By Tom and Caroline McDonald
At the end of the school year we were blessed to have a visit from a member of the Capital Campaign team who showed Tom and me the upcoming plans and asked us to prayerfully consider how we can help our parish “Build Something Beautiful for God.” (We LOVED the plans, by the way, as parishioners, school parents, and staff members.) It was interesting to us that part of the process included assessing every single building on campus and giving it a grade. You can’t improve things if you don’t reflect on where you’ve been, and what needs to change. Summertime gives us a chance to do the very same thing with our own families. Each year Tom and think we can’t get any busier … and yet somehow we do. We used to think that life would slow down once we had no more toddlers, but honestly, with high school and college kids around, it seems that we’re moving in fast-forward mode always. It’s all amazingly exhausting and fulfilling – each stage of parenting has its joys. But summer lets us take a look at how the kids are, what the pulse of the family is, who needs what, and what Tom and I can do tweak our family schedules and routines and be better parents.
A crucial question for parents to ask periodically is, “What is it that we want for our children?” In other words, “What are we doing all this for? What’s the goal here?” A lot of worthy things immediately come to our minds, and our list probably closely resembles yours: we want them to receive an excellent education; we want them to earn scholarships go to a good college; we want them to have solid friendships; we want them to excel in their sport or activity; we want them to grow into responsible adults; we want them to be polite and hard-working … and so on. Those are all good things. Ultimately, parents want the best for their kids and we want them to be happy! But something paramount we may lose sight of in the craziness of family life is that our children’s ultimate happiness and fulfillment comes from only one place: knowing, loving, and serving the Lord and His Church. All of our activities, schools, friendships etc. are either helping or hindering that mission. So sometimes Tom and I have had to take a hard look at what the kids are doing, to see if it is worth continuing. Is this daughter’s activity really worth missing family dinner every single night of the week? Is this group of kids that my son wants to spend all his time with a good influence on him – or not? What college will give my kids the best chance to live out their Catholic faith? (As we began our college search, when we looked at state schools, if they didn’t have FOCUS missionaries or a strong, active Catholic student center we crossed them off the list.)
The best advice we have for parents to help their children come to know, love, and serve the Lord is to have a regular family prayer time. It sounds so simple but it is true. We learned this from our own parents, but it’s what our favorite pope said too when he urged parents to be “educators in prayer:”
By reason of their dignity and mission, Christian parents have the specific responsibility of educating their children in prayer, introducing them to a gradual discovery of the mystery of God and to a personal dialogue with Him … The concrete example and living witness of parents is fundamental and irreplaceable in educating their children to pray. Only by praying together with their children can a father and mother penetrate the innermost depths of their children’s hearts and leave an impression that the future events in their lives will not be able to efface. John Paul II in Familiaris Consortio
It’s totally normal to feel a little awkward starting this, but just dive right in and the awkwardness will soon disappear. Try gathering everyone together before school or before bedtime and say a quick prayer they’ve been learning. You can have each person state a special intention or something he or she is thankful for. Little kids have no trouble doing this, and they’ll remind YOU if you forget. Older teens will resist and may be grumpy about it – but that’s just what they do. Ignore it and proceed. The blessings for your family for persevering will be countless. At the very least, listening to their intentions will give you insight into what is going on with your kids and what they’re most worried about.
This summer, don’t be afraid to Build Something Beautiful for God – in your own family!