As published in last week’s Catholic Weekly.
Bath time in our house is a flurry of activity just after dinner where we try to get all five children washed and dressed in their pyjamas in the shortest possible time, except that one child is always slow to comply. (There’s always one, isn’t there?)
This one child dislikes having a bath or shower at the end of the day, and I tell this child that I get it. “You’re in your comfortable day clothes, it’s a cold part of the year, whatever. Just get in. Hurry up.”
Last week this person sat, frowning, on a stool beside the bathroom vanity, still in day clothes, as I bathed the two little ones and asked me why it was necessary to have a wash every single day.
I launched into an exposition on the need to remove dirt and bacteria, and how it’s kind to your friends to ensure they’ll enjoy standing near you tomorrow. I threw in the phrases “athlete’s foot” and “fungal infections” to try to add some extra ‘oomph’ to my argument.
This person looked unmoved and didn’t move towards the shower stall either, but remained there frowning.
“Every day of your whole life?”
I looked up to check whether this was just procrastination or a sincere quest for knowledge, and sighed when I realised that this person had probably been into the vintage novels again where characters only wash weekly or so.
“Well, maybe not strictly every single day. It depends on what you’ve been doing and how dirty you are,” I admitted. “Plus some people don’t mind being really stinky,” I added slyly.
“I don’t stink,” came the reply.
“Don’t wash then,” I said. “See how you go.”
So this person left the bathroom, and I resigned myself to witnessing the fall-out from this life lesson when this person came home friendless from school the next day. But when I went in later to tidy up I was surprised to find this person having a shower after all.
This person hadn’t liked being told what to do without knowing the why, and this is exactly what I need to remember as a parent of growing children. I’m so used to giving directions now and less used to taking time to explain why certain things should be done.
If this is important when it comes to understanding and appreciating the need for good personal hygiene, then it’s enormously important when it comes to the need for our baptised child to understand and appreciate the beauty and wisdom of our Catholic faith.
I rely mainly on an ‘osmosis’ theory of raising children in the faith, that the parents aim to become people of prayer and faithfulness and their children are naturally infused with love of God and the Church as they grow in a faith-filled environment. There’s a beautiful simplicity in that, and inducement for the parents to really grow in holiness so as to model holiness for their children.
But osmosis alone is not enough, since we’re not fish but people with minds and wills. We need to explain the faith as well. And we can’t just leave it to our catechists or Catholic schools, for no matter how good the curriculum and teachers are it is really parents who are best-placed to teach their children why we do the things we do and why we believe the things we believe.
Standard responses only go so far. Why do we have to go to Mass every Sunday, can’t be answered satisfactorily for every child at every age with a simple “Because I said so”, or “Because that’s our Catholic (and/or family) tradition”, or “Because that’s what Jesus wants us to do and what the early disciples did”.
Sooner or later they’ll come back with, “But why?”. So, as St Paul advised, we need to have answers ready for the hope that is in us, and we need to be ready for an ongoing conversation about our faith over the course of our lives as we accompany our children into adulthood and beyond.
Maybe when we got married and had kids we thought we were choosing a very different path from the religious life, but we are still meant to evangelise, and especially to evangelise our kids, nieces, nephews, and our grandchildren.
In terms of content we’re fortunate to have a host of resources at our disposal, the Catechism is the most obvious, but there are many great resources such as Cathfamily.org which puts out a monthly e-magazine to support parents raising Catholic children.
It has practical and relevant articles, stories, recipes, and craft ideas. And we can remember to take an interest in what the children are learning in their religion or catechist classes.
The great thing about teaching something is that we come to a deeper knowledge of it ourselves. Next time I turn on the shower taps, or turn up to Mass, I’ll be more mindful about what exactly I’m doing and why.