Raising children can be a greatly rewarding and deeply meaningful experience for parents, however there is no manual given to us. Parenting comes with its fair share of challenges that are unique to our families. Many of us have been through the “terrible two” stage or the teenage phase, but each family has gifts and quirks that make navigating challenges a specialized process for each family. Families may come to counseling to have the counselor miraculously heal their troubled child but, in reality, the role of the counselor is to give parents the confidence and tools to love and nurture their child with their unique parental qualities. From this counselor’s perspective, here are a few guiding insights on parenting like a Catholic counselor!

Prayer:

Prayer is the way we connect to God, so instilling prayer into the lives of our children is vital in introducing them to Christ. In Evangelium Vitae, St. John Paul II inspires us with a vision for family life. He explains it is through intentionally and sacrificially embracing family life that parents cultivate strong, holy, and joy filled children who can, in turn, give themselves to others. When faith and prayer are the rock of family life, we can take the pressure off ourselves as parents and place it on the Lord to guide us through everyday challenges. Here is an easy formula for daily family prayer:

  1. Petition: invite each family member to pray for people in their lives or things they need.
  2. Thanksgiving: give thanks for the joys of the day.
  3. Forgiveness: take time, within the context of prayer, to say sorry to God and your family members for the ways you have fallen short.
  4. Tomorrow: set a goal on how you will be a better person tomorrow.

Healthy Attachment:

We, as parents, are entrusted with the task of bringing children into the world and passing on love, faith, morals, and mutual respect. This begins in the early years with parent-child attachment; we teach our young children what it means to be loved, safe, and cared for. The stress of welcoming a new child into the family can leave us more distant and distracted than we would like. However, being available to our children by putting down our phones, playing with them, or listening to their long stories creates a strong and healthy attachment. This healthy attachment lays the foundation for our children to have strong relationships in the future with friends, co-workers, and spouses. Although it can be exhausting to make quality time for kids after a long day of work or hours of attending to them, we must remember the importance of our role in shaping the body, mind, and soul of our children.

Setting Boundaries:

As children grow older, they begin to learn more about the world, themselves, and their relationships with others. As children develop, consistent boundaries help them to feel safe in their environment and learn appropriate behaviors. Providing appropriate discipline, rules, and consequences in the home can be a challenge for us, but enforcing these necessary elements is truly an act of love. Having clear expectations for a child is important to avoid unnecessary conflict. For example, make a chore chart that explicitly details the responsibilities of each family member and when each task needs to be completed. This can provide structure to household responsibilities and avoid the same fights about who was supposed to do the dishes. Clearly stating expectations and punishments can form a child’s conscience by allowing them the opportunity to choose right from wrong. A family with boundaries creates a safe place for kids to make minor mistakes, so they do not make greater ones in the future.

Be an Example:

Our children learn more from what they see us do rather than what they hear us say. Integrity is vital to consistent parenting. For example, if we expect our children to apologize to each other, then we must show our kids how to apologize by apologizing to our spouses. Everything can be turned into a lesson by authentically embracing our imperfection. When we own our mistakes, our authority is not undermined rather it is strengthened because we practice what we preach.

Giving the Benefit of the Doubt:

As parents we can often think, “why are they repeating the same mistakes?” We can forget that learning how to be a well-ordered person takes a lifetime. By pausing to give the benefit of the doubt, we can avoid unnecessarily harsh reactions. When any kind of unwanted behavior arises in our children, it is helpful to think about the hidden message behind their behavior. Oftentimes, inappropriate behavior is a sign that the child may be needing more attention, having difficulty coping with change, or not capable of expressing his or her emotion appropriately. We can use these behaviors as signals of what our children are most needing from us. Instead of seeing the child’s actions as staunch disobedience, pause, and explore the hidden emotions underneath the surface.

Parenting is a truly purifying experience. We are faced with moments of joy, embarrassment, and exhaustion, but by embracing our unique gifts, we can be the amazing parents we are called to be. Family life is messy, but by digging into the soil of family life, we will help raise virtuous little souls. Do not be afraid of the everyday messes. With prayer, love, structure, and authenticity, our parenting will be enough to make strong families.

Recommended Resources:

The 5 Love Languages of Children by Dr. Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell, MD – In this book, you’ll learn how to identify and utilize your child’s love languages to create a better relationship.

The Gifts of Imperfect Parenting by Dr. Brené Brown – This audio compilation focuses on how to foster belonging and worthiness in your home and in your children.

Positive Discipline by Dr. Jane Nelsen – This book provides insight on how to provide discipline to children in an effective way that emphasizes social and life skills.

Messyfamilyproject.org – This nonprofit organization provides resources for parents on strengthening marriage, transforming parenting, and developing family culture.