Praying with children
I almost called this “why I have to keep going back to Confession” or maybe “getting the hell out of the house” but…I didn’t.
I’ve only recently (like a couple months-ish) settled on a good prayer routine for myself, so it seemed about time to get the small people humming along the path to sanctity, too. Plus, I have really less-than-fond memories of forced car rosaries (sorry mom!!!) and I’m hoping to not repeat the trauma for my own kids, though that’s probably (much!) less to do what my parents did and more my own natural penchant for sloth and resistance to authority soooooooo, the best laid plans and all that.
I have to do something. And with a 5-year old in the house I’m becoming increasingly aware that I’m on borrowed time here in terms of character formation, will-shaping, etc. so…to work.
Even now. Even at 13 weeks postpartum with a chaotic house full of needs and not quite enough sleep.
I still have to do something for their spiritual lives, lest they waste away on Leap Frog videos and admonitions to not!hit!the!baby! (mostly directed at the fierce not-quite-two-year-old) and general platitudes of the WWJD variety.
Those are all well and good and essential (even Leap Frog, at this juncture) but I want to do a bit more to infuse some grace into our endless days at home, so we’ve begun an almost idiot-proof practice of “Mommy reads her Magnificat and drinks coffee and don’t talk to me for 9 minutes” followed by a single decade of the rosary, beginning with the first mystery for whatever day of the week we’re on. Oh, and we light candles. They make sure to fight about who gets to light them and blow them out.
That’s literally it.
Is your mind blown because it’s so creative and impactful?
Nope, didn’t think so.
But, I realized that waiting until Catechesis of the Good Shepherd showed up at a parish near me (please, soon!) or looking down the road to the nuanced philosophical discussions we’ll be having aroud the dinner table wasn’t addressing the here and now. (Plus, the rosary is the ultimate marian devotion. And Mama Mary seriously has our backs as moms, she just gets it. And I need all the help I can get.)
I also have an alarm set on my phone to go off at noon every day. It’s the sound of ringing church bells, and when the kids hear it they yell “Angelus alarm!” and we say the Angelus really quick, either in the car or, if we’re home, facing our sweet little Mary statue in the kitchen window. I’d say it gets done 80% of the time, and about 50% of the time it’s me by myself, but it’s something. And it’s manageable for me now, in this season.
My deepest desire for my children is a personal, meaningful relationship with Jesus, and that they find their home in the heart of His Church.
Beyond that? I really don’t care. Be a garbage collector, be a librarian, be an attorney or a brewmaster stay-at-home dad. The primary goal for me, as a parent, is to point them towards heaven with a good, firm, push.
I want them to grow up knowing without a doubt that this Faith is their home, and that Catholics know how to blend the mysterious supernatural with the mundane day-to-day better than anyone else.
And also? That we throw the.best.parties.
Feast days, holy days, holidays…I want their little minds crammed full of St. Nicholas shoes with chocolate coins, Advent wreaths glowing at the dinner table, and St. Patrick day keggers with friends and beer and shamrock cookies and…you get the idea.
Kids have a better – sharper maybe? – sense than most adults for the transcendent and the majestic. They get, on a deeper and more instinctive level, what matters. And when it comes to God, I think they are intrinsically more open to Him, nearer to His presence just by nature of their innocence and capacity for wonder.
So the number one thing I need to be concerned about, as their mother, is facilitating that capacity for wonder and protecting their innocence.
My hope and prayer is that they grow up remembering this simple rhythm to our daily life, that we sat around the table (or in the car en route to school) and prayed that first decade together, with the expectation that we’d maybe? hopefully? finish it on our own, or perhaps in a few months when life calms down, pray the final decade together before bed, hemming in our day with the graces He longs to pour out through His mother’s Immaculate hands.
I hope they remember mommy being super weird about not playing (too much) Christmas music during Advent, but letting it rip the week of Christmas and turning on 2,000 twinkle lights and partying so hard that we actually need 12 full days to consume all the sugar and finish all the wine and recover.
I hope they feel the presence of God in their ordinary, extraordinary little lives, whatever He calls them to. And I pray that the language they learn to use to identify that call is spoken here first, and please God, may they one day be fluent.
We love the CCC saints DVDs, and I play them ad nauseum in the car. (Bonus? They’re 50% off right now using the code CHRISTMAS50 at checkout.)
I also like to give them kids plenty of pretty images and toys to play with, so the Fisher Price Nativity set is in heavy rotation, along with our new Shining Light Saint dolls.
And in our little library I have stocked (almost) every single book that Ignatius has ever published in their Magnificat series.
My particular favorite of their authors is Maite Roche, whose illustrations are breathtaking. Ignatius was kind enough to send along 2 of their newest titles which, subsequently, Luke is getting them for Christmas. (And basically nothing else, because he’ll never know, muahaha.)
