"Putting Up With" Our Kids Or Forming Our Children
At the start of this school year, a Youtube video by “One Funny Mother” circulated social media. The video features a mom frantically piling a Target cart high with supplies for her children’s teachers as she rants about her kids. “I will give you anything to take my kids,” “That means I don’t have to talk to my kids anymore,” “I don’t have to pretend to entertain my kids anymore,” are among the many statements she makes. I saw it shared by tons of people, gleefully acclaiming that “this mom hits the nail on the head”, or “this is so me!” or “ so true!”
Perhaps I am in the minority but the video makes my skin crawl. In her effort to praise the work of teachers, she belittles the work of parents. It seems to her, and to many modern parents, that our job is merely to “put up with” our children and “pretend to entertain them” until someone else can take them off our hands and really teach them. How belittling to the magnanimous role of the parent!
While “One Funny Mother” commented that the video is meant to be satire, all comedy contains a kernel of truth. After all, if a joke isn’t relatable on some level, it wouldn’t be funny. Can every parent relate to being irritated by their kids? Absolutely. But that annoyance shouldn’t be accepted as the norm, but decried a flawed reaction to the gift that is our children. Our children are not the reason we get annoyed, our approach to parenthood is the reason we get annoyed. So whether she intended it to be or not, the video is a sad commentary on the attitude of many modern parents. The attitude that, as she herself says, “You’re gonna teach my kids…and you know what that means? I don’t have to teach my kids.”
Many parents have adopted the attitude that responsibility for their children’s education stops when they drop them at the school door. But studies show again and again that no matter where children go to school, parents have the greatest influence on the moral, social, physical, psychological, spiritual formation of them. Our children may be educated in facts at school, but they learn how to be human from us. We shape their value system, form them in virtue, and introduce them to a God who loves them better than we ever can. So “putting up with” our children while they are with us and ingraining in them the idea that school is where they will “learn” is missing the point. Seeing ourselves as “entertainers” of our children instead of educators of them also misses the point.
The common, dismissive attitude toward education is just as present among Catholics as in society at large. I’ve had this conversation countless times with youth ministers, diocesan employees, campus ministers, principals, priests, seminarians, catechists, directors of religious education, and parents: if we want people to grow and thrive, and subsequently, the Catholic Church to grow and thrive, faith has got to be taught and experienced at home. Parents must take their duty as primary educators seriously. (Check out the Catechism #2223.)
During her video, “One Funny Mother” says, “thank God I don’t have to teach my child history, I don’t know anything about history!” Many Catholic parents seem to be saying, “thank God I don’t have to teach my child religion, I don’t know anything about religion!” Well then, parents, take religion seriously enough to learn. You learn the mechanics of your child’s sport to help them succeed; take the success of their souls just as seriously. You encourage them to spend hours practicing an instrument; encourage them to spend time learning the truths of our faith. You require they complete homework every day; pray with them every day. If you don’t know enough about your Catholic faith, learn about it so you can pass it on.
I understand that parents are bogged down with careers, bills, schedules, school, extracurricular activities, etc. So more often than not, faith formation seems like the last checkbox in a long list of obligations. If we re-prioritize, with faith formation at the top of the list, then everything else will fall into its proper place. Better yet, more than a checkbox, infuse faith into everyday experiences of your family. Read saint stories to your children (fair warning, if you read St. Maximilian Kolbe and JPII, they might play “defeat the Nazi’s” for the next week!) Sing songs from church at bedtime. Pray together at meals and in the evening. Encourage your children to be selfless with one another. Answer every single question your child asks about God and faith (if you don’t know the answer, find it!) Teach your children that practicing faith is your family’s overarching priority and that faith informs everything else you do and believe.
Religious Education doesn’t cut it. Youth Group doesn’t cut it. Catholic schools don’t cut it. Occasional Mass attendance doesn’t cut it. All Church programs are meant to assist you in your role as primary teacher, not the other way around. If you want your children to embrace the Catholic faith, they must learn and experience that faith at home and sit next to you every Sunday at Mass. They’ve got to know that faith is the most important aspect of your life.
Growing up, I never felt like my mom was just biding her time and tolerating us until she could move on to the life she truly hoped to live. She didn’t see her role as entertaining her children, but enjoying them. She didn’t put up with us, she engaged us. She didn’t send us somewhere to learn our faith, she talked about it and wove it in to our everyday existence. Mom homeschooled all six of her children. (Disclaimer: not everyone can or should homeschool. My mom would be the first to say that homeschooling is NOT for everyone. But she was able to homeschool, felt called to homeschool, and so homeschooled.) She didn’t have the “luxury” of putting up with us until the summer’s end, but instead was in it for the long haul. I’m talking homeschooling for 22 years long haul!
Did mom get annoyed with us? Absolutely. But I never felt like we inconvenienced my mom. I never felt like she desperately wanted someone to take us off her hands so that she wouldn’t have the “burden” of teaching us. And my siblings and I learned our Catholic faith from mom and were inspired by her authentic witness. She not only taught us the teachings of the faith, she lived them herself. To this day, in direct contradiction to every statistic about young adults leaving the Church, my siblings and I, who are between the ages of 23 and 34, all practice our Catholic faith. We are not perfect. We struggle with all that life throws at anyone – addictions, difficult marriages, mood disorders, doubts, sinfulness, etc. Some of my siblings even left the Church for a time, but all have found their way back. We aren’t perfect, but we are pilgrims on a journey toward perfection, knowing (because it was explicitly and repeatedly taught to us) that the Catholic Church is the most direct route. And I am 100% convinced that it is because my mother took her role as primary educator seriously.
We parents are the first reflections of God that our children will come to know. Based on the way their parents interact with them, how will today’s children understand God as Father? As an entertainer? I hope not, because as an entertainer God certainly comes up short. As someone who puts up with them? That really doesn’t sound like a God who has promised to love them through eternity. As someone who eventually snaps and rants about the ways that they drive Him crazy? Who makes them feel like a burden? No. Never. God our Father has promised his beloved children and that we are “not the sum of our weaknesses and failures, we are the sum of the Father’s love for us,” (Pope St. John Paul II.)
Being a parent is hard. Parenting with intention and educating our children is even harder. But the difficulty itself proves that our role is a noble and worthwhile one. If we want our children to grow into virtuous people who enhance our Church and our world, with the help of God’s grace, we must persevere. It all starts right at home, with us. “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well,” said Theodore Roosevelt. The life of parents, lived well, reflects God the Father to their children and never ceases teaching the children entrusted to their care.