By: Kathleen Yacharn
So, I was driving in my car with my son and daughter the other day and a few uncharitable words about the driver in front of me might’ve slipped out, but really, who drives 15 miles below the speed limit? And while no swears were said, I was still surprised when my adorable four-year-old son chimed in by gleefully repeating what I’d said with the gusto of someone who knows that Mommy is not being nice. Mirror, mirror on the wall that he is, my son was enjoying following me into my vices!
Thankfully I haven’t experienced this particular blend of embarrassment and shame more than a few times but it is quite a memorable feeling! Knowing as a parent, older sibling, aunt or uncle, or cousin that you’ve shown a child sin is a hard feeling to stomach. We forget just how much kids learn from their surroundings, and I forget too often that I am my children’s first model of goodness, of charity, and of understanding. After my son giggled his way through my litany of “what the heck, why are you so stupid?”, I realized he needed to know that I had done something wrong. As soon as we got home, I turned around and told him that I actually hadn’t been good and shouldn’t have said those things. And as an innocent child, he seemed to understand right away that my words were wrong.
But this modeling doesn’t have to always be only a representation of our sinfulness! As parents, we’re called to lead our kids to Christ and to teach them how to live Christian virtue day in and day out. This Lent, let’s model our sacrifices to our boys and girls and show them that prayer, fasting, sacrifice, and almsgiving are good and healthy practices in life. While Christ did remind us that when giving we shouldn’t let our left hands know what our right hands are doing, kids don’t understand subtlety and do love learning things from their parents. Why not teach them such important principles now, while they are young?
Fostering virtue is not as difficult as it seems. When planning a budget, invite your child to watch you and show them how it’s important to set aside money for charity. Perhaps ask if they would want to give some of their allowance or savings to the church or to a local organization of their (guided) choice. Ask your children if they can think of a meatless menu for Fridays with you. Take them to Stations of the Cross or a rosary recitation so that the sights of the veiled statues, the smells of incense, and the songs and prayers of Benediction and Eucharistic Adoration become as holy to them as they are to you. If you’ve added prayer to your day during Lent, invite your children to think of prayer intentions or to join you. If you’ve given up a food you like, why not buy some and donate it to a shelter or soup kitchen? These kinds of acts not only help your kids form virtuous habits but also understand the reason and purpose of self-sacrifice: loving the Lord with all of your heart, being, strength and mind, and loving your neighbor as yourself.
For more ideas on how to help kids relate to Lent, please see my post from last year: Parents: 10 Engaging Lenten activities for your Kids.