FR. DONALD F. MILLER, C.SS.R., 1950’s
Here are the principles, with some of the practical applications that all parents must know and observe if they are to rejoice in the children whom God entrusts to their care.
It is not easy to be good parents today. One may go farther and say that it is never “easy” to be such, because parenthood begets very serious obligations, and fallen human nature rather instinctively rebels against being obliged to anything.
Today it is especially difficult to be good parents because so many persons who have brought children into the world have taken the easy way out and evaded the obligations that parenthood imposed upon them.
It is good, therefore, to review the principles that underlie the obligations of parents toward their children, and to point out some of the practical applications that must be made of the principles by fathers and mothers.
The fourth commandment of God reads: “Honor thy father and thy mother.” Implicit in this command, which is directed primarily to children, is the law that parents must rightly fulfill their obligations toward their children. To fulfill those obligations, parents must know them and ponder on them often.
Since there is so much abdication of parental responsibility today, with the result that patterns of wrong conduct are widely followed in the world, it is important that individual parents not only read the following principles and explanations for themselves, but that they get together with other Christian and Catholic parents and set up patterns of conduct that will oppose the fashions and standards followed by parents who don’t know or don’t care to know how rightly to exercise their parental authority.
Groups of parents, therefore, should study and talk about these principles together, and encourage one another to put them into practice.
The authority of parents is a delegation of the authority of God, transmitted to them by the very fact of their becoming parents, through which they are to direct their children first, toward heaven, and second, toward a useful and happy life in this world.
God cooperates with parents in bringing children into the world, but God does the major part. He creates an immortal human soul for every child and has supreme authority over that soul. This authority He delegates to the parents for the proper upbringing of the child.
Therefore the authority of parents over their children must be exercised with definite ends in view, and with a clear knowledge of the proper means to those ends.
The first end is always the salvation of the child’s soul. The secondary end is the living of a good and useful and happy life on earth.
The means are threefold:
1) a knowledge of God, attained through faith and reason, and of all that God has revealed to man;
2) observance of God’s laws, as made known through the teachings of Christ and His Church;
3) the use of prayer and the sacramental system Christ established as the means of growing in positive grace.
Leading a child toward its proper goals, through the right means, will require personal instruction, correction of faults, discipline of the will, and, at times, reasonable punishment.
The authority of parents will never be effective in directing a child properly unless it be exercised against the background of manifest love.
God never commands human beings without at the same time showing His love for them. Indeed, all the commands of God are in some way expressions of His love. It was this love that inspired Him to go so far as to die for mankind.
Since the authority of parents is a delegation of the authority of God, its exercise must be accompanied by the same kind of love that God has shown to all His children.
This love must be manifest so that the children will see that the same parents who command them love them wholeheartedly.
The love of parents is made manifest only through sacrifice, respect for the human nature of their children, companionship and a deep interest in the studies, the work, the play and the progress of their children. It does not injure the children by coddling them; it does not stunt them by unreasonable severity in its demands and punishments.
It makes the children constantly aware that the parents want their happiness, both eternal and temporal, even when discipline and correction and punishment are required.
The authority of parents will rarely be effectively exercised unless it is backed up by their good example.
In all moral and spiritual matters, the example of parents should be the first teacher of their children; explanations, commands, prohibitions, corrections are of little lasting value unless the good example is there.
Thus parents who rarely receive the sacraments, who are guilty of frequent profanity and even obscenity in speech, who often quarrel with each other, will accomplish little or nothing by commanding their children to do otherwise than they do.
The children may obey for a while, at least when they are very young; but almost inevitably and eventually the children will follow the example of their parents and not their commands.
The authority of parents must be exercised with full recognition of the differences of treatment required by the differences of temperament, sex and age in their children.
Every child born into the world is a distinct human personality, with its own particular disposition and temperament, with the special characteristics of its sex, and with a need for different kinds of treatment as it advances more and more toward maturity.
Basic to the needs of all children, however, is that they be trained to respect the authority of their parents from their earliest years.
Parents who let their children have their own way throughout childhood will never win them to obedience in later years.
It is hopeless to try to direct a child toward good and to rescue it from evil by beginning to exercise authority only when the child is advancing into its teens.
At the same time each child must be looked upon as an individual boy or girl, and is subject to growth and development requiring changes of approach on the part of parents as the child advances toward greater and greater maturity.
Thus the father will be on guard against trying to deal with his daughter in the same manner as he directs his sons; and the mother will beware of trying to mold a son’s character according to the same pattern as that of a daughter.
Thus both parents will study to learn the individual temperaments of their children and to direct them accordingly.
They will come to realize that a moody child needs encouragement and the building up of self-confidence; an extrovert child needs discipline, order and frequent correction; a child with a tendency to want to dominate others needs praise and at the same time humility; a lazy or phlegmatic child needs frequent prods administered with patience and understanding.
Despite all this no child can get along without respect for parental authority instilled at the earliest age.
As the child grows into its teens, the authority of parents gradually expresses itself more often in suggestions, directives and even wishes rather than in sharp commands. This will work out only if the children have always been trained to respect the authority of their parents and to recognize their love. Too many parents make the mistake of commanding a fifteen year old to do things in the same manner as they would a five year old child.
“In truth, the family circle is the nursery of saints as of sane human beings. There the child finds the love, security and guidance which are his greatest needs. It is by loving and being loved that persons grow as persons. It is in the family that relationships are essentially personal and each person is valued as a person.” -Dominican Sister, Australia, 1955
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As no sensible person would make a long road trip without first consulting a map, so the person intent upon gaining Heaven should first resort to a competent guide to reach that Goal of all goals. And no better guide to Heaven exists than An Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622), Doctor of the Church. It is at once easy to read, being laid out in short chapters, yet thorough, authoritative, reliable, kind and gentle a mirror of its author. It is a book, moreover, for all, because all are called to the devout life. True devotion to God, the author points out, adorns every vocation. The devout life, moreover, is a lovely, a pleasant, and a happy life.
If your life seems to make no sense, or if you don’t know which path to take, St. Francis de Sales will console and inform you. In this warm little book, he explains to you what God’s will is and how He reveals it yes, even to you, and even in the seemingly random events of your life.
No matter what you’re going through now (or may have gone through), you’ll see why you should love and trust in God’s will and long for its fulfillment. Best of all, you’ll learn a sure method for discovering God’s will in any situation today!
As you begin to discern God’s loving hand even in seemingly chaotic events, St. Francis de Sales will lead your mind and your heart to the still waters of God’s gentle consolation.