An essential factor in their development is interaction with other young people from like-minded families. This is as true during the early years of child-raising as it is in the later. It should be kept in mind, however, that the younger we help them find a wholesome community of friends the better, since the early years set the foundation for later developments. Younger or older, their community need not be a formal one, nor does it depend on constant traffic, since a little goes a long way in family life. Often, it is enough for a child or teen to know that he is not alone and that now and then he can have quality time with good friends. When our children first met peers who had parents as “crazy” as theirs, the situation in our family changed dramatically for the better. We found ourselves no longer scrambling to say “no” to an influx of external pressures, and instead were saying “yes” to the increasingly wholesome influences that come with a healthy community life. No family in our circle of friends had exactly the same policies or understandings regarding various aspects of the culture as any other family, but we all sensed the need for more effective discernment. We agreed that the power of modern culture is so great that there really is no safe place on this earth. Most of all, we were of one mind and heart regarding the truth that a very great grace was needed—indeed, an unprecedented grace.
Most of us have found from experience that certain “strategies” are helpful, and can gradually shift the balance in our children’s lives.
First and foremost, we parents must beg God for the graces we need in order to protect, guide, and nourish our children according to the mind of Christ. We must never discount grace, because God and all heaven desire to help our children. Ask our Father daily for this good “bread” and he will give it. We might think of this as the over-all covering prayer.
In addition, we should be praying for specific needs and difficult crisis moments as they arise. Ask God for particular graces for the specific battles that develop over our children’s souls.
Ask God for the gift of an inner “radar” that will alert you to any incoming cultural material that may have a negative influence. It can enter your child’s life as mandatory reading material at school, or as birthday gifts from well-meaning extended family or friends, or through friends bringing a video, DVD, or music CD over to the house, or who will have such material at their own parties to which your child is invited, etc. The inner faculty is already there in us; it just needs awakening and practice.
Attend daily Mass, if possible. And frequent confession. If you have in your region any perpetual adoration chapels where the Blessed Sacrament is exposed, make visits there as often as you can, and take any young people along who are willing to go. Make the visits short in the beginning, so you don’t turn them off. They won’t become mystics on the first visit and may find it “boring.” But the Lord is pouring out unusual graces through this practice, and I believe he wants all of us to come to him in this way more and more. Pope John Paul II urged every parish in the world to have such a chapel, or to make the exposed Blessed Sacrament available as often as possible. He encouraged everyone to frequently visit Our Lord in this way.
Ask Our Lady, the Mother of God, to intercede for your family. We pray the Rosary every day as a family, and my wife and I have found this to be a major influence in bringing our children through the swamp of modern society to mature Christian adulthood. They all have faith and are leading good lives. Not without many problems along the way, however. But in retrospect I see that my own (and my wife’s) lack of complete trust as we went through dark times made it harder on us all. We came through, but it needn’t have been so anxiety-ridden as it was. If we had prayed more and relied less on our own strategies, it would have been so much easier. God has given Our Lady a major role in our times in overcoming the devourer of souls. If you ask for her help—and keep asking day by day—she will pour out the graces you need, which have been given by her Son for precisely this purpose.
The help of the guardian angels is especially important. Pray to your child’s guardian angel, and from his youngest years teach your child to pray to his guardian angel every day.
Abandon forever any tendency to express anxiety (in content and tone) in your discussions with your children. Anxious or pleading tones merely reinforce their subliminal feeling or conscious opinion that maybe Mom or Dad is a bit extreme and doesn’t understand. Fear breeds frustration and anger, and anger is especially corrosive when expressed. You lose credibility quickly if you give in to it. Ask the Holy Spirit for a deep inner gift of confidence in the eventual victory of Christ in your children’s lives and their vocations in life. Ask him for supernatural peace, calm, and trust! Ask for this every day, since we know that every day brings challenges that can so easily undermine our trust.
As far as possible, be of one mind and heart with your spouse on these issues, because if the children sense any conflict between parents on a given subject, your authority is seriously weakened.
Ask God for a miracle regarding the problem of peer pressure. Ask him to arrange through divine providence that you meet other like-minded people in your area. There surely must be some. Everywhere I have lived and traveled, no matter how small the community, they are there. It is just sometimes hard to find each other, especially in big parishes and cities. Maybe you could post a note on your church bulletin board, something to this effect: “Parents concerned about questionable trends in children’s literature and film are invited to an informal get-acquainted meeting at our home [or church hall] next Saturday night. Refreshments served. Let’s brainstorm and share our resources!”
