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Posted December 29, 2014:
Raising Our Children Catholic

by Ella Connor.

How do you raise your children Catholic? In the simpler world of the 1950s and early ‘60s, before Vatican II, before there were many books on the subject, and before the controversies about catechetics, a mother of four from a town outside London, England, found some simple ways to do it.

That mother, Ella, the author of this article, now has thirteen grandchildren and fourteen great grandchildren. She is 92 years old.

Recently, while going through some of her papers, Ella came across a short guide to young mothers that she wrote in 1974 when her children were in their twenties, a guide which was not published. She read it and said, "I still think that way."

Here it is.

When we set out to bring up our children, there were certain things we wanted for them and we decided there were three main things we hoped for: that they would be good, that they would lead useful lives, and that they would be happy.

We didn’t aim very high, you might think. Well, that depends on what you consider important in this life and what your values are. Like faith, you hand your values on to your children, too, so perhaps values are the first things to get right.

Having decided we wanted them to be good people, being Catholics, our thoughts naturally turned to the faith which we possessed ourselves.

We had no real plan except that from the very start they came with us to Mass on Sunday. As soon as they were born, they were part of the family and of the community, and we never subscribed to the idea that it wasn’t fair to take them because they might make noise.

I thought it more important that they become familiar with the church. Familiarity, I think, is the watchword. Familiarity should not breed contempt; it should breed ease and warmth and security.

Just as the family they come to know and love by living among them becomes familiar, so the things and words of the faith should become familiar. And the name of Jesus should be familiar on their lips because it is familiar on ours.

I realise now how simple it was to pass on my thoughts to the children. A mother is with her children so many hours of the day until they are five, and how important those years are!

The foundation of their lives is laid during those years, and it should not be left to others to do it if it can possibly be helped because it is by using the everyday things of life that we lay the foundations of the faith in our children.

Having said that, I know there are some mothers who, because of their circumstances, cannot be with their children during the day. So they have to make time to be with them as often as possible at other times.

This can, or course, be difficult when they come home tired after a full day’s work. But I believe that unless a child has learned about his faith at home, it will be an almost impossible task for even the best teacher to make the child understand what it is all about.

Understanding means being so familiar with Jesus that it comes as second nature to talk to him in their own way and to know about his mother and St. Joseph.

If God, faith, church, Mass, prayer and all things pertaining to our faith are talked about freely at home from the very start, the children will come to us without embarrassment with their questions and doubts.

Prayer

Prayer can be taught very early on simply by encouraging children to share everything with Jesus. Like, "Let’s thank Jesus for this lovely day we’ve had." And not only the joys but the sorrows, too.

One day, my sister telephoned me to tell me her husband had died suddenly; he was 25 and she was 21. After putting the phone down, I cried.

The children were all there and wanted to know why I was crying. I told them Uncle Michael had died, and we all knelt down and prayed that Uncle was with Jesus. Then we asked Him to look after Auntie.

After we had finished, one of the children said, "It’s all right now, isn’t it, Mum?" I had to explain that Auntie would still be sad because she would miss him, but that Uncle was with God, and we would all be with God one day.

I didn’t plan this opportunity; it just happened. It is only on looking back that I realise how simply things happen if you are all on that wavelength.

But you don’t suddenly start kneeling down to pray together when something big happens. We had always encouraged the children to turn to Jesus for everything. We had taught them that nothing was too small for him to be interested in.

At first, little children only understand things they can touch and see and feel, and so we have to use familiar things to get over to them the idea that Jesus cares and listens to everything concerned with them and that they only have to put out their hand to him and he will take hold of it.

If we do this, they learn that prayer is the raising of the heart and mind to God, even though they wouldn’t be able to put it in those words.

We hoped that when they become adults, they would never lose that reliance on God. I also hoped that they would still have the simplicity to turn to God for the small things, having done all they could themselves, and also knowing that prayer is not only turning to God when they need his help.

Sin

I have thought very hard about sin, and I cannot remember ever having mentioned the word, "sin," to the children when they were little.

It is a word that they simply wouldn’t understand, but they knew perfectly well when they had done something which had caused displeasure to us. They also knew that all was forgiven and forgotten as soon as they said they were sorry.

In fact, as soon as you see that look in their eyes, you want to sweep them up in your arms and hug them. I still like to think that God does this to us all because, after all, what little children we are compared with God!

Forgiveness and saying sorry is easily taught by actually doing it yourselves. I can remember often being bad tempered, especially when I was rushing to get breakfast over and preparing to take the children to school. I never left them before saying sorry for being bad tempered as I kissed them goodbye.

Bad temper I suppose is never really justified but, being human, I think it is probably one of the most difficult things to avoid when you are hurrying, and socks, boots, and gloves can’t be found at the last minute.

Teaching them to say sorry to each other follows this, and it is a small step from here for them to pick up the habit of saying sorry to Jesus, too.

Next time, I will talk about teaching children to "love your neighbour" and keeping the lines of communication with them open.

Now living in North Yorkshire, Ella Connor has been a friend of MH England since it began in 1985. She is also a friend of MH Combermere, since she made long visits here numerous times over a 23-year period.

to be continued

 

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