I am so enjoying reading how Catholic mommies prepare for and celebrate Advent. It’s all very new to me as a convert and new mom that I’m learning a lot from those that have gone before me! The Catholic Faith makes my life immensely richer! Also, this may be my favorite quote from your article: “The primary goal for me, as a parent, is to point them towards heaven with a good, firm, push.”
“hemming in our day with the graces He longs to pour out through His mother’s Immaculate hands”
This may be the most beautiful reminder for prayer throughout the day that I have ever read. Thank you. This season of prayer with littles is hard. But not impossible. Thanks for the reminder to just do it. As imperfectly as needed – just do it!
Our kids also got tired of the “forced” Rosary, so my husband and I started to just sit down in the living room and start praying it on our own. Low and behold! The kids would wander in and begin praying it with us! And, amazingly, the younger ones would sit on our laps and now even they know the words and are wanting to “pray a decade”. Even if our four-year-old is playing, we’ve discovered that our consistency has helped him learn the prayers–he knows the Hail Mary and we didn’t realize it! Spontaneous prayer too (like, “Kids–let’s pray for all those in Paris!”) is amazing too because then they learn intercessory praying. There are so many opportunities for prayer throughout the day (like when they drive me to madness and I start praying out loud, “Lord, I beg you for your grace; I beg you for your grace!”).
Thank you for your idea of the phone alarm for the Angelus! I’m going to have to start that!
I love your statue of Mary, where did you get it?
As parents the best you can do is show the way. It will be up to your kids to actually take the path on their own time and sometimes in their own way. It also helps if they attend a school that enforces your beliefs and practices. I learned about the very first prayer I say everyday (Saint Padre Pio’s Prayer to the Guardian Angel) from my (Catholic) Grade School.
My dad was RC my mom Anglican, neither practiced. I was baptized in a nearby United Church and caught Catholicism from my friends and neighbours. Every Saturday evening in the summer I’d go to the house several doors down and sit and listen to the family as they prayed their Rosary together. I had an inkling it was about Mary and Jesus but couldn’t figure it out. All the traditions and customs of those Catholic families fascinated me, and their lived faith drew me closer.
I was confirmed as a Catholic as an adult and credit the efforts of those friend’s parents in explaining the many things they did, from meatless Fridays to the crucifix in the wall, icons, Rosary recitation, the setting up of the Christmas nativity set. And yes, I became a devotee of the daily Rosary and scriptural mass readings.
Just as my husband and I did, our son and daughter in law are teaching our faith to the grandkids much as you describe, Jenny, little routines and inclusive participation. You’d be amazed (or not) by how much sinks in and is retained, and just as Julie wrote, there are many opportunities to show how to apply those prayers. As a grandma let me say how appreciative I am of all you younger moms who are making the effort to teach your children our faith. I know how busy your lives are and that it takes time and patience – thank you, and I’m very proud of you all.
I am looking forward to your podcast… just sayin’ 🙂
This article is immensely helpful. I have these perfectionist plans (because this is the most important thing! etc) and then I don’t do anything at all.
You’ve reminded me I need to start somewhere, and even my baby steps are something! Thankyou!
Thanks for sharing this. Even though not too many people commented on this post, I hope that it generated internal reflection on how prayer is shared in their families. Prayer is essential. It is in fact one of the most important parts of Catholic parenting, and I say that as a parent and as a catechist. Prayer is the foundation for your child having a relationship to God. One can have all the knowledge in the world about God and what the Church teaches and attend mass every Sunday or even every day, but if there is not a love relationship going on there, it is all in vain.
As your child grows and emerges into the teen and young adult years and faces all of the cultural challenges, it is not going to be knowledge of their faith alone that will help them to meet those challenges, but it is the fact that they love God and know they are loved by God that will enable them to respond to the graces God gives to them to live faithfully. It will also be the fact that they know that God will love them even when they fail to be faithful to Him, and that He always stands at the door of their heart waiting for them. This love can best be cultivated through an encounter with Him in a life of prayer.
To cultivate the prayer life of a small child you direct what is natural for them: their child-like trust, which is the very trust that we have to recapture once we mature. For example, I used to individually listen to my children pray before bedtime. Sometimes that takes time, maybe more than you want to spare at the end of the day (and if that is the case, start you day with it instead). I can remember when my daughter would stretch it into a 2 hour experience, but you have to let the fire burn when it is ignited! It might be a path to a future vocation, too, you never know what God may have in mind. It was a moment where I could guide them towards knowing that God is always there listening to what is in their heart. They could recount the things that happened during the day that they were thankful for. The things that they needed help with tomorrow. The things that didn’t go so well for which they were sorry. The things that they were aware of in the world for which their intercessory prayers were needed, whether it was a flood somewhere, a relative who was sick, a neighbor who lost their job. Anything that comes up in ordinary life, they can learn how God’s help is there. It gives them the understanding that they need to be mindful of others and have the ability to bring the needs of others to God. And they need to know it is not a magical action, but an act of confidence in God’s help to sustain us in our struggles.
