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9 Ways to Cultivate a Servant’s Heart in Your Child

9 Ways to Cultivate a Servant

A question I hear from time to time is how to raise your kids Catholic with the undertone of really, how do you get your kids to stay Catholic?

As a cradle Catholic who is a married, homeschooling mom to six kids – the eldest getting closer and closer to 20 and the youngest just three – I finally feel like I can look back and see some parenting trends that through the years have worked for us and I want to touch on one of them today: cultivating a servant’s heart.

Recently, I participated in our parish MOMs group annual experienced moms panel, where this very question came up. As I started to answer the question, I felt the need to preface my response with the following:

You can do all the “right” things and your child may fall away from the Faith, and you might do all the “wrong” things and end up with a child who is completely devoted to the Faith.

You Can Do All The Wrong Things

What I was really trying to do was ease the minds of the mommas present. While there are things we can do to help foster that love of the Faith in their formidable years, in the end, they may stray from the Faith. We know we can always make our prayer to place the care of their soul in God’s hands and ask St. Monica for her intercession. Oh, how I wish there were a way to know for certain that they’d remain Catholic!  

MODELING THE BEHAVIOR WE WANT

Kids can pick up on hypocrisy a mile away, whether it’s in matters of the Faith or everyday stuff. At the root of this question of how to raise and keep our children Catholic should automatically include self reflection:

♦ How is our relationship with God?

♦ Do our daily habits reflect what we want to see from our children?

♦ How often do we speak about Catholicism to our children?

♦ Do we talk about it as a series of goals and bullet points, or do we talk about how it is integrated into our inner being and how that translates into our daily actions?

♦ Do we talk about our spiritual weaknesses honestly with our children?

♦ Do we make sure we have an open line of communication with our kids? 

♦ Do they know they can come talk to us about their problems as raw, broken people and know that we, as their parents, will be there to hug, cry, pray with them, and walk them through their problems instead of brushing them off or simply telling them to only “go pray about it” without giving them a game plan to work through their problems?

The task of creating rich foundational soil for our kids to grow and thrive in starts with us. If we are spiritually running on empty, not making time for God in our own lives, it stands to reason that we cannot properly model the actions we wish to see from our kids.

This is not to say that we won’t have our own spiritual rough patches to work through, but kids often need a tangible, real, honest living example to see, especially and particularly if it isn’t the spit shine perfect example we’d like to give them. I personally think it can be beneficial for kids to see and know we struggle from time to time. It makes living the Faith real for them, and when they face their own dark days as they get older, they will know the Faith isn’t always rosy or fun. It’s hard work. But it’s worth every ounce and pound of hard work we put into it.

HOW TO CREATE A SERVANT’S HEART

What I’m about to share with you should be considered a tool in the parenting arsenal. I hesitate to paint anything as a do this and you will be guaranteed your kids won’t leave the Church! strategy followed by my cheesy attempt to sell you some wares. What I want to share is what seems to be working for us…right now. Parenting is a constantly evolving process that involves employing certain tactics and strategies before bringing in new tactics and strategies. When you have a lot of children, your workload multiplies and the need to be aware of their strengths and weaknesses also increases.  

  1. Momma Mary

    My Miraculous Medal that my youngest loves to kiss and ask Momma Mary to help him be good.

    Teach them to love God…more than you and your spouse. I do a lot of failing as a Catholic. I think the phrase practicing Catholic was coined just for me some days. I do my best to impress upon my children that while my relationship with them collectively and individually will never be perfect, that they always have a loving Father and Mother who will never fail them. I ask them to pray for me to our Blessed Mother and loving Father.

  2. Don’t tell them to pray. Teach them to pray. It’s not enough for them to see you praying. Show them how to pray, when to pray, and the different kinds of prayers: rote prayers, off the cuff, novenas, rosaries, and how to listen for prayer intentions. 
  3. Make sure they {and you} are going to confession frequently and receiving Jesus in the Eucharist at least once a week. 
  4. (You) be in service to others. There are a lot of great ways to be in service to others. If you have little littles at home, you might have to get creative since service and herding cats children can be difficult! Consider taking a meal to a family in need, donating some clothes or baby gear you aren’t currently using, a gas card for a seminarian, or have your littles draw a nice picture for your priest. Find what works for your current state in life and go with that! Here is an article I wrote a couple of years ago on how to manage the Catholic crazy in your life. 
  5. Model that service to your children. Make sure to talk to your kids about your plans to serve others. If the task at hand is simple, ask for their input and help. Homeless bags or food donations to St. Vincent de Paul or your local food pantry are great ways to get their help and model that service to them. If you adopt a family for Christmas, try putting your kids in charge of one item to get so they have that experience, too.
  6. Find opportunities for your children to serve. As your children get older, finding them opportunities to continue what you’ve been modeling to them is really important. Volunteering and serving can be great ways to fight the urge to be selfish or entitled. Mobile Loaves & Fishes is a great one that’s local in my area, but you can also have them help sort food at the food pantry, see if any of your religious orders need help with any work, or having your older kids volunteer for VBS, altar serving, or helping with the parish youth ministry. 
  7. Teach them the importance of honoring their commitments. When they have found something they’d like to do, give them the opportunity to practice discerning their yes or no.  My oldest son – who is in his sixth year as an altar boy – has served more Sundays than not over the course of that time, which required a huge commitment from the whole family. We needed to make sure we could get to church on time so that he could serve and it was and still is a sacrifice our family continues to make. Because we homeschool, he often serves funeral Masses and has recently decided to seek out weddings to serve as well. Before he said yes to weddings, I told him to take some time to think and pray on it. I rarely ask them to give me a yes/no on the spot. They need time to process what that commitment will require from them. The flip side is that once they are committed to doing something, they know not to ask me if they can quit or stop. The time to discern is before you say yes. After that, you need to see your obligation through. 
  8. Teach them not to spread themselves too thin. And the same goes with you, too! Remember, your domestic church is important. God will never call you to service that will cause disruption in your home life or conflict with your primary vocation. 
  9. Respect their commitment schedule. They’ve prayerfully discerned what they’d like to do. Now it’s up to you to help them honor their schedule and time commitment. 

WHAT SEEMS TO BE WORKING IN YOUR FAMILY?

BONUS – here is a neat video clip of some good work being done in our community. The two kiddos, Jacob and Carol, are good friends of our oldest boy and middle girl. 🙂

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About Martina Kreitzer

Martina is a cradle Catholic, wife to Neil, and mother to seven kiddos here {and three in heaven}– 4/96-1/17. She decided to homeschool the kiddos in 2010 after many years in public schools and is currently transitioning out of homeschooling. She is the creator of Catholic Sistas which focuses on a feminine perspective of the Catholic Faith. The website was the result of an existing camaraderie by the contributors in a Catholic women’s group she created. She is also a Seal of Approval evaluator for the Catholic Writers Guild. Lest you think she spends all her time online, Martina has enjoyed getting out into the community by serving on the Pastoral Council from 2010-2013. She is constantly on the lookout to make her parish as welcoming as the small town she grew up in East Texas. This task is not easy given that St. William is the largest parish in the Austin diocese, serving well over twenty thousand parishioners. She loves Jesus, coffee, bacon, chocolate, photography, more bacon, evangelizing, and the company of those unafraid to use their sense of humor.