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Being a Parent Today

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Children, Faith and Family Life

Edited by Fr Stephen Wang Illustrated by Simone Lia A booklet published by Ten Ten Theatre and the Catholic Truth Society

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Catholic truth society publishers to the holy see

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Contents Introduction: How Not to Use This Booklet . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3 Children and Childhood . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6 Parenting and Family Life . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9 Activities and Celebrations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12 Talking and Listening . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16 Discipline and Boundaries . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19 Religion and Faith . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23 Meals and Food . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 27 Making Space and Taking Time . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 30 Praying Alone and Praying Together . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 34 Chastity and Sex Education . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 39 TV and Internet . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 43 Church and Sunday Mass . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 47 Education and School . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 51 Yourself and Your Relationships . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 55 Difficulties and Problems . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 59 Failure and Forgiveness . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 62 Love and Kindness . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 65 Prayers to Learn and to Treasure . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 69

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PARENTING AND FAMILY LIFE Parenting is a lifelong vocation. You are doing one of the most important things in the world, and there is no one who can do it for your family as well as you. Don’t waste time comparing yourself to other parents, or comparing your children to other children. God has given these unique human beings to you – and he knows what he’s doing. No child, in God’s eyes, is an accident. You can be grateful for your children, even when things are tough. Yes, you can seek advice from friends, family, and from books like this. But then make your own decisions and trust your instincts. Don’t be alarmed when other parents do things differently from you. You know your child and yourself better than anyone else. Once you have decided on a certain path, be confident about that, and don’t kill yourself worrying about whether you have made the perfect decision or not. It may not be perfect, but at least it will help you to go forward, instead of being paralysed.

• ‘Believe in your children. Have faith in them, love them, and support them.’

‘You can be yourself with your children, even if you have to hide some of your emotions or worries in order to protect them. Don’t have a different ‘voice’ for them!’

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• ‘You have to learn to live with imperfection. I follow ‘the

muddling along theory of parenting’: Try one thing. Then try another. Keep trying. Hang in there. Do your best. Don’t hate yourself because you are not Supermum or Superdad. And if things go wrong, admit this, humbly.’

‘Teach children to be the kind of people you hope they will be: loving, generous, forgiving, kind, helpful, brave, creative... It won’t just happen. They need to learn about these ‘virtues’, and be encouraged to develop them. Above all, avoid negativity and complaining. If you yourself are happy and hopeful, it will help the children to be happy and hopeful.’

‘We mustn’t forget to teach children to manage ordinary life: Crossing the road, telling the time, using money, etc. Ordinary things that we can take for granted as adults.’

• ‘It’s so easy to conform, or to worry what others are

thinking all the time. I’d say: Don’t be afraid to be different, to think outside the box. Not to be different for its own sake, but because you feel it could be really important for your family. And if other families are doing something you believe is wrong or harmful, don’t get sucked into joining them, through peer pressure or the nagging of your children. Be kind but firm, and if necessary explain why to the children.’

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• ‘Hang in there when times are hard. You will look back and see that it was all worth it.’

‘I always try to pray about new and difficult situations. God always helps those who ask, even if it is in quiet and unexpected ways. As parents we will always need God’s help: the wisdom to make good decisions, and the generosity to keep loving.’

‘In your personal and professional decisions, test them by the effect they will have on your family. It’s true that you need personal space, and you should not be defined only in terms of being a parent. But your family and children should always be your first priority, and if something you are choosing harms them or makes life harder for them, you should be honest about this. Be careful not to put all your time and emotional energy into things outside the family.’

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ACTIVITIES AND CELEBRATIONS It’s good that children have lots to do. It’s also good that they have time just to do their own thing, or to do nothing. Sometimes they just need the freedom to play and decide what to do with their time. Some of their best ideas come when children are bored!

‘We try to involve the children in one or two activities outside school and home. It helps them make friends, and gives them a different focus and interest. But we need to weigh up the costs wisely, in terms of money, time, and the effort of travelling and giving lifts.’

‘It’s easy to become a slave to the idea that your children must be doing something all the time. There can be a subconscious peer pressure that you are a failure if you’re child is not doing this or that. But no child can do everything! And too many regular activities away from home can damage family life. It can mean you never spend any ordinary time together. It can spoil children

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13 – because they think they have to be entertained all the time. There is a danger for some that every hour after school and at the weekend is filled with a prearranged activity.’

• ‘It’s important to respect the dignity and individuality of your children. You can encourage them to do something (for example, to join a club, to play an instrument, etc.), and perhaps insist that they try something out. But don’t force them to do something they hate over a long period – especially if you are forcing them to do something simply because you missed out on it in your own childhood!’

• ‘Share the responsibility of making decisions about free

time with the children – letting them make some choices themselves, after helping them to think things through. At each age children need to have some sense of control and power over their lives, at an appropriate level. By making choices and decisions they learn about free will, responsibility and consequences.’

‘They also need to take risks – calculated ones. And be given reassurance and courage when things go wrong. Parents can be overprotective. Children learn a great deal through failure, as long as they have support and security to fall back on.’

• ‘We make a special effort to celebrate special occasions as a family. Not just Christmas and birthdays, but wedding anniversaries, baptism anniversaries, passing exams,

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14 feast days in the Church’s year, saints’ days, etc. It’s not just the activities themselves, it’s the chance to share them as a family, and to plan them and look forward to them together. And it’s not about spending lots of money. Children appreciate the simplest things.’

