We have created a society where children are afraid or embarrassed to ask their parents tough questions. We can either accept that/assume that it is true of our child/teen as well, or we can take steps to correct/refute it.
How did this happen anyway? When children ask questions, they are not given straight answers, either because of parental fear or confusion. Or they are not given the attention or time that they need. Questions should be answered in a straightforward fashion and not deflected in an attempt to distract the child. Doing so creates an atmosphere of distrust and leads to even more confusion. The child is led to believe either a) that his/her question is unimportant, ergo the answer is also unimportant, or b) that the parent doesn’t know what the answers are, and thus, next time that a question arises, the child should just go consult someone else. If the child goes to a trusted adult who shares the parents’ views or can provide wholesome guidance, that’s something to be thankful for. But if the child knows of no such adult, or instead goes to a peer who is at the same stage of questioning and confusion, then problems can arise.
Parents should be children’s “first line of defense” against the attacks of modernity and secularism. Divini Illius Magistri points out that we are to be the primary educators of our children. The Sacrament of Marriage itself calls us to procreation — but it doesn’t stop there — it calls us to the education of our children as well: “by its very nature the institution of marriage and married love is ordered to the procreation and education of the offspring and it is in them that it finds its crowning glory” (Gaudium et Spes)”.
Teaching our children, especially about matters of the faith and the application thereof to our/their daily lives, should not be cause for fear or consternation. We should not face such opportunities with a feeling of inadequacy. Rather we should learn to face them head on, knowing that these moments are GIFTS, and receiving them with grace and eagerness to deal with the challenge is part of God’s mandate. We should not shirk our duty. Further, we should not assume that “someone else can do a better job”. Nothing is more effective towards touching a child’s heart than a parent’s honest and heartfelt admission that we have faced the same challenges they are facing. We can provide insights on how we have been able to cope with those challenges successfully. Admissions of mistakes and failings are also most welcome here — we do not have to be infallible in the eyes of our children. But they do have to see that we have come back from making those mistakes, and made another attempt to do what’s right. That’s what integrity is about, and these days, integrity is something that children are rarely taught. That we have learned to forgive ourselves, and ask forgiveness from our God… these are additional lessons that they have to internalize also (but we’ll talk about that at another time).
As parents we know our children best (or we should). We hold their hearts in our hands, and our families are the molds by which God shapes them here on earth. With our help they can become the vessels God wants them to be for His heavenly Kingdom.
If we are feeling inadequate, we should then endeavor to arm ourselves, so that we are ready for battle at a moment’s notice. Educating ourselves in God’s Word and the teachings of the Church is key. This is the only way we can outfit our “knights” for the spiritual struggles they are sure to face, if not today then someday soon. The teachings of the Church are such that they provide CLARITY in a morally relativistic world, where everything is permissible and it is no longer politically correct to call any action a “sin”. Lessons in black and white are much needed — they give our children the strength to stay out of the gray. When given early and charitably, our children have time to process and digest them before they are called to apply them. Expecting them to jump from information to application before they’ve had the chance to mull these things is unfair — but again, that’s fodder for another discussion at a later time.
Some practical tips for answering those tough questions:
1. Begin with a prayer to the Holy Spirit and Mother Mary to guide our minds and hearts and give us the right words.
2. If you know the topic beforehand, find a few Bible passages and CCC topics to help you out. If you have a parent resource such as a help forum like this, browse through some of the answers from wise parents who have been there before.
3. Keep foremost in mind that the goal is to assure the child of our love and our commitment to their well-being, both here on earth and beyond. Doing this will help us to LISTEN not only with our ears and our brains but also with our hearts.
4. Speak from the heart — our children are smart people…. they can figure out when wisdom is borne out of experience, or just pretend, a put-on to impress them.
To be honest I am much more nervous about answering questions like “why is the sky blue?” — because if I make a mistake there my children will forever mistrust my scientific knowledge. There is nothing more reassuring to a child than hearing their parent say “I don’t know, but together we can find out.” I tell my children all the time that I am just another learner, learning alongside them, and that God is not through with me. I even tell my oldest child that she’s our guinea pig and we’re feeling our way through things as well… which means they need to be patient with us too. That message is received more gratefully than scornfully. It helps 🙂