For years before I had my own children, I worked as a Director of Faith Formation at a Catholic parish, which felt to me at the time (and now) like a jump start on learning about how to create an intentional and robust Catholic family life. One of the messages that our parish strove to instill in parents was that they are the “primary educators” of their children as far as matters of faith and the church go (and probably most other things as well, though I’ll gladly pass the baton of this title when it comes to pre-calculus, or even pre-algebra for that matter!).
The idea that parents are the people first and most responsible for teaching their children about their faith is highlighted in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and I love how the message is phrased:
“Parents have the first responsibility for the education of their children. They bear witness to this responsibility first by creating a home where tenderness, forgiveness, respect, fidelity, and disinterested service are the rule. The home is well suited for education in the virtues…Parents have a grave responsibility to give good example to their children” (2223).
“Creating a home where [virtues] are the rule.” YES! There are so many ways that we can and should do this, and lately, I’ve been thinking specifically about how integrating prayer into my family’s life contributes to this virtue-filled home.
That said, here are some ways that I am weaving prayer into different aspects of my family’s day-to-day life.
Lighting candles for special intentions
Both of my children have a strong distaste for loud noises (I never thought I’d be using my mental bandwidth to memorize the lawn mowing schedule of the parks that we frequent, but here we are) and that includes fire engine and ambulance sirens. Something that has helped assuage their siren-sparked meltdowns has been praying for the people these service vehicles are on their way to serve. Knowing the reason for the noise (“sirens tell everyone to pull over so that the vehicles can get to people who are sick or in danger as fast as possible”) and then channeling their reaction into a purposeful prayer not only prevents anxiety about the noise but it also gets my children thinking about the needs and experiences of strangers. Additionally, it teaches them that they can help others through prayer. Triple win. Since I keep a candle or two in most of our rooms, I’ll often suggest that we light a candle for the person/people in the ambulance as we lift our voices in prayer for them.
Quiet time with my children
Before I had children, I started most days by reading the daily Mass scriptures and journaling. Now, I typically awaken to the patter of two little sets of feet coming up alongside my husband’s and my bed. Sometimes I manage to wake up before then and blissfully enjoy the calm morning moments in prayer, but more often, my daily quiet time gets moved to the early afternoon, when we attempt to have quiet time post-lunch. During this time, I pull out my journal and my missal; I used to attempt to distract my kids with play dough or toys during this time, but then I began to see their curiosity and interest in what I was doing as an opportunity to invite them into my prayer time. Now they understand that I write prayers in my journal and they can draw picture-prayers in theirs (which, at this stage, mostly involves drawing pictures of people, nature, and the weather elements for which they are grateful).
Regular recitation of prayers
So many of the prayers and scriptural passages ingrained in my memory are there because I grew up hearing them in the form of music or regular repetition in my family home. For instance, there wasn’t a moment when my parents sat me down and taught me various before and after meals blessings; I learned them through osmosis, because they were spoken over, and over, and over again, each time we sat down for a family breakfast, lunch or dinner. Knowing this, I do my best to recite prayers out loud instead of in my head, whenever the spirit moves me to pray them.
Inviting children into prayerful moments
When I was in high school, my youth group leader shared with me that one of the times of day that she prays most consistently is while brushing her teeth. “What else am I going to do during that time,” I remember her asking with a laugh. She had a point, and her disclosing this habit inspired me to start some of my own prayer-related routines that became so ingrained in me that I still practice them today. For instance, like my youth group leader, I pray when brushing my teeth — always for my family and extended family, by name for specific reasons. I wear a few pieces of jewelry regularly, and I’ve gotten in the habit of praying for my children anytime I adjust a piece, whether fiddling with a ring on my pinky or moving the clasp of the necklace to the back of my neck. I’ve already told my young daughters about this practice of mine, and now whenever my almost three-year old sees me playing with my rings, she asks if I’m praying for her and her sister. My answer is always yes, and I ask her to join me.
Before having children, I might have read the passage that I quoted above from the Catechism and felt overwhelmed by the prospect of my role as the primary educator of my children’s faith. But now, through experience, I’ve come to see that while this role is a serious responsibility, it is also a joy. Journaling, lighting candles, holding hands and saying prayers with my young children: these are the delights of life.