Amoris Laetitia: Chapter 7 Towards a Better Education of Children12 May, 2022
“Hear, my child, your father’s instruction,
and do not reject your mother’s teaching;
for they are a fair garland for your head,
and pendants for your neck.”
I write as a mother, of a philosopher and a priest and as a teacher of twenty-seven years’ experience. I did not choose teaching. My father steered me in this direction. Nearly forty years later, I am honoured to affect the lives of many children AND effectively assist the mission of the Church and Catholic Education, essentially in instructing the young about our one true, ever-loving God.
Pope Francis alerts us to the complete education of children: an ethical formation, learning of discipline, sex education and nurturing of an enduring faith. He emphasises that “the family is the first school of human values” (AL 274) and advises small steps “that can be understood, accepted and appreciated”. The Holy Father calls on parents to instil “trust and loving respect” (AL 263), foster “good habits and a natural inclination to goodness” (AL 264-266) and develop true freedom in their children (AL 267). Parents must maximise those crucial initial years and continue raising children to their true potential in partnership with educational institutions, so that, as Pope Francis reiterates, young people can “take on the world and offer the best of themselves to the building of something better.” (CV)
Where are our children and who are they with?
Pope Francis cautions parents about the pitfalls of obsessive control. Among other responsibilities, duty of care requires setting clear social boundaries. Family expectations founded on reciprocal respectful consideration for one another are less likely to be perceived as authoritarian. When parental concern is met with gestures of compliance, the whole matter is simplified. Thankfully, in the spirit of openness, my teenage sons naturally chose to eliminate their old lady’s concern about where they were, who they were with and when they would be home!
What are our children being exposed to?
Easy internet access and personal devices, compels us to empower children with the right will and an informed, discerning ability to choose well even when curiosity gets the better of them. Without making too light of this issue, the tabooed Simpsons come to mind. I was not going to ban it and prompt rebellious viewing in hiding. So, via my disinterested mind but vigilant ears, I learnt Simpsons quotes and the boys wisely turned the TV off when the episodes were unsavoury!
Sex education is vital and should be age and maturity appropriate. We must assist the young to recognise and seek out positive influences and shun things that cripple their capacity for love. Urgent action is needed for “a new and more appropriate language in introducing children and adolescents to the topic of sexuality”. (GE 302) Pope Francis warns against “sex education [that] deals primarily with “protection” through the practice of “safe sex”. “The important thing is to teach them sensitivity to different expressions of love, mutual concern and care, loving respect, and deeply meaningful communication. All of these prepare them for an integral and generous gift of self.” Union in Holy Matrimony “will thus appear as a sign of an all-inclusive commitment, enriched by everything that has preceded it.” (AL 283)
Positive parental relationships
I had a very strict ‘army’ upbringing. My mother often told my father we were not soldiers! But it was prompted by love, and we did well for it. Being accountable for our actions and responsible for choices are imperative life lessons. So long as expectations and consequences are fair and consistent, they will be well received. What is most important is the ability lovingly to help children grow in freedom, maturity, overall discipline, and real autonomy. (AL261)
Undeniably, it is challenging to build and sustain a positive parental relationship. Let it be founded on love and trust. Let God be our guide. We must speak of the most important things with simplicity and concern. Children must understand that everything asked of them is in their interest.
Time, a listening ear, and love are priceless gifts one can give a child. Lines of communication for dialogue, open and always on standby, are built on trust. I recall memorable times with my sons, endless hours of chatting about anything and everything – sharing in their interests, nurturing their talents, attentively listening to their dreams and ambitions, cautioning them in their choices and always being just close enough to hear them say, “Hey mum, ….”
One of my favourite Scripture quotes is from St Paul: “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.” I dare say it inspired this piece of advice I gave my children in their early years. I told them to stay on the ‘Highway’ and not be distracted with or unduly curious about all those deviating side roads. They were to set their gaze on where they were headed so that they would get there undeterred. An apt analogy which my sons adhered to, and they remember it with a smile. The fact is, we win some and we lose some. Parents and children, made in God’s image, are not perfect but love conquers all.
The power of family prayer
My mother was a Catholic and she nurtured our faith. She taught me to dedicate “my heart and my day” to Jesus every morning and place myself in the care of “Jesus, the tender shepherd” each night. Attending Mass and saying the rosary was a family ritual. I was a nightmare of a student, and mum would kneel me down to say desperate novenas to St Jude and other saints. Together we achieved the impossible! My dad gave me this profound image of implicit trust in God – he said I must leave the thread of the tapestry of my life in God’s hands and let Him work His wonders! I have diligently passed on my parent’s legacy of prayer and trust in God, which I see evident in my grandchildren too.
Let us pray:
You are the giver of all we possess,
the source of all our blessings.
Thank you for the gift of our children.
May they come to know you, the one true God,
and Jesus Christ, whom you sent.
May your Holy Spirit help them to grow in faith, hope, and love,
So that they may know peace, truth, and goodness.