Faith Formation in Children

I have been purging, going through our storage room and closets and drawers, tossing, labeling, and recycling the piles of stuff that we have accumulated over our almost 50 years together. I came across an article I wrote at one time for our local Catholic newspaper. It seems to me to be as relevant today as it was when I wrote it and it applies to any Christian education, not must Catholic. I don’t know how to scan, so I had to write it out for you. It is a little long, but I wanted to share:

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Are we doing a good job of youth faith formation?

What happens outside the classroom too often undermines good programs

By Judy Jeub

                Faith formation of youth has come a long way since my own children were in Catholic schools and CCD. Today we see goals and objectives being articulated, methods are accommodating various learning styles, and we are appealing to both mind and heart as we seek to transmit doctrine and foster faith experiences.

However, we need to look beyond the classroom and into the daily lives of our children and teens. Are they receiving from the church community the tools (Paul would call it armor) to deal with issues confronting them, or to make wise Christian decisions?

When I look at the question of faith formation from this perspective, I would have to say “no”, we as church are not doing an effective job for our youth.

Jesus’ parable of the farmer sowing seed in various kinds of soil speaks about faith formation. The seed, Jesus said, is the Word of God and the church need make no apology for speaking God’s word “to this troubled, confused world”. The “Good News” of Jesus is just as relevant as it was 2,000 years ago and, as stated above, we are getting better at presenting the Word.

But what of the soil? Any good farmer can tell you that in order for the seed to germinate, one must tend the soil.

Soil is the environment that makes one receptive or resistant to the Word. Many voices are expressing concern about the environment of youth today. There is concern for the safety of children in our schools and neighborhoods, for children left alone, for children in dysfunctional households, for children living in poverty, and children having too much money to spend. The media is being challenged for their messages concerning sex and violence and the seduction of children and teens by advertisers.

Economic and social pressures eat away at quality family time. Most notable is the demise of the family meal, the basis of understanding the Eucharist for the domestic church. Parents are often rushed or absent, so teachable moments come and go unnoticed and words of wisdom that comfort or build character go unspoken.

How are children coping? Researchers and psychologists tell us that children are stressed, afraid or guilt-ridden, and too many turn to violence, drug abuse, or unhealthy sexual relationships. Not rich soil to receive the Word of God.

The church needs to re-image itself into Jesus’ parable and set about the task of tilling soil. Families need special help to become communities of faith, first of all. This means attention to marriages, not just at the beginning, but through all stages by offering programs that address real issues and on-going relational support. Parents need skills to create healthy families in which the faith of children can flourish.

The adult community needs education and nurturing to become the body of Chris that embraces children into holiness by love and example.

Church leadership needs to inform itself and then the people about social systems and ideologies that counter Christian values. We need to collaborate with other social systems to improve schools and neighborhoods to make them safe and life-affirming places for youth.

                Scattering seed is easy. Tilling the soil is dirty, sweaty, and exhausting. But it is, I believe, the task at hand if faith formation of youth is to be effective.

The last few paragraphs summarize what I wanted my job description to look like under the title “Family Minister”.  It never happened, I am afraid to say. The church wasn’t ready and I moved on and became a parent educator, which turned out to be a wonderful opportunity to say what was deeply imbedded in my heart.

Standing Behind Your Words

I live in Minnesota and we have what is known as “The Minnesota Goodbye”. This is when people put their coats on and then stand at the door talking for half an hour before they finally leave. Minnesota children know this. So when they are told to help pick up the toys and put their coats on, they know they actually have a good thirty minutes to play.

It is pretty humerous unless you really have to leave and your child shows no sign of moving when you tell them to get ready. Most of the time, when children don’t comply, it is because parents don’t stand behind their words.

These are some suggestions that I have heard from parents as well as a few of my own:

1. Be ready to do the next thing yourself before giving orders to a child. For example, be ready to leave within a short time after you’ve told them to get ready to leave.  Be ready to have story time as soon as they get their pj’s on.

2. Don’t give threats you can’t carry through. For example, if your child is supposed to clean her room before going to Grandma’s house, don’t say, “If you don’t…you won’t go to Grandma’s”, unless this is the case. If you need to introduce a consequence, choose one that you can and will follow through on.

3. Follow through on a consequence even if it inconveniences you. I remember a dad telling my parenting group that his son was supposed to do certain chores before he could go to a friend’s house. He managed to slip away without doing the chores. The dad took the time to retrieve his son from his friend’s house and and bring him home to do the chores.

4. Check on them. Did they do the job or not? I heard parents confess that they were too lazy to go see if the child did what they were told.

5. Be an example. If it is a rule in  your house that children make their beds in the morning, parents should do it, too. Same for carrying your dishes to the the sink after eating or putting clothes in the hamper.

