I just realized the other day that my 3-year-old daughter has no idea what Christmas is all about. My husband and I read her the Nativity story and were amazed and somewhat embarrassed that she knew nothing about the whole purpose of Christmas. It was also a humbling experience for us to realize that our kids’ understanding of our faith and values lie in our hands. We looked at each other hoping the other would have a clear strategy for teaching our children everything they need to know to become generous, productive members of society with a strong sense of christian values. But unfortunately neither of us had such a plan.
It just so happened that my husband’s childhood priest from Montreal was coming to visit us for the weekend. He had always been a role model to my husband and beacon of hope and motivation for my in-laws. We decided to ask him to talk to us for a few minutes about how we can manage the challenging task of “training our children in the way they should go”. We invited many of our friends from our community with young children to join us for a casual discussion on a Saturday morning before Christmas over coffee and muffins.
Whereas many of the religious discussions we have attended in the past focused on scripture and theology, Fr. A brought several anecdotes of personal interactions with families he had accumulated over 50 years of service to his church. He made several great points which I would like to share with you:
1. Kids Observe Parents
One of the most important ways a child learns is by observing his or her parents. Let every interaction you make with your spouse and your child be one motivated by love.
Teach your children the value of service early in life. Young boys in his church hold candles as alter servers and young girls hold icons and participate in the processions from a very young age. This gives them a sense of responsibility and investment in their church and community.
3. Make Prayer a Priority
Make prayer a priority in our household. Never start a meal without acknowledging that all of our gifts including food, happiness and beauty are gifts from our creator.
4. God is in all Living Things
Teach your children to recognize that God is present in all living things including everything from creepy crawlers to beautiful majestic trees. Respect the environment because it was part of God’s creation and God still lives within it.
5. Do Everything in Love
Take pride in all that you do and do it with love. Khalil Gibran said that if you create something with love, you will get love in return. If you create something with negativity, you will negativity in return.
Create traditions in your home that your children will cherish and associate with the love of their parents. For example, Fr. A remembers smelling food cooking every day when he came back from school. This was a comfort for him and a reminder that his mother loves him. For others, this might mean reading familiar stories, playing beautiful music or baking cookies together at Christmas.
Be giving of your time and money and let your children see you do it.
We left this discussion with comfort and reassurance. We are not expected to be experts at parenting. All we really need to do is create a home that is filled with love. Love for oneself, love for each other and love for the world. In many ways, this is the most important lesson Jesus Christ had for us when he was born in Bethlehem 2000 years ago. If we achieve this, we will have taught our children the most important lesson of all. But of course, it also wouldn’t hurt to remind them of the Nativity story once a year.