“Parents are the primary educators in the faith. Together with them, especially in certain cultures, all members of the family play an active part in the education of the younger members.” –General Directory 255
Recently, I was at a local park babysitting a sweet little four-year-old. We were busy finding leaves when I noticed a young child enjoying the slide with his father nearby. The father was on the phone and didn’t notice that his son made it to the bottom of the slide and took off running into the parking lot. The dad was quickly alerted by another parent, and all was well.
While I was troubled by the lack of attention given to the small child in this situation, the incident caused me to think about all the things children need from their parents: attention, understanding, patience, care, nourishment, and faith formation. As parish leaders, we can help parents provide each of these within their family life. Integrating spiritual practices into the home and extended family helps the children, parents, and other family members to become stronger in their faith.
It is a blessing for every family and extended family to enjoy time together, make family memories, and embrace spiritual practices. Here are some ways that your parish community can help families do that in the upcoming Advent season:
Meal Prayers: This allows a family to pause and give thanks for what is before them. Create prayer cards with the prayers for grace before and after meals, or have space for families to write their own. Invite them to use the prayer card every day for a week. Consider having families keep a log of when they use the prayer card. You can even host a raffle with a food-themed prize for families who turn in their log.
Nighttime Prayer: A blessing ritual is an endearing and powerful tradition to establish. A parent can trace a cross on a child’s forehead accompanied by a prayer and then the child can in turn bless the parent by tracing a cross. Knowing some parents may not be comfortable doing this at first, provide a step-by-step guide that families can easily use with pictures so that children can follow along.
Get Creative: Helping families to get in the habit of praying for others can be done with crafts. Provide the materials for families to make a construction paper Advent Chain, writing a different person or family’s name on each link. You can also give them a list of prompts of people they may want to include on the links, such as relatives, neighbors, classmates, co-workers, those in other countries, those discerning vocations, or those in the RCIA program at your parish. Each day, the designated person or family is lifted up in prayer and then the construction paper link is torn off of the chain. When there is only one link left, it is the day before Christmas.
Quality Time: Spending time together helps families get to know one another better, share about their week, and be vulnerable. Often, preparations for Christmas become very hectic and full of anxiety. A family practice could be taking a break, sitting together and listening to a song, reading a story, or playing a game together. Your parish could provide a suggested list of songs that can help families enter into the Advent season. Link a playlist to your parish website via sites like Spotify so that families can easily utilize it. If space allows, consider having a lending library where people can borrow board games and decks of cards to play at home.
Advent Wreath: An Advent wreath in the home is a wonderful way to prepare the way to welcome Christ at Christmas. The four candles are a visual reminder that Christ is the Light of the Word and we share in that light. As each week a candle is lit, it anticipates the closeness of the arrival of Christmas—the celebration of the birth of Jesus. As a parish, provide a blessing of Advent wreaths for families. Consider having candles for purchase in the parish office or provide material to make simple homemade Advent wreaths. Share prayers families can use around the Advent wreath and tips on how to include the whole family.
Matthew Kelly stated in The Thing About Fathers, “There is a mantra that dominates the cultural landscape today: ‘I don’t feel heard. I don’t feel seen! I don’t feel known.’” Let’s save our children from this fate by spending time with them in ways that allow them to know, now and forever, that they are seen, heard, loved, and valued beyond anything.”
All of these practices make it possible to influence children in a positive, faith-filled way. Advent is an excellent time for parents to introduce new faith practices or deepen already existing ones. Your parish can help empower parents to witness to their children through their daily actions and interactions.