On-the-job training

Quiz: Last night between 10:40 and 11:40 p.m., I: 

a) found batteries for calculator needed for daughter’s math final

b) offered opinion on daughter’s practice essay for looming English test

c) supervised disposal of glass frame trodden upon by daughter

d) read to daughter, prayed with her, gave her a kiss goodnight.

e) all of the above.

I’m sure you guessed it was all of the above, didn’t you? Yes, I was tired by 9:30. But with teens, if you want to be on hand for one of their unscheduled revelations (or emergencies), sometimes you have to stay up past your bedtime.

In these and all the other unplanned moments of parenthood, for better or worse, we are handing on our faith to our kids. Our church loudly insists that we have more impact than any other teacher our child will encounter. Despite our misgivings, our shaky confidence, deep down we have to admit this is true.

Any seasoned parent knows that what you say must match what you do, or kids will pounce on the discrepancies—especially when it comes to putting faith into action. Kids watch how we respond when a homeless man on the sidewalk holds out a cup for spare change. They see whether we forgive or hold a grudge. They sense our level of commitment to getting to Mass every week. But we also have to find words to explain what we’re doing, because sometimes kids are in the dark. Why are you turning off that show, Mom? Why don’t you want me to buy that top? Why should we tell the cashier she gave us too much change, Dad—can’t we just keep it?

A story: The other day I am telling my daughter about a woman who used to work for me, who actually became a cloistered nun and now lives in Norway. “What do nuns like that actually do?” she wants to know. I explain that they pray multiple times each day and also work—in this case, making soap—to support themselves. “What’s the point of that?” she says. “I mean, they could be doing a lot of good somewhere instead of praying all day.”

Uh oh. Had we forgotten to talk about why prayer makes a difference? What about all the times we’ve prayed, at Mass, at the dinner table, for family or friends facing the latest challenge or catastrophe? Even for the Chicago Cubs, a team often in need of divine intervention?

“That depends on what you believe about prayer,” I say, telling her that this nun is one of the first people I email when our family needs special prayers for a loved one—thank God for someone who actually has time to pray for the world! “From your point of view, going to Mass would then be pointless,” my husband adds. “If you don’t think nuns should just pray all day,” I ask her (sports nut that she is), “what about people who play baseball for a living? Who does that help?” This leads her to ponder whether some occupations are just pointless: “Like, does the world really need more fashion designers?” Well, I say, I certainly wouldn’t want to get rid of all the fashion designers. (Well, maybe some of them.) Don’t they help us look beautiful? Wouldn’t God approve of that?

I’m not sure how we ended up at fashion designers exactly, but the great thing about improvised discussions like these is that they push you to re-examine what you actually believe, to deepen your own faith. Just like every other aspect of parenting, handing on the faith is trial-and-error. You learn on the fly, you make mistakes, you get more confident as you go along. Who knew.

—by Catherine O’Connell-Cahill from the pages of At Home with Our Faith, Claretian Publications’ print newsletter for parents on nurturing spirituality in the home. Winner of the 2012 Best in Class award from the Associated Church Press, as well as a First Place General Excellence award from the Catholic Press Association for the past three years running. Here’s a sample issue.

We offer very low rates for parish use, as well as our free Moms’ Night Out monthly discussion guides.

And don’t miss our popular single-page parish handouts on handing on the faith, helping kids understand the Mass, Lent, and Advent.

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One Response

  1. Great piece … my kids are younger, but I can totally relate. Sometimes their questions are just what I need to renew my own beliefs and my own faith.

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