Three Tips For Raising Holy Children

Before God blessed my marriage with children, I was well aware of the modern culture war and shifts in attitudes toward moral relativism, indifference to injustices, and increasing agnostic and atheistic principles in education and politics.  I grew up in the postmodern 1980s and 1990s, which was an era of “safe sex” and condom distribution, widespread promotion of “sex education” in schools, and an overt laxity toward traditional sexual mores.

I largely credit my parents for the reason I chose Catholicism as my own faith during adolescence, because they inherently adopted a moderate approach to battling the culture wars of my childhood.  Instead of shunning us from pop culture, they acknowledged the television shows, music groups and clothing trends of our day without making too much of a fuss.  On the other hand, they didn’t permit my brother and me to waywardly follow secular ideologies, especially if they were directly contradictory to our Catholic faith.  My parents used hot button issues as topics for discussion during mealtimes and when driving in the car, which helped shape our burgeoning consciences so that we were more solidly rooted in an understanding of our religious beliefs.

Instead of “dos” and “don’ts,” my parents explained why we believed as we did, which always led my young mind to more questions.  If my parents weren’t able to answer my questions, they either asked our parish priest or suggested we talk with our pastor directly.

Now I am a mom of two young girls who are growing up in unprecedented times: Planned Parenthood exposure, federal legalization of homosexual marriage, government-funded contraception and abortions, lauded and public “mercy killings”, and so on.  Many television shows and popular music for preschoolers honestly appall me, but I don’t want to fall into the trap of denial and take the path of sloth by permitting our girls to just watch and listen to what everyone else does, nor do I want to socially isolate them from their peers by restricting them from everything.  What’s the solution, then, to raising spiritually healthy children from toddlerhood on up?  Here are some ideas that have helped me along the way.

Preview Movies, Television Shows, Books, And Popular Music Before Exposing Your Kids To Them

This may seem like a no-brainer, but it truly takes intentional effort on my part to carefully sit down and force myself to painfully endure episodes of Dora the Explorer, or even worse, Yo Gabba Gabba!  There’s a lot of junk out there, so what may seem benign initially could be sending disastrous spiritual messages to our kids.

For instance, my oldest daughter, Felicity, wanted to watch an episode of My Little Pony.  Since I grew up with this 1980s pop culture icon, I shrugged and assumed the storylines would mimic what I recalled from my own childhood (which was unwise).  So she and I watched a short vignette together, and I was horrified.  Cult magic and superstition abounded!  It wasn’t even like a fluffy fairy tale or Christian symbolism.  It was overt occultism, which I recognized (thankfully) from my background in studying the harmful effects of the occult and New Age Movement.  After that show, we quietly switched to something tried-and-true, like Veggie Tales.

The bottom line is this:  Get to know what appeals to modern kids, and then prudently discern with your own spiritual filter what is appropriate and what is not.  If you aren’t sure, it always behooves you to ask a trusted priest or consult an orthodox Catholic source to find out more information.

Limit – But Don’t Eliminate – Your Child’s Exposure To The “real World”

It’s tough, but I don’t shelter my kids from what is going on in the world. Even if I were to block them from viewing inappropriate shows, movies, books, etc., they will inevitably encounter something contrary to our Catholic beliefs when they are outside of our home. I am disgusted at the billboards glaring at us when we take road trips, but I don’t freak out. If my girls (likely Felicity) ask me about a scantily clad woman she sees, we privately talk about modesty and why it’s important to respect our bodies.

I was so impressed one day when I took her to our local indoor shopping mall, and she noticed a young girl who was baring her belly and wearing short shorts.  Felicity leaned over and whispered, “Mommy, that girl is not dressed modestly.”  Pleasantly surprised, I responded, “You’re right, and why is that?”  So we talked about covering our bellies and legs, because our bodies are private.

In addition to the modesty issue, my girls are well aware of world and local news.  My husband and I openly discuss current affairs when we eat dinner, and Felicity quickly picks up cues from our body language and tonal inflection.  She will often ask us questions, which Ben and I feel naturally facilitates open, honest dialogue about what we believe and why.