6. Reward compliance but not with praise. Better to show them that what they do is truly helpful. “When you carry your dishes to the kitchen, it really makes clean-up go faster.” “You are playing quietly. Now your baby sister can sleep.”

Raising Kids to be Self-sufficient.

I caught a piece on the news yesterday about a “new” way of parenting babies/toddlers that Hollywood parents are all over. I found it humorous that the ABC commentators really poo-poohed it. They like the idea of letting kids have their childhood, giving them toys, etc. I think they were misled by the video’s referring to the method as treating them like adults. The video showed babies sitting at a little table for snack, pouring their own beverages, serving themselves their own portions. I have seen this very scene hundreds of times in early childhood classes. Letting children do whatever they are capable of doing is one of the principles of Maria Montessori’s revolutionary methods of working with small children…and they absolutely love it.

In the parenting class I am now teaching, we have been discussing what it means to overindulge children. Jean Illsley Clarke, author of the excellent book, How Much is Enough?, suggests that overindulgence means more than giving children too much stuff. She includes over-nurturing. “When parents do too much for their children.” She says, “Often these are tasks that children should be doing for themselves. Over-nurturing prevents kids from becoming competent in everything from ordinary household chores to developing coping skills and interpersonal skills.”

I have been reading a lot lately about how young adults are entering the work force with poor work ethics, how they are unable to manage money, and about a sense of privilege they seem to have. I think a big part of the problem is the tendency of parents to do too much for children. So often it is the easier, more efficient route to take when parents are stressed and busy. But we aren’t doing our children a favor if they have to spend the first few years of their lives out in the world learning the lessons of caring for themselves.

In a former parenting class, a mother shared her experience of becoming aware of how her impatience was leading her to do too much for her children. She said that she was having trouble getting her child to settle into his car seat without squirming and crying. One day, she let him get into the car seat and buckle it himself. He was so proud of his accomplishment, he settled in just fine. Later, she said, she let him help cut vegetables for dinner even though it meant prep time was extended. He stopped the habit of following her around the kitchen nagging her for something to eat. She said, “I realized that my impatience was doing him a disservice. I began to slow down and make conscious choices that may have  been less efficient, but were  better for him.”

Here is the short video about this “new” method:

http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/video/rie-parenting-takes-hollywood-21554572

Parenting Again

I have been asked to teach a parenting class at a preschool after 6 years of retirement. I agreed to do it because I could really use a diversion and I love teaching young parents.

Parenting practices have changed since Bernie and I raised our children. (Actually, they were in the process of change, which was a little confusing for us.) There have been great breakthroughs in the psychology of children and a new understanding of how they experience the world. For a while, parenting methods took a pendulum swing from severely strict to overly permissive. As it turns out, neither extreme is good for children. Each has unfortunate outcomes for the adults that come later.

Today, the words “strict” and “rules” have been replaced by the concepts of “consistency” and “boundaries”. Children making mistakes is a given. They don’t come into the world knowing boundaries – these have to be taught. Attentive parents consider boundaries carefully. Some boundaries are vital – no hitting. Some are convenient – no eating in the living room. Boundaries should teach children to respect others and to put first things first. The example of parents is important. “Do as I say, not as I do,” is no longer acceptable. Consistency is vital.  If parents are inconsistent, children won’t take the rules seriously.

“Consequences” is the word we use today instead of punishment. A consequence can feel like punishment but there is a definite difference. A consequence flows from one’s actions; it is the outcome of the action. A parent’s job is to provide the link, to make the connection. “You might have done better on the test if you had studied the night before instead of watching TV.” “You did well on the test because you worked hard.” Some consequences are natural, others parents have to impose. I used to tell the parents in my classes, “The more an imposed consequence looks like real life, the better.” If a bike is left out, put it away for a while so a child can experience the possible consequence of having to do without it if it were stolen.

Some people complain that children today have too many choices. The role of parents is to provide choices while the children are under their care so that they can teach them how to make choices. It begins early – which shirt to wear – and progresses to more important things – which elective to take in school – to vital decisions like career choices or whether to marry. But in teaching about choices, consequences have to be considered and we need to learn that the choices we make effect others and have an impact on the world around us.

What I love most about modern parenting is that it is more respectful to children. Children are no longer to be “seen and not heard”. What they are thinking and feeling is important. That doesn’t mean they always get their way, but it does mean that they are a part of the community. Their input is as important as that of the adults around them. They have a right to be heard. Children don’t always know how to express themselves, but teaching them how to express themselves is part of a parent’s job, too.

I can’t wait to get started.

Grandparents

I love this grandparent role. It outshines being a parent a hundredfold.

First of all, I am way smarter now than I was when I was a parent. Back then, I had these crazy expectations of my children. But with my grandchildren, I sit back and just watch the show. I let them tell me who they are, rather than me telling them who they should be.

