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