The next trait is their awe. As they discover the world around them, it is important to connect how God created all of these wonders and gifted them to us. Opportunities for this abound.
Their openness to learning is also optimal. We have the unfortunate situation of being on our own spiritual learning curve at the same time we are trying to model the faith for our children. So, it is a great time to focus seriouisly on our own conversion so that the little eyes that see our every action will learn how to travel on their own spiritual learning curve. Let them witness how God gives you the grace to overcome your failures or to meet life’s difficulties. That takes making an effort to apply yourself to spiritual solutions to those things. Praying for each other to grow in a particular virtue is an example of how to make those things visibly connected.
Their openness also can be tapped into for exposing them to the vast heritage of sacred music that is out there. This treasury is so invisible in the life of most parishes, but it is something that small children can develop an ear for very easily. This music is actually prayer, and that is the beauty of it.
Having a children’s Bible and making good use of it is also helpful in building it into the normal part of their spiritual life. It can be a springboard for discussion of what it means to be faithful to God. As your child grows older and becomes capable of reading an ordinary Bible, then they will be able to appreciate the Bible as a way to connect to God in their prayer life, too, as they begin to more seriously reflect upon God’s Word and what it means for their daily life.
Devotional prayers and other traditions are wonderful, but only to the degree that they stimulate prayer in the heart. If they help to make a heart connection, they will be lifelong helps in times of spiritual difficulty. A kind of comfort food for the soul.
Hearing about “forced” rosaries sounds horrible. I remember as a child learning about the rosary at catechism class, where we had to memorize the mysteries, but they never actually demonstrated how to pray the rosary. My family did not pray it either (my mom was a convert so that might be why). I remember putting the pictures I had of each mystery on the wall next to my bed and kind of wondering how to really pray the rosary. In a way, I guess that made it more meditative for me, because I pondered those pictures frequently.
As an adult I began to pray the rosary with regularity when I started my kids with one decade a day that included a spiritual reflection on the mystery. Then later we prayed the “scriptural” rosary and did that for many years together. I used to drive one hour to get to my kid’s music instruction, and we would play the audio rosary in the car on the way, mostly for my benefit in dealing with traffic. It de-stressed the whole trip. But, yes, the rosary has to be something one has their heart in. It cannot be forced, or it is not prayer. So, the way to make it a spiritual help is to be sure that their hearts are in it. As one person commented, sometimes it is better to lead by example and leave the invitation open for participation rather than formally saying we are all praying the rosary together right now.
When my kids were adolescents, I introduced the Liturgy of the Hours to them. It was done experimentally. When it became clear they wanted to incorporate that into a family prayer activity, that is what we did. They would pray the Office and Morning prayer on their own and we prayed Evening and Night Prayer together. When they finally went off to college and I went back to praying it alone, it was so weird to just hear their voices when I prayed it. It was many years before their voices disappeared and I was truly praying it alone. That was true of many of the different prayers we prayed together, but most especially that.
Jeanette, we had a children’s Bible when our kids were growing up, too. I’d forgotten until you mentioned it in your response how much they enjoyed having the stories read to them, lots of big bold pictures in that edition. It helped them understand the liturgical year at church better, too. Our grandchildren are now being read to from that same Bible, now in my son’s home. Age appropriate devotions, as you say, and awareness of God’s presence in the world around them – great opportunities for establishing a relationship with the Lord.
OOPs, I forgot to mention the tabernacle. Making visits to Jesus in the tabernacle is so very important. A minute of tow is all you need when they are young. Another thing is to pray a simple aspiration that is easy to call to heart when you pass a Catholic Church, pointing out that there is a tabernacle inside and it connects that this treasure of Jesus’ Presence is found all around town. Catholics need to make the Real Presence known to their children.
Such a good point! And they get it, better than most adults do, that He’s really there!
Thank you for sharing your resources! I just have a 14 month old and another baby on the way, but am overwhelmed sometimes when trying to figure out how to share our faith with them as they get older. Like you said, my primary goal as a mom is to get my kids to heaven, so it’s so important for me to find the best ways to do that.
I love your blog. I will soon be a stay-at-home mom and feel like I can relate to you in so many ways – I wish I knew you! Thank you for sharing your life with all of us!
Glad you’re here, Cari!
I would like to recommend the living faith Catholic daily devotions for children. It’s a great subscription. My only complaint is it’s a tiny magazine that tends to get lost.
I have been blessed to teach Catechesis of the Good Shepherd for eight years and LOVE what the Holy Spirit is doing through this work. I will pray fervently for you that some parish will take it up for you and all those families near you!