Over-Protection/Nervous Parents, Sinful Child, Etc. – Questions People Ask About Their Children


From Questions Parents Ask About Their Children, Fr. Donald Miller, C.SS.R., 1950’s

Should the child be protected from adverse influences? Or should he be allowed to meet them and be trained to overcome them?  

He should be protected against those adverse influences that his strength and wisdom are as yet insufficient to handle.   He should be trained and prepared for the difficulties that are bound to arise in his life.   He should be watched and guided through his small problems so that little by little he will learn to master the larger problems.

What he needs is warning, training, supervised development, and a constantly increasing measure of guided independence.

Do you believe there is a black sheep in every family?  

I certainly do not. I recall the funeral sermon preached years ago over the father of a large and splendid family, and the priest made a point of the fact that it was a family without a black sheep.

Since then I have been watching, and I am delighted to report that I know many, many families in which all the children grow up to happy and virtuous adulthood.

Sometimes people use the words black sheep rather carelessly.   They may mean the words to refer to a perfectly good man who seems never to make much money or who has a series of notably hard-luck adventures.   They may even mean a person who through an early accident has suffered some psychic setback that resulted in later aberrations or failures.   These are not morally and willfully bad sheep, and we cannot blame them for their wanderings.

In a notably good family, where the children are outstandingly good and whitely virtuous, one boy who is a little wild or one girl who whistles around the house (sad crime in some strait-laced families) is the one over whom heads are shaken gloomily.

A slight sin in one child of a good family may show up startlingly. But one sin, one fall, does not make a black sheep.

Are parents to be held responsible for the actions of a married daughter, twenty-five years old, who, though she is a Catholic, is seeking to divorce her husband, also a Catholic, and to marry a non-Catholic?  

I don’t know either the parents or the daughter. It happens that good parents who have given their children the right training and good example will on occasion see their children do or want to do the wrong things.

This daughter is sadly turning to the wrong . . . . and it may be that her parents are good.   If that is the case, the parents need not blame themselves.

If however the training they gave her was defective, lacking in Catholic example and standards and education, the story is quite different.

But in either case the fact that the daughter is twenty-five years old is no reason for the parents not giving her the advice called for by her immoral and stupid intentions. They cannot wash their hands of concern and responsibility for their children just because the children are married and are independent.

Someone must talk to this particular girl.   Railing and abuse and indignation and wrath aren’t the right approach. A cool and objective discussion of her obligations as a woman and as a Catholic, the presentation of the position of the Church (a position that she probably knows well enough), and a plea to her to take her time and not do something so fatal as this — these actions can well be within the simple duty of the parents.

The parents of this girl may be able to handle the situation. It may be though that it would be better handled through some priest whose interest they enlist. Or an outsider, a good friend, often a professional man or woman — any of these may be the one to make the approach.

But the parents cannot sit back helplessly and on the basis of their training of their daughter act as if all were right when all is surely not right. They cannot let their grown daughter plunge into a life that Catholics regard — with Christ — as adulterous.

They should at least let her know clearly that they do not approve, why they cannot approve, and what they think will be the consequences of her heedless and pagan selfishness.

How do you explain the good children of bad parents?  

They are sadly infrequent. Sometimes what is meant by “good” children is merely “successful” children, children who make money, who rise high in the world. They are not always good in the sense that a Christian understands good.

But the good children of bad parents can be found.   After all, children have free will and the grace of God.   Sometimes because of a variety of circumstances they escape the evil influence of their parents.

Sometimes the very characteristics of their parents turn them against evil. They hate the sins of their parents; they are driven to virtue by their distaste for vice.   But such children are always the happy exceptions to the unfortunate rule.

Have nervous parents an emotional influence on their children?  

Nervous parents, like all other nervous people in places of influence, should do their best to control their nervousness . . . . . or cure it completely.

Nervous mothers are often nagging mothers.   Nervous fathers can prove to be irritable and temperamental fathers.   Nerves are manifested in fears, a sad thing to pass on to children; in quick flashes of temper and sometimes rage, resulting in frightened or resentful children; in commands given and forgotten, issued without thought and seldom enforced.

Yet I have known naturally nervous people who did wonderful jobs protecting others against the penalties of nerves. They argued that it was unfair to make others suffer for their illness.

Should a sinful daughter — an unmarried daughter — be turned out? Or should the family stand by her?  

May the situation never happen to any of you good Catholic parents. But let’s suppose it does happen. Let’s suppose that a daughter of the family is about to have a baby without benefit of wedlock.

The first impulse of the modern pagan is to resort to an abortion. This is of course murder, and the Catholic parents cannot permit it — much less encourage or arrange it. Excommunication for the guilty persons in such an action is part of the temporal punishment.

The next impulse is anger at the disgrace: The girl has betrayed the family honor; she is unfit for the family circle.   Sometimes the girl will brazen out her sin. She will be unrepentant and bitter and difficult to handle.   Usually however she is beaten, broken, bitterly tragic, and willing to do anything to get right again with God and with society.   Whatever her attitude, she is a pitiful case; and if at this time the family turns against her, she may be lost hopelessly. Now if ever she needs help and sympathy and the protection of those who are her natural and supernatural protectors.

Anger, upbraiding, bitter attacks, the cruelty of a slashing tongue, blows, rejection . . . . . what good do these do? They make the girl suspect or fear that even from God there is little hope of forgiveness.

In a way the parents should represent the mercy of God and His patient forgiveness of all sinners who repent, however durable and permanent the consequences of their sins.

The parents will do their best to hide her from the gossipy and giggling and slanderous world. While they make clear to her their grief and their conviction of her sin, they will be tender with the child and do what they can to rebuild and salvage their daughter’s life.

They will not by cruelty and vigorous if mistaken justice confirm her in her tragedy and blight the rest of her days.

“Do the things you don’t want to do. Do them cheerfully and well. E.Schaeffer wrote, ‘Somebody has to get up early, stay up late, do more than the others, if the human garden is to be a thing of beauty.’ At first glance it doesn’t seem fair, but there are hidden and precious rewards for dying to self and serving. Stomping and self-pity cancel the reward points.” 🙂 -Charlotte Siems

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