight, her post turned into a three-part series.
So here’s part one of Melanie’s series on the catechesis of young children. I hope that you enjoy it as much as I have, and that you come back for the next two posts!
Part One of a series on the catechesis of young children
In our email discussion of possible topics for my guest post, Calah said: I’m so fascinated by the way you seem to be able to incorporate spirituality into every aspect of your children’s lives (here I’m thinking of all the times that they play at being nuns, Mary, etc.). My kids never do that. I would love to know how you do that.
So I thought I’d write a bit about how I “do that.” And because I have a serious problem with brevity, it turned into a small book. And Calah, desperate for blog filler while she moves across the country with her family, has graciously agreed to let me to do a whole series of guests posts in which I blather about how I get my kids to pretend to be the Blessed Mother.
First, though, let’s be clear that this is not meant to be a how-to advice column. I don’t think I can give a list of instructions for how you too can “do that”. Instead, I think of this more like a detective story, me trying to backtrack and trace: How did—how do—we do that?
Second, I know I’m no expert in anything—except maybe the poetry of T.S. Eliot—certainly not in parenting or in catechesis or in theology. But Calah seems to think I’ve got something to offer, so I’ll tell you what I’ve done and you can take it or leave it.
Third, Bella, my oldest, has just turned five so I have no experience parenting older children. I have no idea how my educational and catechetical theories will play out through the school age years much less through the teen years, college, young adulthood.
So in case you couldn’t tell from all the disclaimers, I’m a little uncomfortable about writing this because I don’t think of myself as any kind of a parenting guru. In fact, the only reason I’m writing this is because Calah asked me about it. Ok, that’s not exactly true. I’ve actually been itching to write on this topic for a long time—thus the small book. Because while there are some wonderful materials such as Catechesis of the Good Shepherd—I really love the book The Religious Potential of the Child by Sofia Cavaletti—they all really begins at age three and focus on formal group settings whereas no one that I can find has written in the same kind of detail about the catechesis of children younger than three or about informal catechesis in the home. I’m fascinated about the subject and itching to share my observations and insights.
So in this here series of blog posts for Calah I’m going to try to document the steps I’ve consciously taken as I’ve striven to fulfill the promises I made at each of my children’s baptisms: to make it my constant care to bring them up in the practice of the faith. And I’ll try not to ramble too, too much.
It’s All About the Attitude
The first secret to my success, I believe, is not so much anything I did as the attitude I had: one of humility. When first I stood and made those baptismal promises for my daughter in front of the entire congregation and our friends and family and pastor and God and all the angels and saints, it really hit home that it was a huge task I was undertaking, and that those were some serious promises I was being asked to make. I looked at the tiny little person who was utterly dependent on me and knew that it was my job to bring her up in the faith and to see she gets to heaven. I began to pray about that every day and to ask God to help me do it because I know I can’t do it on my own. Not even close. I need grace and plenty of it. And I ask for that grace. So if you want a step you can do, start there: Ask for the grace to bring your kids up for God.
If you want a specific prayer to pray, here’s the one I pray daily:
O God the Father of mankind, who hast given me these my children, and committed them to my charge to bring them up for Thee, and to prepare them for eternal life: help me with Thy heavenly grace, that I may be able to fulfill this most sacred duty and stewardship.
Teach me both, what to give and what to withhold; when to reprove and when to forbear; make me to be gentle, yet firm; considerate and watchful; and deliver me equally from the weakness of indulgence, and the excess of severity; and grant that, both by word and by example, I may be careful to lead them in the ways of wisdom and true piety.
Pour Thy grace into their hearts, and strengthen and multiply in them the gifts of Thy Holy Spirit, that they may daily grow in grace and in knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ; and so, faithfully serving Thee here, may come to rejoice in Thy presence hereafter.
The secret of my mothering success (insofar as I’ve been successful) is buried in the first line of that prayer up there. Go read it again. First of all, I had to realize that they aren’t my kids to begin with. They’re God’s children. I’m just his deputy, his steward. I’m bringing them up for him and the goal of bringing them up is not to prepare them to get into a good college or to have a good job, to be successful or well adjusted or anything else. No the goal is to prepare them for eternal life. So everything else is secondary. It’s not about what you do or don’t do so much as it is about what God does. Your job is to be the best steward of God’s gifts that you can be and otherwise get out of the way and let his grace do its work in the lives of your children.
Recognize Your Child’s Potential
The second secret to my success (and I’ll get into this in much greater depth later) has been recognizing that if my children are really God’s children then they already have a relationship with God independent of me. One of the things that has been most surprising to me as a mother was seeing how even the tiniest promptings on my part seemed to arouse a deep response in Bella as if she was full of religious longing that she was yearning to be able to express. It has been also been such a surprise to me how much she had to teach me about God, how often she led me to new insights, to new experiences of God’s love. Where I expected to be the teacher, I found myself a student. I’ve started noticing all the ways in which we underestimate our children’s potential to know God.
If you’re reading this, chances are you’ve already taken one of the most important first steps in your child’s life of faith: you’ve taken them to church and requested that they be baptized. Don’t underestimate the power of that simple act. If you’ve done that and nothing else, then you’ve done quite a bit.
If on top of getting them baptized, you’re also taking your kids to Mass with you as you fulfill your Sunday obligation each week, then you are already giving them the benefit of all sorts of sacramental graces, allowing them to live out their baptismal calling by participating in the sacrifice of the Mass. (But I’ll get back to that point a little later.)
Avail Yourself of the Sacraments
Finally, maybe it goes without saying but you can’t nourish your children unless you are also being nourished yourself. Avail yourself of the sacraments. Go to confession. Go to Mass. Receive the Eucharist often. Ask your priest for blessings for yourself and your children. If you can, find a spiritual director—Pope Benedict recently said anyone serious about the spiritual life should have one—but don’t stress it if you can’t find one, baby steps. The main thing is to find some kind of support system—even if it’s a virtual one made of blogs and online friends. Don’t try to go it alone.
Stay tuned for the next exciting installment of my blatherings about how I get my kids to pretend to be the Blessed Mother.