Author: Ani Slattery with Church Fathers
Posted: Month of the Holy Family, 24th Day, Year of Our Lord 2023
This was composed by my wife with some minor changes and the additions of quotes from the Church Fathers:
John Chrysostom: “If the Apostle commands us to take more care for others than for ourselves, and if we are guilty when we neglect their benefit, then is it not a much greater guilt when this concerns those who are so near to us? Was it not I, the Lord will say to us, Who gave place to these children in your family? Was it not I Who entrusted them to your care, making you masters, guardians and judges over them? I gave you complete authority over them; I placed all care for their upbringing in your hands. You will tell me that they did not want to bend their necks to the yoke, that they threw it off. But this should have been averted from the very beginning; you should have mastered their first impressions placed the reigns on them before they had the power to break away from them. You should have bent their young souls under the yoke of duty, accustomed them to it, educated them in accordance with it, bound the wound when it first opened. You should have uprooted the tares when they first began to sprout around the young plant, and not have waited until they put down deep roots, when the passions have become uncontrollable and untamable through gradual strengthening in their formation.
“The wise Sirach says: Hast thou children? Instruct them, and bow down their neck from their youth (Ecclus. 7:25). But the Lord does not only prompt us with this command through the lips of His prophet; he even takes our side, supporting the fulfillment of this commandment with the fearsome punishment that awaits those children who do not submit to the authority of their parents: Every man who shall speak evil of his father or of his mother, let him die the death (Lev. 20:9). He punishes with death those who become guilty before you, and you look tepidly at these sins that they commit against the highest possible authority. They are rebelling against God Himself, transgressing His commandments, and you look at this without the least displeasure, without the slightest criticism of your children. What does He have to lose from their offense? Nothing. But you, why should you not fear for your own selves? For whoever abandons the Lord will never respect either his own father or himself.”
Francis de Sales: “And when children begin to use their reason, fathers and mothers should take great pains to fill their hearts with the fear of God. This the good Queen Blanche did most earnestly by St. Louis, her son: witness her oft-repeated words, ‘My son, I would sooner see you die than guilty of a mortal sin;’ words which sank so deeply into the saintly monarch’s heart, that he himself said there was no day on which they did not recur to his mind, and strengthen him in treading God’s ways.”
Alphonsus Liguori: “Great indeed is the misfortune of the child that has vicious parents, who are incapable of bringing up their children in the fear of God, and who, when they see their children engage in dangerous friendships and in quarrels, instead of correcting and chastising them, they take compassion on them, and say, ‘What can I do? They are young; hopefully they will grow out of it.’ What wicked words, what a cruel education! Do you hope that when your children grow up, they will become saints?
“Listen to what Solomon says: ‘A young man, according to his way, even when he is old, he will not depart from it’ (Proverbs 22:6). A young man who has contracted a habit of sin will not abandon it even in his old age. ‘His bones,’ says holy Job, ‘will be filled with the vices of his youth, and they will sleep with him in the dust’ (Job 20:11). When a young person has lived in evil habits, his bones will be filled with the vices of his youth, so that he will carry them to the grave, and the impurities, blasphemies and hatred to which he was accustomed in his youth will accompany him to the grave, and will sleep with him after his bones are reduced to dust and ashes. It is very easy when they are small to train children to habits of virtue, but when they have come to manhood, it is equally difficult to correct them if they have learned habits of vice.”
The Dangers of Modern Parenting Trends
There are many modern trends being promoted by Catholics and non-Catholics alike, whether it is through books, e-courses, or popular social media accounts. It is important to be discerning about these trends and recognize when they have elements that oppose Catholic moral teaching.
Beware of any instruction that:
1) Fails to recognize the natural hierarchy of the family. We are not equals with our children. We have authority over our children and they must be taught to obey us and respect our authority so that they will also respect and obey God’s authority.
2) Fails to promote order in the home and in the child’s daily routine. The saints recommend a structured daily schedule as a prerequisite to virtue (St. Benedict and St. Francis de Sales to name a few). This includes specific times for sleeping, eating, praying, chores, etc.
3) Promotes that which feels good instead of that which teaches virtue. “Mothers who never let their babies cry themselves to sleep will often wear themselves out holding infants who have learned to cry whenever they feel like being held” (Your Vocation of Love, A Spiritual Comanion for Catholic Mothers – Agnes M. Penny) Instead, even at a very young age, a child is capable of learning the virtues of fortitude and patience, and withstanding suffering.
4) Tells you not to use the word “no” or other clear, concise language. Children (especially very young ones) need short clear instruction. When it comes to truth and morals, there is a concrete distinction between true and false; right and wrong, and children will learn this if we are clear with them from the beginning. “Let your yes be yes and your no be no.”
5) Fails to accustom children to a sense of duty early on in their lives. This is the erroneous mindset that children deserve ease and comfort, and that you as a parent should always serve your child. Instead, children should assist in the parent’s duties and labours, even from a very young age, as much as they are capable.
6) Promotes the mentality that parenting is a temporary and joyful pleasure, instead of an eternal solemn duty. A common example of this wrong mentality is “Enjoy your children because they grow up so fast.” We should instead instruct our children because we will have to answer to God for the way they condict themselves their entire lives, including adulthood. We will then have joy eternally or eternal regret in the next life.
7) Fails to promote or even discuss praying for/with your child, bringing and keeping them in the sacraments, teaching virtue, promoting a Catholic lifestyle, having devotion to Our Lady and the Saints, etc. Does that method of introducing solids mention praying before serving your child that one solid food? Does that theory about your baby’s sleeping talk about the virtues that you are developing in the child when you adopt this method? Does that new psychologist-recommended philosophy on parenting recognize the natural, God-given hierarchy of the family and place the child appropriately within that? A method can be 90% good, but if it the remaining 10% promotes anything that is against Catholic moral teaching such as contraception, then it becomes a risk to our children’s souls (and our own). The devil deceives by giving you something seemingly good and agreeable with just one small element of confusion or error. As with everything, we must be diligent and discerning about what we choose to follow and promote. It goes without saying that if a book or resource contains a single blasphemy, vulgarity, or heresy, or promotes a false idea such as evolution or Freudian psychology, it should be discarded immediately.
Some Catholic alternatives to modern parenting books/courses:
1. Find a seasoned mother with well-behaved, virtuous children at your local parish. Ask her specific questions such as “How do I teach my toddler to clean up after herself” or “How do I get my baby to sleep through the night?”
2. Ask your priest for moral instruction regarding a particular parenting decision you are considering. For example “Is it sinful to let my baby cry to sleep?” (I personally have asked this one)
3. Read and reflect on what Holy Scripture says about childrearing. For example Ecclus.7:25: “Hast thou children? instruct them, and bow their neck from their childhood.”
4. Read good, traditional Catholic books on childrearing. Two that I can recommend from personal experience are:
Popular Instructions to Parents on the Bringing Up of Children by Fr. Girardey (available for free on the iPieta app)
Your Vocation of Love, A Spiritual Companion for Catholic Mothers by Agnes M. Penny (available on TAN Books)
traditioninaction.org also has several articles, books and lectures that discuss childrearing. If you would like the links to some of them, please message me directly.
If any fellow parents have other Catholic resources that you would recommend, please share them here.