For the most part, the world views parenting as a series of tools and techniques you use on a child to get them to behave. By contrast, the Catholic
theology of family views of parenting as a discipleship relationship parents build with their children with the intention of helping them form a virtuous character and leading them to Christ.
Of course, techniques can play a limited role in every relationship. For example; there are different techniques married couples can use to handle conflict more effectively. There are techniques co-workers could use to negotiate differences. And, yes, there are techniques parents can use to help their children more clearly understand the lessons they are trying to teach.
Technique vs. Relationship
But techniques can’t stand in the place of actual relationship. Like a car runs on gas, techniques can be said to run on the strength of your relationship with your child. If a parent is out of rapport with their children, applying even more of the best parenting techniques in the world will actually make the situation worse. Not because the child is broken or willful, but because God created us to be loved as persons, not treated like projects.
I see this all the time in my counseling practice. Parents will describe some behavior problem and then say, “First, I tried this technique. Then I did that technique, and then I did this other thing but he just gets more and more defiant no matter what I do.” Ironically, the parents are often using all the right techniques, but when I ask how often they hug their kids, or cuddle up and read together, or get any kind of one-on-one time the answer is often, “not much” or “there just isn’t time” or worse, “that’s just not me.” In each of these instances, the problem isn’t that the parents don’t have the right techniques. It’s that they haven’t been able to invest in cultivating a heart-to-heart, discipleship relationship with their kids—a relationship that would make any techniques actually work.
People Not Projects
Children don’t want to be treated like projects any more than anyone else does. For the most part rebellious children become rebellious, not because their parents’ techniques are bad, but because the child is trying to say, “I need you to see me as a person and stop treating me as a project. And if I have to burn down the house to get you to see that, I will.”
St. John Paul’s Theology of the Body teaches that every human being—including children—is a person who deserves to be loved. God actually created us to rebel against people who treat us like an object or project. The Catechism says, “Parents must regard their children as children of God and respect them as human persons” (#2222).
God built human beings in such a way that we naturally want to reject people who treat us as objects or projects because, generally speaking, those people are not safe to be around. Regardless of their intentions, people who treat us like projects or objects are violating our basic human dignity. We deserve better–especially from parents who are supposed to be the face of God to their children (CCC #239).
The Rite of Christian Relationship attempts to remind Catholic families that it isn’t enough to load up with all the best and latest techniques. The heart of a Christian family is the time and energy we put into making love incarnate in the home and affirming the personhood of each member of our households. The practices we recommend for the Rite of Christian Relationship are some simple ways to start: extravagant affection that enables our love to be incarnate, discipleship discipline that focuses on capturing the child’s heart and forming their character instead of simply punishing bad behavior, and prioritizing family time over other activities, which gives parents the time they need to cultivate meaningful relationships in the home.