Don’t miss this opportunity: Help your kids grow this summer

Mark Twain once said, “The proverb says that providence protects children and idiots. This is really true. I know because I have tested it.”

As parents, we hope this proverb is true because we know that in this culture our children need protecting. It also resonates because at some point in time we have parented like idiots!

Every parent I know needs help with parenting. This is especially true as it applies to passing on the Catholic faith. The renowned sociologist, Christian Smith, recently released a book called Young Catholic America that analyzes the difference between kids who stay Catholic and those who leave the Church. His most significant finding is this: Those who remain Catholic have strong ties to adults who practice their faith.

If we want our kids to practice their faith as adults, then as parents we need to build strong ties with our children and to practice our faith well. Here are three ways to accomplish this during the summer:

1. Come alive in your own faith.

Our relationship with Jesus and the example we show our children are the essential ingredients to having faithful children. The novelist and social critic James Baldwin hit on a similar note: “Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.”

How can you come alive in your own faith? Should you go on a retreat? Start a new book on the Catholic faith? Attend a Bible study? There’s no one “right” way, but it’s important that you find a way. It’s difficult for Jesus to be a real person in your children’s lives if they don’t see Jesus as a real person in yours. This doesn’t mean that you have to be perfect, but you need to strive to be perfected by God’s grace. Don’t wait!

2. Build your relationship with your children.

My first point is obviously something that can be done year-round. But with the kids off from school and a chance to spend time with the family over vacation, the summer presents a unique opportunity for this next step. It’s a great opportunity to build your relationships with your children in unique ways. What makes them come alive? What do they love to do? Be with them in these moments, even if it isn’t your preference. It’s these moments of joy and discovery that produce great memories and strengthen bonds between parents and their kids.

One way our family has practiced this in the past is to sit down with our kids at the beginning of the summer and list out a family “summer bucket list” of all of things we want to do. Then, as a family, we see how many we can accomplish before the start of school. It’s great to see our kids light up when they get to contribute their suggestions, and the list helps us to continue to find moments together.

3. Teach the faith through these moments.

During your summer experiences together, it is a great time to discuss the faith. Do your kids like baseball? Have them read about a great Catholic or Christian baseball player. Do your kids like building things? Take them to a cathedral and get them a book on how these structures are made. Show them how what they love can be integrated with the faith.

Also, while your kids are having fun with you, they are probably more likely to want to open up their lives and have a conversation with you as well. Remind them that you aren’t just there to make sure they get their homework done and do their chores; you are there to talk with them, guide them and help them through life’s most important questions and decisions — including questions about the faith. All of these conversations are a bit easier when they clearly know that they are loved and cared for in very tangible ways.

To close, seasons are always a great time for renewal. They give us new beginnings and new opportunities. Don’t miss your opportunities this summer to help your child’s faith grow.

For more on FOCUS, check out focus.org.

Kevin Cotter serves FOCUS as the Sr. Director of Curriculum. Kevin holds a bachelor’s degree in Religious Studies from the Benedictine College and a master’s degree in Sacred Scripture from the Augustine Institute. He is the author of three books, including his latest, Pope Francis and the Joy of the Family. Kevin currently resides in Denver, CO with his wife, Lisa, and their young children. You can find him on Twitter: @kevinrcotter

COMING UP: What my ‘yes’ meant

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I just recently attended my eldest child’s middle-school choir concert.

As I watched her sing her heart out up on the stage–this daughter of mine who prefers music and theater over any sort of organized athletic competition and who, at twelve years old, still exudes a youthful innocence and relentless joy–I had a most terrifying (and, regrettably cliché) thought: my little girl is growing up.  Time is slipping by.  My family is entering a new era, marked by teenagers.

Motherhood, I confess, was not something I spent much time dreaming about and wishing for during my formative years.  I am an only child (yes, only children can go on to have eight or more kids of their own, and live to tell the tale!), I was not raised in the Catholic Church, and I was nearly thirty years old before ever really encountering the concept of openness to life in marriage.  I had even–quite unfortunately–used the birth control pill upon getting married, before I knew better.

