Over the last two years, as I've studied and prepared for this new job, an unseen statement floated around education courses about respecting the parents of your students. Statements like "they know them best" were stated but what was left out was the clearly stated: "Parents are their children's first teachers."
The Catholic Church knows and recognizes this and has so much so that is a part of the Catechist. The kind-hearted volunteers who run parish youth groups and schools of religion are secondary to the parents, who are assumed to have taught their children about their faith from an early age. The greater education system also is taught to respect the critical role parents play in their child's education; moms and dads were the first to read their child a story or help them learn to tie their shoes. It is one of the joys of parenting.
But what does that mean for us as parents?
Although your children will spend more time with their teachers than with you as they grow older, you were and always will be their first. Your words and actions start teaching from day one. By modeling, you show your child what good, reverent worship looks like on Sundays. With correction and redirection, you help your little one learn how to respond appropriately when they feel frustrated, angry, or upset. Their little eyes are on you from the very beginning, which is why my son already knows to brush his hair and teeth. He also growls fiercely when frustrated, just like his mama (oops...)
We forget sometimes how big of a role we actually play. We aren't just the preparer or meals or tucker-iner at night. We are their teachers. We educate and guide them on how to handle daily life. Daniel Tiger has some great life lessons but what will stick is how you react and respond. What you do (or don't) each day.
It is important to remember during these critical times that just like family values, our faith and church values are formed first at home.
Par mindful of the role the Church (and society) inherently knows is not always easy but it is necessary to raise the best generation of Catholics our Church has ever seen. And that is exactly what is needed now, more than ever: a generation of young Catholics who will not compromise the integrity of their faith, who will strive to redeem their community of faith in the eyes of God and man, and who choose Christ above all else again and again.
We can blame the Church all we want; we can shake our heads and fists at the men who feigned piety, seeking earthly treasure. However, if we want real change, it must begin in the home, with the parents who are the first and more formative teachers of their young Christians.
It feels like there are a hundred different methods to parenting, are with their own name and brand. Gentle, Secure, Attachment, Wilderness, Free Range, Great Depression (I'll admit I made up the last one or two but you get the picture). And there are some parenting techniques that discourage a parent from telling their child "No!". And though there are many who would scoff at that, "You have to be able to tell your child no!", I think there is something to be said about the difference between a child needing redirection and child needing to be told no.
Raising your voice to tell your 1-year-old no is as effective as asking your dog why he wants to chase the squirrel on the other side of the fence. Although your little one may understand your tone or intensity, they don't truly understand what you're asking of them. No, what? Crawling, sitting, pulling up, getting out the pots and pans, sticking something in the outlet, unrolling the toilet paper, eating the dirt found on the floor... All of these things are normal, positive things for an inquisitive kiddo to do and try. I'll admit, you don't want them to do these things, but in their world, it is all about discovery through their senses. They have no bad intent, they're just exploring!
However, a firm "no" or "no, thank you" has its place as well. Standing in the bathtub, pulling the dog's tail, biting (I'm so tired of the biting...) all receive a firm no. These are all behaviors that are not acceptable and are likely to lead to an injury for him (or me, this biting guys, I'm serious, it hurts!).
So, what do you do when the little guy isn't being bad but is in a space or doing something you would prefer not happen?
Redirect. Just like in the classroom when students are sidetracked but still being well-behaved, you steer the group back to the desired area of focus. When the cupboard under the sink is being ransacked, I offer the tub of bath toys. When he finds a particularly tasty shoe, I trade the shoe for a teething toy. And when the rubber ducky is ideal for sucking water out of, its time for his cup. None of these behaviors are negative or wrong; there's no reason to reprimand a baby for doing exactly what he is supposed to be doing. But there are better toys and outlets for his curiosity than the dirty laundry hamper or his dad's golf bag.
There are so many different ways to parent and when it's all said and done, what really matters is that you can consistently care for your child confidently. If "no" works best for you, by all means, use it! But I want to encourage you to be intentional with your reprimands and be mindful of your child's intent. Your little miscreant may not have a negative intention, only the joy of playing with something new in mind. Parenthood isn't easy but there is no need to sweat the small things! Let your kid be a kid and save the "No!" for when they're really in danger. Saving a firm "no" for certain things makes it more powerful for when you really need it, i.e.: running out into the street, putting something dangerous in their mouth, etc.
Whether you say "no" a hundred times a day or you intend to say it less, you're doing a good job keeping them alive, cared for, and loved. Here's to you, Mama, you're doing the best you can and that's all we can ever do!
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