‘You see how elaborate birthday parties can be a problem for many families, and the pressure of keeping up with what others have done. They can become costly and make a child materialistic. But you can make it a special day without overwhelming the child with gifts or overthe-top party preparations. What really makes a child happy is being with others and enjoying their company, which can be done very simply.’

‘I try to plan some activities for the next few weeks, and for the year ahead, and put them on a chart in the kitchen that everyone can see. This creates a sense of excitement, and relieves the monotony of term time. It’s great to go out together as a family – to a park, a library, a museum, a city farm, etc. Anything where you can explore, talk and spend time together.’

• ‘It really makes a difference to support them in their sports events, school plays, recitals, etc. It means a great deal to them.’

‘I make a plan to have some special time out with one child at a time, so they can feel special and valued, and have a

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15 chance to share their own concerns with me. But to have an equal time with each of the children, so it doesn’t seem as if I have favourites.’

• ‘It’s great to make things with the children. Cooking is one obvious example. You can make models, costumes, games or dens. Children remember making things more than they do opening expensive toys.’

• ‘I try to welcome others into our home, especially friends of our children. I encourage them to stay for a meal, so they can feel welcome, and so I can be more involved in the friendships of the children.’

• ‘Shopping can be a special treat, but it should not be the

default form of ‘going out’ for a family. It makes children possessive and envious, and it can make it harder to spend real time together.’

• ‘It’s good to let children be outdoors as much as possible. Of course you must make careful decisions about how much freedom to give them. But we shouldn’t let the small dangers of them getting into trouble outweigh the huge benefits of them being able to explore and take risks.’

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TALKING AND LISTENING One of the greatest gifts you can give to your children as a parent is the gift of yourself: being there for your children, sharing your time with them, being interested in them, being interested in what interests them. It’s a beautiful thing to see a child open up to someone they trust, sharing some new discovery, or just talking about what’s on their mind. Children love to talk, and they need to talk. The more time you can give them, the more you really listen to them, the more they will trust you. Listening is a real art. It takes a lot of practice, a lot of effort. And it costs. You might have to stop doing something, or avoid starting something, or not go somewhere – just so you can give time to listening to your children. At the very least, you will need to let go of your mental distractions for a bit, so you can really be attentive to their concerns and needs.

• ‘It’s definitely worth making time to talk with your children, and to listen to them – each day if possible. The best times are when you are just doing things together or in the same space (but not when the TV is on...). For example, cooking, washing the dishes, walking the dog, having supper together. In my experience, natural conversations

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17 as you spend time together are better than forcing children to tell you what they are thinking. But there is no harm in sitting down with children and saying ‘So - how was your day?’ You can help them to put their feelings and concerns into words. It helps them to grow emotionally, as well as helping their language development. I’d give these kinds of conversations as much priority as you would caring for their physical well-being. They need to know they can say anything to you without being afraid or misunderstood.’

• ‘Often you need to listen without judging - to allow them

to express themselves and to be themselves. Then they will trust you. And then, if necessary, give them advice, or talk from your own experience, or say ‘Had you thought about...?’ Your openness to them is the key. It will help them to know that they are loved and accepted, and it will give them the confidence to come to you if they have problems or if they have done something wrong.’

‘I’ve got one practical tip: “Waste time” with your children. Build “downtime” into your day, so you are not always rushing past each other.’

• ‘If a child tells you about a problem or difficulty or mistake

they have made, don’t just get angry and tell them off. Give them extra time, really listen, and ask questions. And try to work out together what they can do about it. Encourage them, and remember to ask them later on how it is going.’

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• ‘Try not to shout at children. Sometimes we don’t know

what else to do so we just yell. Just listen to a good class teacher. When the class gets too noisy she will lower her voice. The less confident teacher will start shouting and the total noise simply escalates.’

‘Sometimes I’m suspicious or anxious about her behaviour, but I don’t jump in too quickly. I ask gentle questions like ‘Is something on your mind?’ or ‘It seems as if things aren’t quite right with you?’ – and usually it comes out eventually.’

• ‘As they got older, we might share some of our own

everyday concerns with them in an appropriate way – without burdening them with our adult problems. It allows them to become more and more involved in family life and decisions. We need to be open to their ideas and their unique perspectives on life!’

‘Yes, it can be difficult with teenage children – but don’t give up on them. Keep giving them time, keep talking. They will appreciate it, even if they don’t show it!’

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DISCIPLINE AND BOUNDARIES Children need rules, boundaries and routines – at every age – even if they change over time, even if they sometimes need to be broken. They give children security. They help them to know right from wrong. They allow them to appreciate the deeper values that lie behind the rules. And they make family life easier and more peaceful. One of your greatest responsibilities as a parent is to decide what kind of behaviour and language will be acceptable in your children. And to insist on this, firmly and lovingly. Mothers and fathers need to agree that they will require the same boundaries, so that children don’t play one parent off against the other. Children and families need a moral framework, and the Catholic faith can help to provide this. It’s important to insist on a core morality in your family life: For example, telling the truth, respecting others, being honest, offering forgiveness, etc. And to discourage gossip, bad language, dirty jokes, immodest clothing etc.

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PA16 Being a Parent Today  

This booklet gathers together the experiences of different mothers, fathers, teachers and priests. It is not a list of rules, but a collecti...

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