Catholic Activity: Directing Your Child
In order to exercise your God-given authority to direct your children to be well-formed, responsible Catholic adults, you must be just in order to earn their respect, and then you must direct your children in all areas, allowing them freedom only in less important areas, such as recreational activities.
Your final and fullest test as a parent lies in helping your child reach the potential of which he is capable. You must show him the way to go, and to do so you must know the way yourself.
Your child's goal is a happy, holy adulthood in which he serves God and man. He will make much progress toward this goal simply by following his natural urges to grow physically and mentally, and by observing you in your everyday relationship. But he should also be directed formally toward his goal by your direct teaching. Three principles are involved:
1. You alone have this authority to teach. It is your right given by God as an attribute of your parenthood. Moreover, no one can take it from you, so long as you fulfill your obligation to exercise it. Christian society has always recognized that the authority of the father and mother is unquestioned. For instance, in most states of the Union, a child is legally subject to his parents until he is eighteen.
2. Respect for authority is earned, not imposed. Children will always respond to authority when it is just and when they respect the parent who exercises it. They will ignore or disobey authority when it is unjust or when the parent has forfeited their respect. A father cannot expect his child to obey his rules if, for example, he consistently passes red lights and commits other traffic violations and thus shows that he himself disregards the laws of society. Likewise, your child will respect you only when you show by your actions that you respect him.
3. Your authority must be used. One "modern" father decided not to teach his child anything about God so that the child could choose his own religion himself when he grew up. This man could just as well have argued that he would not try to inculcate any virtues; that the child could choose between honesty and dishonesty, between truth and falsehood, or between loving his country and hating it. Precisely because you are more experienced, you must decide on all matters affecting your child's welfare. You would not wait for him to decide when to see a doctor to treat his illness; you would call the doctor as soon as you decided that his services were necessary. You would not allow your seven-year-old to choose a school; you would make the decision without even consulting him.
As your child develops, he should exercise an increasing amount of authority over his own actions. When he is eight, you will decide which Mass he should attend on Sundays; when he is eighteen, the decision probably will be his. When he is seven, you will exercise a strong control over his reading matter; at seventeen, he himself will exercise a choice.
Allow your child to make decisions for himself on unimportant matters first. In questions involving the important areas — his religious duties, choice of school, etc., give freedom slowly and carefully. For instance, your teen-ager might be free to decide whether to attend a sports event on a Sunday afternoon, but he has no freedom to decide whether to attend Mass on Sunday morning.
Activity Source: Catholic Family Handbook, The by Rev. George A. Kelly, Random House, Inc., New York, 1959