Almost everything we know about parenting we have learned from our parents. Almost everything our children will know about parenting they will learn from us.
One look at the reaction of young adults at campuses across the country in the last several months and most reasonable people can come to the conclusion that we have had a failure in parenting. Their reaction to the slightest adversity and not “winning” is to retreat to so called “safe spaces” in tears or to wreak havoc and destroy property.
These reactions indicate a failure to come to emotional and intellectual maturity. We as parents have spent too much time worrying about our children’s “self esteem” and not enough time helping our charges grow in faith and developing the virtue of humility or the four cardinal virtues of fortitude, justice, prudence and temperance.
As I have stated on several occasions, we are in a storm which is going to test and purify our faith. If our children are to survive this storm, we must teach them how to be strong, humble Christians.
In the last four decades, focusing on self esteem and a false sense of pride has done our children an injustice and weakened their ability to overcome adversity. Properly place humility overcomes the capital sin of pride. Humility allows our children to look inward and grow in strength and character as they look forward.
Pride, as a capital sin, is the excessive love on ones own accomplishments. We must help our children see that accomplishments come and go, but God is here always. As our earthly life ebbs and flows between happiness and suffering, He is our guide to eternal and earthly happiness.
A personal example I can share of swallowing my pride as a teenager came about as a result of lessons learned from my mother and a brother who taught senior math. (Please pray for the repose of both their souls.)
I was full of pride from my accomplishments in high school and no longer wanted to put forth the effort in school needed to succeed. Like many seniors I had “checked out.” Brother Nick saw this and raised the bar for performance requiring effort from me he had not required from others in the class. Even to the point of not giving me passing marks I believed I had earned. This is where my mother came in. Instead of going to Brother Nick and fighting with him over my grades, she recognized the brother’s wisdom and challenged me to do as I was told and to step up my game. Her words were, “Maybe you need to quit complaining, make more effort and do what he wants you to do.” Of course, my response was anything but happy.
In the end, I spent weeks and months with Brother Nick working on math and while he challenged me to think more clearly, make greater effort and swallow my pride for the first of many times in my life. The gifts I received from this humble, four foot eleven inch, holy brother, I will carry with me for the rest of my life. He taught me the skill of critical thinking, the virtues of humility and fortitude and how to find happiness through some struggle in our lives. God is good.
My mother had the wisdom to see that even though her son was struggling there were lessons to be learned. It was far more heroic for her to step back and help me learn the lessons than to charge into a battle that did not exist.
This leads us to the virtue of fortitude. The Catechism of Catholic Church explains fortitude as:
1808 Fortitude is the moral virtue that ensures firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of the good. It strengthens the resolve to resist temptations and to overcome obstacles in the moral life. The virtue of fortitude enables one to conquer fear, even fear of death, and to face trials and persecutions. It disposes one even to renounce and sacrifice his life in defense of a just cause. “The Lord is my strength and my song.” “In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”
Fortitude gives us inner the strength to persevere through even the most difficult storms. It is a strength of character that helps us lean into the storm as it presents itself and continue to forge forward doing what is right and good as the storm swirls around us. Sacrifice and struggle are good for the character of our children. There are times in our lives when we must challenge our children to push through the struggle as opposed to doing battle for them.
How do we teach our children fortitude?
Most of our life lessons are learned through observation. Sacrificing for our children without complaint signals an inner strength they will yearn to emulate.
In the book of Numbers we hear how our Lord abhors complaining:
Now the people complained about their hardships in the hearing of the LORD, and when he heard them his anger was aroused. Then fire from the LORD burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp. Numbers 11:1.
How often do we hear parents complaining about having to care for or work to support their children? This signals to the children that they are not worth the hard work and sacrifice. If they are not worth the struggle, what is?
Our world needs more children. A small child in the room most often brings joy and reminds us to thank God for their lives and our own. Children are a gift from God and worth every ounce of effort and struggle. The effort required to raise strong Christian children, properly focused, will bring us closer to God and will lead our children into his arms.
Heroic Parenting is not giving our children the best of everything or making sure they never suffer. It is teaching our children how to struggle with humility and fortitude while keeping their eye on Christ.
Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:19)
JMJ, pray for us.
God is good,