The Facts of Life Series: Parenting
Our modern world’s scientific advances and technological abilities are a wonder. Now, with each passing year, we see new advances in our ability to engage one another. But, for all our growth and sophistication in communication, we are more lost with each passing generation, despite the myth of perpetual progress in our modern mindset.
Culturally, we’ve denied and dismissed the trove of truth inherent in our culture’s rational and religious foundations. We have lost, and misunderstood, our innate capacity for truth of all types beyond the mere laws of science. We have failed to recognize our loss or to remember what truths we’ve lost, discarded, misperceived.
In the process, we also lost the truth of love. We distorted the essence of real love, limiting it to mere emotion. We deformed the meaning of love to a state of pure approval. We dismissed the obligations of love, particularly those that include strong moral imperatives and its associated discipline. For now, love can only be approval, not correction. Only support, never a rebuke. Only affirmation, never confrontation.
Perhaps, nowhere is this more evident than in our families. In our paternal and maternal relationships. In how we parent our children. In what we intentionally teach them and in what we deliberately fail to teach. In what we stress and what we omit. In what we distort and in what we diminish.
For in our modern world many of us have explicitly and implicitly subscribed to a flawed and faulty philosophy. A worldview shaped by erroneous experts and cultural assumptions that are antithetical to the very essence and substance of our faith and the wisdom of the ages. A working philosophy that disregards the common sense of our preceding generations and dismisses the common truths of reason and of religion, most particularly the Catholic religion.
So, where did we go wrong? And, what must we do to fix our mistakes and begin again our pursuit of truth, love and goodness, particularly as it relates to sound parenting? As with so many things in life, it begins and ends with basic truths. Basic truths about the nature of life and the point of living. Truths about the full-bodied nature of love that is nurturing and affirming, as well as judgmental and disciplinary. Truths about moral certainty by which we may, with clarity and confidence, judge our attitudes and intentions, our responsibilities and behavior, and those of our children.
Just think for a moment. To what do you appeal when you rebuke your child? Is your rebuke grounded only in your authority as a parent? Or is it grounded in the inherent authority of moral truth? Is it “because I said so?” Or, is it to truth and moral principles that you appeal? Do you seek compliance or enlightenment? Do you just want mere obedience to your authority? Or, do you want your child’s enlightened embrace of and compliance with the moral truths inherent to life and living?
For these timeless ethical and philosophical truths will enlighten their minds, strengthen their will, and govern their emotions. For a primary fact of proper parenting is that your children should not only learn to be good. But, they should also learn to seek enlightenment and strive to expand and deepen their understanding of truth, goodness and beauty. They should become ever more enlightened by these truths.
So, is your disciplinary correction with your children based on clear, rational moral principles that are inherent to life and reflective of God’s character and expectations for His children of all ages? Are these moral and metaphysical truths, which you and your child live under and are encouraged and expected to embody, a significant part of your explicit parenting and implicit in your family culture?
For the essence of parenting is the building of their moral character, the maturity of their virtue, the shaping of their gifts and interests, the discovery of their calling, the growth of their intimate relationship with God. The overriding parental goal and responsibility is to internalize these truths within the very fabric of their mind, their personality and their character and the means by which their will and resolve are strengthened and properly targeted.
On one level, parenting is simple. But it is not easy. Nor is it confined to just love and discipline, expectations and reward. It is grounded in deep metaphysical and moral thinking and commonsense and innate intuitions. For parenting is really an art form, rather than an arsenal of techniques and tactics, as many experts nowadays would have you believe. It is a matter of philosophy and wisdom that relies on the truths of life explained, applied and modeled in a manner sensitive to the child’s age with the finesse indicative of wisdom and common sense, a full-bodied love and resolve indicative of God’s very character.
The many parental duties of your calling are comprehensive and engrossing from the mundane to the metaphysical. And they all require time and lots of it. But, one of our modern era’s great distortions, when it comes to raising children, is the idea of “quality time.” It distorts parenting by ranking the content of and engagement in certain conversations and activities. “Quality time” emphasizes the more direct and obvious moments and interactions parents have with children.
But, it is a distortion based on parental prioritization and perception, not on the spontaneity and curiosity that children experience serendipitously. When parenting encompasses not only the few deliberate interventions and the many small, even insignificant interactions endemic in the many mundane events of everyday living, the true scope of parenting is revealed. For parenting involves the deliberate and purposeful, as well as the many small moments where teaching and modelling occur moment-by-moment.
For effective parenting takes advantage of deliberate teaching, as well as the many moments of accidental teaching and modeling, all of which reveals continual opportunities to teach by inference and example. And this milieu approach, this cultural approach happens all the time. And it grows in significance as your children age. For children watch what you do and who you are just as much as they hear and understand what you teach more formally or directly. That means you are teaching all the time.
Just think for a moment about what modeling truly is. Its more formal name is observational learning. What that means is each child can watch you at any moment and learn by observing. They decide when the lesson begins; what the content of the lesson is; when the lesson is over; and what the point of the lesson is. Take a minute to really drink that in. It means you are potentially parenting all the time. All the time.
Parenting continually requires your sensitive mindfulness of your child’s constant learning. They learn when you teach them intentionally because you know what you are telling them is important, necessary, practical. You also teach them accidentally when you have to respond to something they’ve done or said, and they need some necessary information or some form of redirection or correction. You teach incidentally when they learn from you by observing you in a more conscious way, as described above. And they also learn continually through the implicit experience of family life.
They are shaped through the detailed entirety of familial norms and relational routines, from the nature and range of relational intimacy. They are made by and mature from the way love is expressed and how it is shared, from the prominence afforded to the faith and the emphases given to relational intimacy with God. For everything can potentially build character and to teach wisdom, goodness and beauty. That’s why parenting is such a constant challenge and a noble calling, an opportunity for maturity and edification for any parent who embraces their providential calling to raise the sons and daughters that God gives.
Such a comprehensive parenting approach leaves nothing out. And this is nothing new. For God spoke about parenting in Deuteronomy. God tells us, “You must love Yahweh your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength. Let the words I enjoin on you today stay in your heart. You shall tell them to your children, and keep on telling them, when you are sitting at home, when you are out and about, when you are lying down and when you are standing up.” Clearly, we are told to teach our children no matter where we are or what we are doing.
And, such comprehensive parenting is a proactive wisdom, as your children age. For in adolescence, they will see clearly the gap between what you say and what you do. For adolescence is when they begin to make what you’ve taught them their own. Adolescence is where they rationally evaluate the truth of your philosophical and moral teaching and weigh this against your performance and character.
Most adolescents will understand your deviation from perfection, if it is not too grievous or too frequent. But, if you have regularly failed to live up to the truths of the faith and its morality, they often reject or ignore the things you’ve taught them about morality and metaphysics. This is why Jesus reminds us of the serious and solemn nature of parenting His sons and daughters.
For as He tells us, “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” So parents, be diligent, be careful, be wise, be holy. And be loving and faith filled, in the fullest sense of these words.
We also recommend Mr. Cronin’s latest book, The World According to God: The Whole Truth About Life and Living. It is available from your favorite bookstore and through Sophia Institute Press.