The main point here is that children are far more receptive to moral teaching than we might assume, particularly if we begin spiritual instruction when they are young.  It’s so natural for small kids to simply believe that God exists, as do the angels and saints.  My feeling is that we should capitalize on their natural desire for what is eternal when they are still young and fairly untainted by the world’s influence.  It’s much easier to build upon a solid Catholic foundation when we begin early.

Be A Role Model Of Holiness

One of the most obvious and powerful teaching tools we have as parents is to live what we believe.  Although this is substantiated by clinical research in psychology, I remember thinking to myself in graduate school, Of course children learn more by example than anything else!  It’s clear that we need to be cognizant of how we are living, because our kids are mirrors that reflect back to us both the good and the bad.

Despite what we may think, children tend to adopt their parents’ attitudes and lifestyles over a cultural model or even peer trends.  If I want my children to be healthy emotionally, physically, and spiritually, then they need to watch me care for myself in these ways.  Sometimes this entails a substantial dose of humility on my part, especially when I make a mistake and apologize to the girls for snapping at them or being impatient.  But they are always so forgiving, and I usually end up with a giant bear hug and enormous grin from them.

Everyone’s life is hectic and crammed with busyness, but I truly believe we have to be witnesses to our kids of our limitations.  Sometimes that means I tell the girls to have some quiet time so I can take a nap, while other times I explain to them that I am overwhelmed and need a break.  Later on, this usually feeds into a discussion about our human fallibility and need for dependence upon God alone.

Raising children in this crazy epoch of aversion to religion can be daunting for any parent.  I know, because I, too, am in the trenches of early childhood parenting.  But I have to believe in two things when all else fails, and I wonder if I got anything right as a mom: One is that parents receive special grace to raise their children and two is that God’s grace compensates for my lack as a parent.  All we need is to ask God for the wisdom to guide our children to holiness and to thank Him for filling the gaps where we’ve faltered.

image: Petrenko Andriy / Shutterstock.com

By

Jeannie Ewing believes the world focuses too much on superficial happiness and then crumbles when sorrow strikes.  Because life is about more than what makes us feel happy, she writes about the hidden value of suffering and even discovering joy in the midst of grief.  As a disability advocate, Jeannie shares her heart as a mom of two girls with special needs in Navigating Deep Waters: Meditations for Caregivers and is the author of From Grief to Grace: The Journey from Tragedy to Triumph , A Sea Without A Shore: Spiritual Reflections for the Brokenhearted, Weary, and Lonely , and Waiting with Purpose: Persevering When God Says “Not Yet.”  Jeannie is a frequent guest on Catholic radio and contributes to several online and print Catholic magazines.   She, her husband, and three daughters live in northern Indiana. For more information, please visit her website lovealonecreates.com.

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  • JMC

    You are raising your kids exactly the same way my parents raised me in the 1960s. Growing up with five kids in an apartment with a kitchen and three bedrooms, there was no such thing as a living room; the kitchen sat on top of a cabinet in the kitchen, and we watched – and discussed – the news over dinner. There was no way back then for our parents to “preview” TV shows before we saw them, but since we only had the one TV, they inevitably sat and watched them with us, and commented when they saw questionable things – which in those days constituted nothing more potentially harmful than trying to imitate Superman or the Roadrunner and the Coyote. When we were preteens and starting to deal with peer pressure, my mother came up with what I still regard as the perfect weapon against it: If everybody else jumps off the Empire State Building, are you going to jump too? Understanding that such a fall would be inevitably fatal made us take a hard look at what “everybody else” was doing, and sometimes the moral trap immediately became obvious; other times, it was more subtle and we had to ask why.
    .
    This approach works better than any other. My parents made the mistake of trying to shelter and forbid with my oldest sister; they day after her twenty-first birthday, she left home and abandoned religion altogether. It was after that, that they changed their approach, and the rest of us benefited greatly by it.

  • Such great points, JMC! Perhaps this confirms why I relate so much to traditionalist perspectives in politics, parenting, and religion! 🙂

  • Thank you so much for your insights!
    Reading your thoughts really helped me a lot because I often tend to protect my kids from everything bad around them. I know, that’s not possible, but looking at them and knowing what they will see and experience in this world sometimes hurts so much.
    Your thoughts gave me a lot of hope, though. Even if the world out there can be a really bad place – and I don’t even want to start talking about society morals – there is always hope.

