You who are on the road
Must have a code that you can live by
And so become yourself
Because the past is just a good bye.
Teach your children well,
Their father’s hell did slowly go by,
And feed them on your dreams
The one they picks, the one you’ll know by.
The well-known anthem by Crosby, Stills and Nash might not be the most profound expression of parental duties you’ve ever heard, but it does speak to the importance of parents teaching their children well. I’ve had a couple practical reminders of that same truth in recent weeks.
First, while vacationing in Florida I had the opportunity to spend a few minutes visiting with a young family, parents and three kids, all of whom are serious hockey fans, Pittsburgh Penguin fans to be more precise. At one point during our light-hearted conversation, the oldest son, about 11 years old I’d guess, proclaimed, “I hate the Washington Capitals.” While it’s a sentiment Pittsburgh fans can easily relate to, his mom quickly corrected him, “In this family we don’t use the word ‘hate’; we might really dislike, but we don’t hate.” The publicly chastened son held his ground: “Aw, come on mom; you swear all the time when you watch hockey games.” He shoots and scores!
That incident followed closely on the heels of another situation I heard about in which a cute little four-year old unceremoniously dropped the most egregious of vulgarities (you know the one I mean) on his preschool teachers and classmates. “Wonder where he learned that?” everyone wondered but knew.
A final example – a story about a family hosting a rather formal dinner party for some important guests. As they gathered around the beautifully prepared table, the very polite hostess asked her young daughter to say the prayer. “I don’t know what to say,” objected the shy little girl. “Just say what you’ve heard mommy say,” said the unsuspecting mom. “Okay,” said the little girl as she bowed her head, folded and hands and prayed, “Dear God . . . why did I ever invite these boring people for dinner?”
You might have your own embarrassing stories to relate, but the point is that parents have to be really careful about the language they use in front of the kids. While the use of vulgar language is in itself morally wrong, even in the context of the coarse, vulgar culture in which we live today – how many times is the dialogue “beeped” in any one episode of Jersey Shore? – it’s even worse when it’s passed on to a younger, innocent generation. Children are like sponges it’s said; they soak in everything they see and hear.
But the proper use of language is only one of the many important things parents teach their children. And, as you know so well, parents teach much more by their personal example than by their words.
Parents, in word and deed, should teach their children basic human and moral values – responsibility, accountability, honesty, courtesy, discipline, neatness, punctuality, and the importance of perseverance, commitment and sacrifice. Parents should encourage their children to strive for the best and to be gracious in victory, but also show them how to lose, how to be humble and patient when they encounter disappointments in their lives.
These are values and attitudes that are learned in the sacred precincts of the home and family, not from textbooks. Is it any wonder that children don’t perform well in school when these basic human values are lacking at home? Ask some teachers about their biggest challenges and they will invariably point to the lack of a solid learning environment in the homes of their students.
Catholic parents have a special obligation to give good example about what it means to be a Catholic. “Will you accept children lovingly from God, and bring them up according to the law of Christ and his Church?” brides and grooms are asked on their wedding day. And on the day of baptism, parents are instructed “on your part you must make it your constant care to bring your child up in the practice of the faith.”
These promises should mean something and parents indeed have a noble vocation – of being the first teachers, the best teachers, in the ways of faith, not just teaching the basic doctrines and prayers (as important as they are), but the value and joy of living the faith everyday. That’s why it’s so important for parents to attend Mass every Sunday, to receive the Holy Eucharist and go to Confession on a regular basis. Parents should teach their children to develop a rich and full devotional life, a habit of prayer and gratitude; to support the Church and have respect for the Church and her ministers; to prayerfully consider a vocation to the priesthood and religious life.
Parents need to teach their children to keep the Commandments of the Lord, to lead a moral life, and that some things are always objectively sinful in the sight of God. They need to impart a respect for life, the value of each and every person and the dignity of marriage and family as designed by our Creator. They need to show their children the value of being generous with their material resources and how to serve the poor in the name of Christ.
So, parents, teach your children well. Be assured that they’re watching, listening and learning – learning lessons that will last a lifetime.