And yet here I am today, owner of a 15-passenger-van and an abnormally large (and full!) dining room table.  Something in my heart dramatically changed all those years ago, when I learned my husband and I–just 21 and 22 years old at the time, respectively–were expecting our first child, and even more so once she was born.  Pregnancy, childbirth, and parenthood somehow all felt very right for our marriage, this natural result of conjugal love that mysteriously brought us closer to one another and, also, closer to God.  Motherhood compelled and changed me in profoundly unexpected ways.

That is of course not to say that motherhood is, or has ever been, easy.  Even beyond the lack of quality sleep and Everest-sized mountains of diapers and laundry, there is an inevitably heavy weight we mothers carry.  And I don’t so much mean a cloud of gloom or sadness that follows you and your passel of crumb-spewing kids around–truth be told I do more laughing than crying in my life, quite possibly as a coping mechanism, although I prefer to think of it as a grace from God.  No, more than anything, I suspect it is the weight of our yes, the knowledge that in embracing an openness to life we must also necessarily embrace an openness to not only joy, but also to sorrow.  I am presently thrilled to be pregnant with my fifth biological child, but I have suffered through three miscarriages, too.  I am blessed to be a mother to four adopted children, and yet each of their stories includes loss and brokenness as well.  Half the time I’m not certain of what exactly I’m doing or supposed to be doing, but I keep showing up, and laughing, and I figure at least that’s something.

It is humbling, this vocation.  When I talk with other moms, I sense both a strong and determined desire to do the right things (particularly when it comes to discipline, education, and character formation), and a fear that perhaps even in doing our best, it is just not enough.  I confess that I find myself worrying the same thing, in between shuttling my people to soccer practice and signing field trip permission slips so they can attend the symphony.  Then when a child messes up or makes a mistake, I become convinced that things have Officially Gone Awry and I’m in way over my head.  Of course, I probably am in way over my head.

But maybe there’s a little bit of freedom there, too.

Perhaps it is this very acknowledgement of (and strange ability to laugh at) my own weaknesses and limitations as a mother that enables me to press on, to keep loving, and to find the simple joys in the most mundane of things.  Maybe this is what steels my resolve to advocate for my two daughters with Down syndrome, to find help for a son who is struggling at school, or to shrug when my day doesn’t go quite as planned.  (That last one never happens to you, I’m sure.)

Even after having made peace with being a mother and all it entails, I still daily long for the courage to not only live my vocation, but to boldly embrace it with Jesus’ love.  Pope Pius XII once said of mothers that, “Undoubtedly nature’s voice speaks in her and places in her heart the desire, joy, courage, love and will to care for the child; but to overcome the suggestions of fearfulness in all its forms, that voice must be strengthened and take on, so to say, a supernatural accent”.

Some of us called to the vocation of marriage may have several children, and others but a few. Still others carry the cross of longing and hoping for a baby that may never come.  What we tend to all share in common, though, is this struggle with fearfulness–we feel the weight of our yes, we want to do all the right things, and we want to know our lives are meaningful and fruitful.  Yet we need look no further than to our Blessed Mother and her beautiful fiat to see that even amidst the deepest pain and most horrible suffering?  There was peace, fulfillment, and joy in merely living out God’s will.

Which is, ultimately, what we mothers are doing when we comfort sweet little ones and sit through torturous IEP meetings.  This is our mission as we listen to the long and tedious litanies of the day’s fifth grade happenings (oh, the drama!), and when we find ourselves scouring the metro area for VERY NECESSARY (and last minute) science project supplies.  It’s our aim when we face the devastating loss of a baby through miscarriage after miscarriage, or the death of an older child.

It is what I have done in waiting rooms and ICUs, during a fragile child’s open heart surgery.

And as I reflect on sitting in the audience with my husband, seven other children, and my big pregnant belly, watching my daughter sing with a huge smile on her face–right on the precipice of entering her (gulp) teen years–I know deep in my heart that God will continue working, shaping, and molding.  He will be faithful to my family, as He always has been.

As for me, I’ll do my best, come what may, to continue giving my humble, clumsy, and fear-tinged yes to God’s call on my life as a mother.