Children as Spiritual Directors

Over five years ago, I nervously went to an open house at a local center for spiritual direction with my two and a half year old in tow (mercifully, I was able to leave the 10 month old at home!). I knew little about spiritual direction at that point other than what I read in books. Unfortunately, spiritual direction isn’t one of those things that can be explained easily in writing — it truly needs to be experienced to be fully appreciated. Still, I knew that I was at a point in my life where I needed help. All the people I met at that open house were very kind and I soon started meeting with a very helpful spiritual director and have continued that practice on a regular basis. It has been a great blessing to my life. When I went to that open house, however, I can remember someone saying to me, “You have children! You already have spiritual directors!”

At the time, I couldn’t appreciate the wisdom of that statement. After all, my children were still very small. I loved them so much, but mostly, they left me exhausted. My struggle with adjusting to motherhood was one of the primary reasons I was seeking a spiritual director. I was at a loss as to what God wanted from me. Thankfully, my spiritual director was able to help me sort it all out. In the intervening years, however, I have come to appreciate all the ways my children are helping to direct my spiritual journey.

As any mother will tell you, children have a way of bringing out all your weaknesses. Somehow, they just know how to push all the wrong buttons. Reminded of one’s failings on a daily basis, there can be really no question of what one needs to work on. Thankfully, children also give their mothers plenty of opportunities to work on those weaknesses. Every day is a new challenge!

Children can also be a mirror sharper in focus than any other. It is one thing to see your faults in yourself. It is a whole different perspective to see your faults in your children. Either through genetics or upbringing, or a combination thereof, our children often suffer from the same issues we do. In helping them to work through their challenges, God also helps us to work through our own.

Parenting also helps us to recover from our own childhood and make peace with our own family of origin. I haven’t met a person yet who escaped from childhood unscathed. Growing up is hard and painful. We tend to blame our parents for much of that pain, sometimes with good reason, sometimes just because they are easy targets. Parenting one’s own children provides a whole new perspective on those relationships. At least in my case, I know that realizing how hard parenting is helped me to forgive my parents for all the mistakes that I had felt they made. There is something incredibly humbling about knowing that, even though I get up every day and try to do my best, my children will feel that I made huge errors in their upbringing. It also encourages me to beg for God’s help. If there was ever a time when I needed God, this is it. God made my children. He is only one with the instruction manual.

Children do help determine the course of our spiritual development in ways that I couldn’t even have imagined years ago. I’m sure, as my children continue to grow into adulthood, God has many more lessons to teach me through them, even as I am helping them navigate their own paths. We will continue to travel on our spiritual journeys together.

Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur


Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur writes from western Massachusetts where she lives with her husband and two sons. A Senior Editor with Catholic, she blogs at

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  • Cooky642

    Thank you, Patrice, for this article. I’ve been trying to teach younger women for YEARS that children and small domestic animals are the best Spiritual Directors God could have given us. How many times do we bathe a child to a soft, sweet-smelling, huggable state only to turn our backs to grab a towel and find them running out the back door in the alltogether to jump in the nearest mud puddle? How many times do we pick up a frightened cat or puppy to comfor it only to have it push away (sometimes quite violently!), jump down and run for cover? There’s nothing like them to show us how often we “miss” God’s intentions for us!

    On the other hand, I hadn’t seen the Spiritual Direction inherent in forgiving our parents. That’s a new thought I’ll have to pray about. Thanks for inspiring me to move in a new direction.

  • Warren Jewell

    Aw, c’mon, Cookie!

    You’ve known all along what spiritual guidance there is in the sturdy wonder of forgiveness. Our very Lord’s Prayer has us asking for His forgiveness only in the measure to which we grant forgiveness. And, ‘to know all is to forgive all, and to forgive all is to love all’. Spiritual guidance of every kind and class is very precisely designed by God for us to know toward wisdom, to forgive toward eternal joy, to love toward Himself, Heart to heart. And, of that last, it is delicious and comforting mystery that as God takes His throne in my heart, soul and spirit, He contains me and holds me in love in my own special place in His Sacred Heart.

    I have found a wisdom in your posts, Cookie, that tells me you lean on mercy – from God, for others, for yourself. And, like so many I have encountered here at CE – you are just so close to Love. His love be with you, and the unutterably glorious peace from our Risen Savior, Jesus Christ, be with you.