I am a strong believer in the principle that children learn more from their parents’ actions than from their parents’ words. It’s a principle that I call “show-don’t-tell, Catholic parenting.” Last year I had an experience that drove home the truth of this principle. On the way to a high school football game, I had to drive through an unfamiliar region of Southern Massachusetts. With directions in hand, I approached a busy, five-way intersection and took a guess as to in which lane I should be in order to go straight. I guessed incorrectly and ended up in a left-turn-only lane. I stayed in the wrong lane with my blinker on and readied myself to jump the green light and get in the correct lane. I accomplished this feat successfully and endured only a few outraged honks.
Truthfully, it was such a minor happening in the big picture of my life that I forgot about it as soon as it was over. Then one day, about six months later, I was driving a carpool when one of the teens in the car mentioned seeing me at that football game.
“Oh,” I said to this teenaged friend, “I don’t remember seeing you there.”
“No,” this friend answered, “I drove with a different friend, but we got lost because of you.”
“What?” I quipped back, not sure how this could be true.
“Well,” this friend began, “the friend who gave me a ride did not have very good directions, but on the way there I saw your car and told her to follow you because you would know the way. But, when we got to that big intersection, you remember, the one with the five different streets? Well, we had to turn left when you cut off those cars and went straight. It was pretty dark by the time we found our way back to the game.”
“We remember that!” my own children chimed in as bells started ringing in my head, and I humbly said, “Ah, yes. That intersection. Now I remember.”
I hadn’t meant to mislead these teens. I was more than 50 miles from home and not even aware that they were following me! But they were, and they got lost because of me. After apologizing to this friend, three principles of show-don’t-tell, Catholic parenting were embossed on my mind: 1) Even when we don’t know it, our children – and perhaps their friends – are watching us. 2) Even if we are miles away from home, alone, or unseen, there is no such thing as taking a vacation from being Catholic. 3) Most importantly, and much more significant than showing them the way to a football game, our children are depending on us to show, not just to tell, them the way to our Father in heaven.
In John 14:6-9 Jesus tells his disciples about the way to the Father, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. …Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” Like Jesus with his disciples, it is through us that our children first come to know what God is like.
Without a doubt, show-don’t-tell, Catholic parenting is an enormous undertaking. We need God’s help to do it. With God’s help we can begin to see that how we talk to one another, what we watch on TV or at the movies, how we use the Internet, and who we associate with when we are not at home; all of these things affect who we are and how clearly or how faintly God’s face is seen through our own. With God’s help, we must strive to be people of integrity. We must strive to behave in the same way when we are away from our families as we do when we are with them. And, yes, even when we are driving, we must show ourselves to be truly Catholic.
Article reprinted from “Homegrown Faith, Nurturing Your Catholic Family” by Heidi Bratton, published by Servant Books.
Copyright 2015 Heidi Bratton
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