  • jdumon

    Jeannie,
    These are good advices, of course, but you missed to mention the most important:
    CONSECRATE your kids and your family to our Blessed Mother.
    My wife and I we made that consecration at home when my eldest daughter was only 7 y.o. during a short ceremony with a simple prayer.
    Now 4 of our 5 children are married and devout catholics. They gave us 9 grandchildren and we hope they will be more nextly.
    Of course, I recommended them to make the consecration like we did.

  • Maria 3

    Raising our voices in songs of praise , often and often , is also or even has to be the best part of parenting and it is fun when we can improvise and add that theme to even simple songs –
    ‘all on the bus go halleluia ‘ , ‘ rain and sun praise The Lord ‘ and often trying to instill
    the truth that behind most issues in the world is the simple fact that many, many have no idea about God’s love for them or the other and asking their souls to praise The Lord , for His love and mercy , in the silence of one’s heart , is at times the best remedy for
    meanness .
    Children would also understand that it is in Church that we get to have the most powerful occasion of praise , to thus get us fit to do so at other times as well , that they can thus help other kids around at school – the author is right , children do take in these truths .
    Asking Blessed Mother to help -‘ Immaculate Heart of Mary , pray for us ‘ ; she would know if there are obstacles and other issues that are in the way that keep one from the needed disposition of the heart and Is powerful enough to help us deal with same , hopefully to get others too to be persons of praise and joy .

  • ANNAMMA LAZAR

    Jeanne, I am sending you a big hug for your writing. I am a grandmother and I am always so worried and concerned about the world’s growing aversion to good old moral values. It is as if the world is beng taken over by the unbelievers and they somehow succeed in making governments pass laws to undermine many Christian values.The world in which I grew up as a young kid-in the sixties must have been a different planet! I do remember how my father and mother brought us up as good Catholics . My dad’s policy was that children should understand the good and the bad.When our neighbors prevented our age mates from participating in activities -due to lack of trust or watching movies for fear of them bring a bad influence ,my father bravely in his wisdom would allow us and tell the naysayers that we would learn that going the xyz path shown in the movie would be detrimental.And all of us children by God’sgrace grew up to be good Catholics and have our own good catholic families. We also believe that our grandmother’s unending prayers have been the backbone for the entire family.And yes…i almost forgot to mention.. As little children we were all taken to a special church and consecrated to our Lady!

  • Bagbabe53

    Your column hit home, but sometimes children still have to some seeking anyway in their spiritual life as they get older. I am definitely not a perfect Catholic or Christian. God has a long way to go with me. My husband is Jewish and was raised in a secular household, but I received a lot of moral support from his parents when I told them we were raising our girls Catholic. Since I also love to cook, we also hosted seders and other dinners for major Jewish holidays as well. My oldest loved to say her Hail Marys at a little outdoor Lourdes shrine at our parish. Everything was fine with church as they grew up, but my oldest went on a trip to Israel in college, had many Jewish friends, and for a while, explored Judaism as her adult faith. I remained calm, and prayed for her. Things changed after law school and marriage. One day she came to me and said she was returning to the church and would raise her sons Catholic (she was expecting twins). I was very pleasantly surprised but had to know what changed her. It turned out that her work as a young associate in a large firm showed her some sides of our faith she’d forgotten over the years. The firm is involved in a lot of charity work, and about half of the partners are strong and involved Catholics.She said she wanted her boys to have a Catholic education, but also that she noticed in her firm’s work that the Catholic church does the most for poor and is very good at it. It brought back to me the line from the old hymn— “and they’ll know we are Christians by our love…” My girl still cherishes her Jewish friends and relatives, and yet is happy to be back where she began as a child, The day my baby grandsons were baptized was one of the happiest of my life.

  • Maureen Van Dusen

    Awesome article. my children are grown and we now have two granddaughters. Thank you for this. It helps me to feel more confident as a grandparent.

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