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Raising a Holy Family

The importance of being engaged in family life is key to raising a holy family.  Our goal as parents should be to raise saints, also known as holy people, that will one day make it to heaven.  On a more practical/secular level, we want to raise children that make good moral decisions, make good grades, and lead successful lives.  Like it or not, we as parents are the people who have the most influence over our children.  No one can take the place of a child’s parents, even in cases where, through no fault of their own, one or more parent is no longer involved in a child’s life, the effects on that child are indisputable.untitled-42
The task of raising well balanced, holy children is not complicated, but it does require a lot of hard work.  Through prayer, play, and being engaged in the life of our children, we will be more successful, guaranteed.  During one of our family retreats, Michael Gormley spoke eloquently about the importance and mechanics of family prayer, and I agree that personal and family prayer is an essential ingredient in raising saints.  Family play is also a key component in this quest, but even if you pray all the time for your kids, lead them in a daily rosary, and play games with them from time to time, unless you really participate and engage in their lives, you will fail to reach your goal.


I asked a priest friend of mine who was recently a campus minister at a university what it was like after being an associate at a large urban parish.  He said it was easy ministering to college students because it was simply a ministry of presence.  If you knew this priest you would understand why he considered this an easy job.  He is one of the most personable, friendly people I know.  He really cares about everyone to which he ministers.  He is laid back and has no problem giving a gratuitous amount of time to an individual.  He truly lives in the present and doesn’t appear to be overly concerned about the future.
FFD-45I was struck by this idea of a ministry of presence.  I immediately thought about the advice we give to families about how to raise a holy family.  Youth ministry and college ministry are just an extension of what should have already been started within the family.  The family should be a place of prayer, a place of joy and a place of community.  It is within this aspect of community that this ministry of presence falls.  Our children are usually people that we created with the help of God, they are the most like us of anyone in the world. We should love them more than anyone else after God and our spouse.  This is where our families model the love of God represented in the Holy Trinity.
This ministry of presence is simple to explain, but extremely difficult to actually do.  If you want to know how to do it, watch a young child.  They only care about being with you, if they are putting a puzzle together, they want you to watch them; if they are reading the same book for the 10th time, they don’t care, as long as you are reading it to them and giving your time to them.  While it is easy to see this ministry of presence at work in our younger children, it really doesn’t change in our older children, they still desire our time and our interest.  The difference is that they realize that they may be rejected if they ask for it.  Little children trust you completely and they will ask for things without worrying about being told no.  But teenagers and young adults know that rejection is a real possibility and so they tread lightly and if they perceive that you may reject their request for your presence, they may not take the risk.

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Our teenagers and young adults are looking for acceptance, they are looking for mentors, they are looking for friendship.  There is no one better to meet these needs than someone who has known them for their whole lives, who is made up of the same DNA, who looks similar, who has a similar worldview and loves them unconditionally.  The challenge for us as parents is to make the time to be present to them when they need us.  In our family this often results in less sleep due to early mornings with the little ones, FFD-44-2and late nights with the older ones.  It involves being interested in things that are not high on our list of interests, talking through decisions that would be easy for us but difficult for our children, and it involves giving of our precious time in a scandalously gratuitous way.  Our time is valuable. Our sleep is valuable. Do we value our relationship with our children more than these?  This doesn’t mean that we have to entertain every request for attention, but we may need to give until it hurts initially to build up a level of trust and prove that we really care about our children.  Our children are a precious gift from God, one that cannot be replaced, they are entrusted to us for a short time, before we know it they will be on their own, giving generously to their spouse and to their children, hopefully we have given them a good example.

What are the main obstacles to being present to our children? Being too busy, even with good things like volunteerism or excessive work commitments, TV, Internet, Social Media, and keeping your kids too busy with outside activities that take them away from spending time with you and the family. We don’t always need to be busy; being too busy makes it hard to give your time to your children, because you have less time to give and when your children are too busy as well, your relationship suffers.
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Swing Dancing until 4 AM

A family that plays together… has a lot of fun.  Remember when your kids were young, under age six or so?  Did you play with them, read books to them, spend time with them just doing random things that made them smile and laugh? Fast forward to the adolescent years, how do we continue to cultivate a solid relationship with our teens?  Unfortunately for many families, as our children enter young adulthood, we lose touch with them and gradually grow apart.  But it doesn’t have to be this way, we can use family play to maintain and even deepen our relationships with our older children, here is how we do it.

Playing Away from Home

Screen Shot 2013-11-25 at 10.04.39 PMThis past weekend, my wife and I attended the Austin Lindy Exchange  (ALX) with our older children (14, 15, 17 and 20).  The annual ALX is a 4 day dancing event that includes live music, swing dancing (Lindy Hop), midnight snacks, and dancing until near dawn.  My wife and I really like to dance, and swing dancing is a lot of fun, but I am not sure this is something we would have done if we didn’t have older children who also wanted to attend.  The real fun for us was spending time with our children, dancing a few dances with them and watching them have a great time socializing with some other very nice swing dancers.  Our children have learned to love dancing as much as we do.  Our oldest has been going to dances regularly over the past few years and it was really fun to see how much she has improved and dare I say, I believe my daughter is a  better dancer than I am!  We have also been known to travel just to find a family friendly dance such as polka dancing at the Shiner Catholic Church Picnic, Cajun dancing in Louisiana or live music at county fairs.

Playing at Home

We regularly do less strenuous activities, like  playing card games, dominoes, farkle or board games.  We don’t limit our play to just our children, we love having their friends join us too.  We are not trying to be their best friends, we are still their parents, but that doesn’t prevent us from enjoying each other’s company in a social setting, many of our kid’s friends at ALX know us and more than one person came up to us and said how wonderful it was that we were there with our family.

Why play?

Playing games together is a very powerful way to bond with someone.  On the surface playing games provides an opportunity to be together and interact with other people all around the common set of rules that constitute a given game.  On a deeper level, when we play with others, for a moment, we are on the same level, even if that person is a bit older or younger, partaking in a game changes the normal rules of life and takes us into an alternate environment where everyone has an equal chance to win.  When we play with someone, we are saying that we like to spend time with them, that we enjoy their company, that we share similar interests and that we can have fun together regardless of differences in age, physical or mental abilities, or interests.

What to play?

DominosThe choice of the play activity is pretty important, as I mentioned previously, for little kids it is pretty easy to pick an activity, but as our children grow up we have to become more creative.  Some families might enjoy playing sports together, making music or even role playing games.  The idea is to find something that we can all participate in and enjoy.  Some things we do with the entire family and other times we subdivide the children and do things with just the younger kids or just the older ones.  We like swimming together as well as biking and hiking.  The goal is to create lasting memories of being together to build the bonds of trust and leave open the lines of communication.  The time invested in the relationship with your children will prove to be very helpful when life gets hard and they need someone to talk to.  We as parents want our children to believe we are there for them and playing with them helps to communicate that message.

A Family that Plays together….

My wife and I have nine children ranging in age from 4 to 20.  We still play with all of them, it is one of our secrets to having a happy family with good kids.  It is not enough to feed, clothe, discipline, and transport them, we also need to get to know them, their likes and dislikes, their sorrows and their joys.  We need to cultivate a healthy community life within our family, which includes recreation.  I posted a picture on Facebook from the dance and added the comment, “A Family that Play together …” and received a comment from a friend finishing the thought with “parties together”, and this is true, but it got me thinking about how I would complete the sentence.  A Family that plays together stays together, has fun together, and loves each other.

What do you think?  Is family play an important part of your family life?  Do you find family play more important in the early years or the adolescent years?  What challenges prevent you from playing with your children?