I don’t worry about the judgment of others as I did when I was raising my own children. The problem with that kind of worry is that one may react more out of reaction to the judgment than out of the child’s real need in the moment. So a grandparent may be the first to notice when a child needs to be heard or is hungry or tired and may stop the adults from talking so much to pay attention. Grandchildren love that.

Grandchildren don’t have the ability to pull my strings the way my children could. Some grandparents may disagree with this, but really, I have a longer-range view of their lives than I did with my children. So it is easier to say “no” because I know they will survive a little disappointment. I know my limits so it is easier to say “yes” because I am better able to measure my abilities.

My grandchildren rarely have to say, “But you promised!” because my children have taught me to be careful about promises. I can follow through on the promise to always love them, but I know that sometimes life circumstances are such that I can’t do what I told them I would do.

My grandchildren seem to like hearing what I have to say. When our children are in the process of breaking out on their own, sometimes “on their own” means “everything except what my parents tried to teach me.” Not doing what parents want makes them feel more independent, I guess. I get that. But, I watch my adult children today and note that much of what they believe and do today is what my husband and I wanted for them…they just needed time to figure out what fit and what did not. I get that, too. But with grandchildren, I am one of those influences outside of their parents. Never mind that what I say may be exactly what their parents are trying to teach them. The fact that I am not their parent makes them feel freer to listen.

I have learned to say to a grandchild, “I was wrong” or “I am sorry.” When I was raising my children, I somehow equated this with surrendering authority. Boy, was that wrong thinking!

Grandparents have already tried what parents are doing – making a living, trying to figure out their children’s education, struggling with the marriage thing, scrambling to make family time, trying to balance the duty to family, to work, and the duty to self…all that stuff that causes anxiety and confusion. We know that some outcomes suck and some are terrific and that we have less control over that than our egos want us to believe. So grandparents can relax when things start to spin. We can be the eye of the storm, sit and read a story to a child no matter what is happening. Grandchildren need that. And grandparents need to be needed, too.

French Parenting – 2

I was aware of this study of French parenting a few years ago. As a parent educator, I have noticed many parents, struggling with their childrens’ behaviors, who want to “fix” the child rather than look at their own parenting behaviors. This is not to say there aren’t sometimes biological and even heredity causes, but even if this is the case, parents can complicate or work with a situation in the way they parent.

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/suffer-the-children/201203/why-french-kids-dont-have-adhd

Time Magazine’s: The Childfree life

I finally found time to read Time Magazine’s piece: “The Childfree Life: When having it all means not having children”. I held pen in hand as I read it, underlining ideas that I thought significant and making notes in the margin. I just need a professor to quiz me now.

Bernie and I have been blessed with many grandchildren, currently 22. When I tell people the number, they always ask me “How many children did you have?” assuming that I was the one who had the many. “Only four,” I say, “My son and his wife have the big family – 16.” This piece of information is never received without comment. Questions are about adoption or twins or if they are Catholic, as though Catholics have the corner on large families. I wonder if anyone has ever done a study on that. If the issue of overpopulation comes up I usually respond with a comment about how we Americans use way more than our fair share of resources. I want to ask them how many square feet per person their house is. Sometimes there is the joke, “Didn’t you tell them how babies are made?” Good grief.

I read the article with a few preconceived ideas. One was a reaction to the title words: “Having it all”. Were they talking about material all? The comments by the couples in the article lead me to think it was more about being able to follow their dreams, sometimes material, sometimes not. It seemed that the perception is that there are some dreams that cannot be attained if you are saddled with kids so you have to make a choice. Saddled? Tied down? Some people need an attitude adjustment. There are some pretty significant people in history, men and women, who managed to achieve greatness and raise children.

One of the couples cited in the article formed a support group for people who don’t have children. They said that when their friends began having kids, they began to experience exclusion. Apparently, the only things that their friends could talk about was their children. I have met people like this. I had four kids and I got bored talking only about kids.  One can talk about cooking and foods, about what is going on in the world, about spirituality, about one’s hobbies, about feelings, and about kids. These excluding groups were members of their Christian church and they felt judged as well.

This couple said that their decision not to have children was contrary to the status quo and it was troubling to have to constantly defend themselves.  Interesting. I think those who decide to have large families would say the same…that they are constantly being challenged to defend themselves against that other status quo.

This makes me think of the word, “codependent”. Thinking about these couples, I wonder about why they are so concerned about what others think of their choices. I have greater wonder about those who feel obligated to form an opinion about someone else’s choices, especially one as personal as whether and how many children to bring into the world. I am always pleased when a decision is made by both persons in the couple.

This would be a much happier world if we could all give people the space and freedom to do their own soul searching as they try to make wise decisions. And once they make them, we should support them. If they later regret a choice, we can still support them.

But if we all behaved this way, what would people write about?