A Catholic Convert in Ottawa

Following a Little Child’s Lead

Posted on: June 10, 2013

Yesterday at Mass, a couple of rows ahead of me, I saw a little girl about three years old with her mother and baby brother. She kissed her brother on the leg over and over again. When her mother made her stop because the baby began to fuss, she started kissing her mother’s arm.

I’ve noticed children crying, having tantrums, and talking in a stage whisper during Mass. But showing affection to their siblings? Not usually.

Maybe it’s a concept I have trouble wrapping my mind around because my brother and I didn’t get along well as children. But that little girl reminded me of how important it is to treat our family members well.

First thing in the morning, it’s tough to be pleasant. (Not being a morning person, I can’t bring myself to use the word “cheery.”) And after a long day of work at home or the office, it’s not always easy to deal positively with whining or complaining or to make our children crack open the homework books or practise piano. Family members often see the grumpiness, sadness, bitterness or frustration we hide from the rest of the world—and not enough of the kindness, empathy and helpfulness we show others. But our families should be getting the best part of us.

The Catechism offers us some important reminders about family dynamics, including these:

my family

My family in 1973

  • “The relationships within the family bring an affinity of feelings, affections and interests, arising above all from the members’ respect for one another” (s. 2206).
  • “Parents have the first responsibility for the education of their children. They bear witness to this responsibility first by creating a home where tenderness, forgiveness, respect, fidelity and disinterested service are the rule” (s. 2223).

We want our homes to be havens and not battlegrounds, and we want to give our children an example of what healthy family relationships look like. So here are a few thoughts:

  • Insist on good manners during meals at home or in public and while being assisted in a store so that kids know everyone deserves to be treated with respect. My son has to say “Tak for mad” (“Thanks for the food” in Danish) before asking to be excused from the dinner table. Not that he’s always thankful for the meal, of course.
  • Thank family members for helping out, even if the task is on their chore list, so they know their contribution matters. And be sure to notice and comment on extra things they do that show responsibility and kindness. Since my son’s 13, I appreciate it when he remembers to empty his backpack and put away his clothes without being reminded.
  • Show affection. Maybe that seems obvious, but for some of us, it may be something we have to work at a bit. For some kids, this might mean a hug before school or bed; for others, like my son, it might mean using their parents as a private leaning post, wrestling, or having a Nerf dart battle.
  • Keep a running list of movies to watch and weekend activities to do that includes every family member’s picks so that everyone feels involved. At our house, this can also make the difference between a do-nothing weekend and one where we actually have fun as a family.
  • Get kids involved in picking out their own clothes and choosing decorative items for their rooms so they know their opinion counts. I asked my son what his favourite colours were and then picked out sheets, towels and accessories in those colours. A bonus is that kids might be proud of their rooms and want to keep them neater. (I did say might.)
  • Pray for and keep in touch with the extended family. Acknowledge birthdays and anniversaries, or send e-mails or call just to catch up. Celebrate milestones like graduations, new jobs and retirement as well as baptisms, First Eucharist, confirmations and weddings. If there is a rift in your family, try to help mend it. My extended family uses Facebook to keep in touch, and my mother and I contribute to the bottom lines of scrapbook-supply and greeting-card companies. I send Christmas cards to some relatives who don’t keep in regular contact with much of the family in the hopes that the thought will count.
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Food for Thought

(Y)ou do not know about tomorrow. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and we shall do this or that.” ~ James 4:14-15

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