Search high and low for stimulating young people’s literature. We have browsed used bookshops for more than thirty years, and have about 6000 books in our home, much of it children’s and young adults’ literature. Our children will never exhaust this supply, and we keep adding to it. Now our grandchildren are beginning to dip into it. To heck with retirement funds! This is our investment in the future.
Hand-to-hand combat: The adversary makes war on our children’s souls at every turn in this society. Though you’ve probably gone a very long way toward protecting your family from the worst, no one is immune, no matter how many things we get right. There is always, in every generation throughout history, a struggle over each and every soul. This means fully-awake parents need to develop strategies of prayer. A good place to start is all of the above. But you might want to add this: Every time you sense or know that something rotten (however minor it may appear) has entered your child’s life, pray the prayer to St. Michael the Archangel for his protection. I also pray for the most hardened sinner I know (a category in which I include myself), and make a resolve to do this every time something corrupting reaches my family. This is the primary level of spiritual combat, which should be a normal aspect of every believer’s life. Turn Satan’s tactics against him. If every time he makes a little wound in your child’s life it rebounds against him, his influence is weakened, his territory is diminished. It is of utmost importance to know (and remember) that he won’t give up trying to harm you in the beginning. He may even come on stronger in order to discourage you, make you drop the habit of praying against him, make you think it’s a useless habit that leaves you worse off than ever. He is very clever. He has a PhD in psychology.
The saints and great spiritual directors tell us that discouragement is the devil’s major tactic in bringing us down. Temptation to sin, of course, is his first line of offence against us all, but I’m referring to those people who have begun to make progress in virtue and spiritual growth. If the enemy cannot entice you into grave sin, he will switch to his next best tactic, which is discouragement. So, please don’t ever give up. If you keep turning his tactics against him, gradually his influence will decline, and God will bring more and more graces and good food into your lives on every level. As we know, this struggle will continue throughout our lives; this is just normal Christian life in a war zone. We have all the helps we need in order to bring ourselves and our families through to Paradise. Yet God always respects our freedom, he will force nothing on us, so we must ask for everything we need.
Use the sacramentals of holy water, blessed oil, or blessed salt (maybe all three!). The children’s father should bless them every night, and if possible every morning. And if he can’t, mother should do it. Always make these moments brief, gentle, and loving, never fear-driven. Fear blocks the bond of spiritual communication between God and man, and between soul and soul.
Pray and trust and make silent hidden sacrifices, offering them to the Lord for your children.
Consider a day of fasting each week. Don’t fast so much that it becomes obvious to others or harms your health or undermines your primary duties as a parent; maybe just delete some pleasure from your life and offer it up for your children. We live in an increasingly diabolical culture. Subtle it may be, but so is the devil, whom scripture describes as the “subtlest of creatures.” Jesus tells us that “Some devils are cast out only by prayer and fasting.”
Stand firm. Be willing to be misunderstood. Be willing to be considered a fanatic, paranoid, and obsessive-compulsive. But always stand firm with love. Calm, unshakeable love, with an iron core of determination. No defensiveness, no hardness of face or heart—just be unbudge-able. Though your children may rant and resist you, in their heart of hearts they will feel more secure with such a strong mother or father (or both), and they will respect you for it. As a result, in time they will listen to you and follow your guidance more attentively.
Above all things, TRUST IN THE LORD!
Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not rely on your own understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge him
and He will make straight your paths.
(Proverbs 3: 5-6)
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him will not be condemned, but whoever does not believe has already been condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the verdict, that the light came into the world, but men preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed. But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.”
(John 3: 16-21)
In the presence of God who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ; and this will be made manifest at the proper time by the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.
(1 Timothy 6: 13-16)
“Behold, I am coming soon. I bring with me the recompense I will give to each according to his deeds. I am the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.
Blessed are those who wash their robes so as to have the right to the tree of life and enter the city through its gates. Outside are the dogs, the sorcerers, the unchaste, the murderers, the idol-worshipers, and all who love and practice deceit.”
(Revelation 22: 12-15)
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