Suggestions from a mother
As a mother, it is good, once in a while, to stop for a short time and imitate the man of the parable who, before building a tower, sits down, takes the time to think, to clarify his goal and the means to obtain it. Because of the constant demands on our time, the multiple preoccupations that assail us, we run the risk, in the heat of battle, of losing track of the supreme goal of our mission: educate our children so that they become saints! If we are indeed ready to do everything in our power to insure the physical, moral, and intellectual development of our children, how much more enthusiasm must we have to help them become saints? How can we do it? There are several means. Some are indispensable, others can vary from one family to the next, from one situation to another. All these means, however, rest on a few solid principles: the importance of good example, family prayer, an atmosphere of charity and selflessness, the need for sane distractions. Here are a few means that I put to the test of experience while raising my children. May they help other mothers in their noble task of educator.
Good example has an undeniable influence in matters of education. Our Lord taught by example prior to teaching by words. Children, especially the girls, become their mother, and it is only as they become older that boys imitate their father. Superficial and vain mothers will beget superficial and vain girls! What is important as educators is what we are, or at least are trying to be, rather than what we say. Our attitudes influence our children more than all our good words! If we do not give bad examples, and practice ourselves what we demand of our children, our task as educators will become a lot easier.
Also, if we want to be obeyed, we must be consistent in our requirements! First of all, before anything else, we must know exactly what we want, then give our orders with the firm intention of having them carried out. Otherwise, the children will sense hesitation and will not bother listening to what we are telling them. To be certain to have been heard and understood, have the children repeat the order to you; it will avoid numerous involuntary "disobediences"! Additionally, it is important to give only reasonable orders, and explain frequently to our children why we are either happy or unhappy with their behavior. Be sure that father and mother are in agreement. There are too many children that try to play one parent against the other, and upon being refused something by one parent, will rush to the other to weasel out the permission denied and announce with triumph: "Daddy, or mommy, said yes!" In that regard, let us not forget that the presence of the father, even in their infancy, is necessary for the psychological and emotional, balance of the children.
If we want our children to love prayer, we must make sure that Jesus becomes their Divine Friend with whom it is good to talk. To talk to someone, we must first look at him; thus, before asking our children to pray, we must put them in the presence of God. We must also avoid discouraging them by long, unending, and tiresome prayers that will take away the taste for prayer. As much as possible, we must stick to evening family prayers and have the active participation of all the children according to their age. They may, for instance, take turns in announcing the intention of each decade of the rosary, or say the decade, etc. During Advent, it is important to prepare for Christmas together. They can choose one of the figures of the Nativity Scene and bring it closer to the Holy Family every day if they behaved, or other activities of that nature. During Lent, it is good to help materialize, one way or another, all the efforts and sacrifices to be made by family members. Finally, we must not forget to pray often for vocations, and have your children think about it: "Jesus may call one of us to follow Him; could it be me? Would I be ready to answer: Lord, here I am?"
Charity is the essential virtue of a Christian. We must insist without pause to the children about this mark of a true Christian: "By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (Jn. 13:35). We must teach our children the Christian reflexes of patience, goodness, meekness, and forgiveness. Let us create an atmosphere of charity within our homes. Let us teach our children to do everything out of love, to please others, but most especially, for the love of Jesus, who will reward everything that is done for His love. Let us teach them how to share, the spirit of sacrifice, and how to pay attention to others. "Do not do to others what you would not like others to do to you!" Most frequently, in children it is carelessness that is the deep root of selfishness. Make them think about those who suffer, about the sick, about the poor. Children can be very generous, but if we do not explain to them anything, they will stagnate in their carelessness and will grow up perfectly selfish.
When we must scold one of our children, it must never be out of impatience or anger. The child must feel, on the contrary, that we punish him regretfully, because he is doing something either wrong for him, or for the common good (of the family). For some children who may be particularly difficult, it may be useful to tell them stories in which the bad guy is someone exactly like him, and then ask him what is there to think about such behavior and what would be its proper punishment. Some parents will be surprised to see how severely children judge, and consequently how they despise weakness. A normal child will accept severity, but never injustice! Collective punishments in which the good child pays for the coward must be avoided. But with the punishment, we must never forget to manifest our love for them by our gestures and our words. We must take time to explain that if we must punish them, it is for their own good and that one day, God will demand an accounting from the parents.
Do not forget that the trust you give to your children helps them grow: "I am believed to be good, therefore there must be some good in me, therefore I can be good!" Give them responsibilities tailored to their ages. In large families, it is good to make one of the older children responsible for one of the younger, according to the circumstances. If our older children understand their role and do not abuse their authority, their younger siblings will follow them trustingly. When you pick an older sibling to be the baptismal sponsor of the latest addition to the family [check the age requirement with your parish priest first—translator's note], explain the importance of his role! The obligation to be a model to the godchild and to pray for it will be for him a great stimulus!
Discipline is necessary everywhere, but it is absolutely indispensable in a large family! If we want a child to do well in school, we have to give him the means. He must be able to work in peace, away from the noise and the interruptions of the small ones, to be able to do his homework. Sleep time must be programmed according to the age of the children, not the whim of the moment. Tiredness generates bad grades and bad moods.
Finally, if we want happy children, they must be provided with agreeable entertainment. When well chosen, they actually help the child to do his family or school chores with more courage and enthusiasm. A child must have time to play and entertain himself. To teach our children to be helpful does not consist in transforming them into a maid! But granted, it is normal that the older children learn to clean and keep up their room by themselves, and it is certainly very educational to teach them to iron their clothes, especially if they are a little vain and like to change their outfit frequently.
But we must not continually impose on our children disagreeable chores. It is our duty to give them times of sane entertainment that will allow them to relax at the end of a long day of constant efforts. In that regard, we must be careful with what our children are reading. Some book deemed "good" could harm readers who are too young! It is like a steak: good for a 16-year-old, but not for a toddler! Sometimes, some parents impose the same entertainment at the same time for the whole family for fear of creating jealousy. This is frequently resented by the older children as an injustice. We must choose pastimes adapted to the older children as well as pastimes adapted to the younger ones. Children, through the course of the years, will move from one type to the other without any problem. Thus the older children will enjoy distractions proper to their age, whereas the parents supervise them all.
Those are some of the lessons I learned from my own experiences. I do not claim to be a perfect mother, but I believe I have given a lot of love to my children, and I think that, by using these principles, I did help them to become balanced adults with a right conscience.
It would be unforgivable if I did not add that in my moments of doubts and difficulties, I always had recourse to Mary, perfect model of motherhood. Thanks to her support and her intercession, our duty becomes easier and more fruitful. May she protect all our families and make saints out of our children!
Translated by Fr. Jaime Pazat de Lys for Angelus Press from Pour qu'Il Regne (Jan-Feb 2006), the bi-monthly magazine of the SSPX's Belgian District. The authoress wishes to remain anonymous.