You guys are going to love this–my hubby discovered this one night last week, as we were launching into the most recent prayer-time battle before putting the kids to bed. (You think we’d have noticed our major family prayer time always happens right before bedtime, that most delightful of times for toddlers! But no.)
So what is the one surefire way to get your kids to pray? Don’t tell them to!
I know, I know … what is this, the height of passive parenting? But hear me out. Ever since I became a Catholic — and a Christian mother — I’ve heard the question go around: How can we help our kids grow up loving Christ and the Church while they grow up in a world set against them? How can we show them the beauty of these things that our culture hates?
I have to admit, as a convert, the anxiety somewhat mystifies me. After all, I grew up planted smack-dab in the middle of that world, and I grew to love Him more than any of it. But when I look at the families of Catholics and Christians I know, and see the struggles of those that have fallen away, I recognize the importance of my job as a parent.
But, looking at my experience and those of folks I know, I’ve decided there’s one thing I need to do to guide my children toward the Lord: Get out of the way!
In so many instances, when people have been pushed away from the Church, you can see how they’re reacting against some behavior of Christians. Obviously, the person who turns away from Christ is himself to blame for his actions, but it is easy to see where a pushy mom, or a controlling dad, becomes a stumbling block to a young person.
And often, our very anxiety about our job as Christian parents becomes our biggest difficulty, which can lead us to guilt trips and excessive expectations. We feel like we need to do something when we can’t see our kids growing in prayer life as we expect them to, and when we feel that pressure we pass it on to them, and they reject it. Who wouldn’t? They can’t sort out the piety from the pressure, and they just want out.
Which leads me to Exibit A: my son. (No, not really the kid in the picture — mine’s only 3! ;)
We had been having a short family prayer in the kids’ room just before putting them to bed. Nothing fancy, no rosaries for the under-three set, but kneeling down before a picture of Jesus and Mary on their wall and telling Jesus we love Him and thanking Him for things they enjoyed that day.
Well, little Rocky, 3, usually got into it, while Rosie, 2, ran around being oblivious. But all of a sudden, Rocky slammed on the brakes. One night, as Dad turned to him and said, “What do you want to pray for?” he clammed up, and wouldn’t say anything. Next night, he was falling all over us and mooning about the room worse than the two-year-old.
So Dad and I found ourselves getting more and more pushy, surprised at this sudden shift in a kid who loved to pray so much before. “Come on, Rocky, it’s your turn to pray now.” “Okay, what do you want to say to Jesus?” “You need to thank Jesus, Rocky!” To the point where we would demand that he say something before we could officially “end” prayertime. But we felt it getting out of hand.
After about a week of this, Dad suddenly turns to me and says, “You know what? We’re putting all the pressure on him, even though it’s something he likes to do. We need to back off the pressure, and he’ll come around.”
So that night, as we knelt down for prayertime and the shenanigans started up, we said to him, “Okay, Rocky, now Mommy and Daddy are going to pray, but you don’t have to say anything. Don’t pray. Today just mommy and daddy are going to pray.” And immediately he perked up, stopped rolling around the floor and climbing under furniture, and listened to us while we prayed. It was beautiful!
The next night, he knelt down next to us as we underscored the same concept. And the next night, he interrupted us as we were saying the sign of the cross at the end of the prayer to say, “But I want to say something, too!” :)
We were so thrilled. We were so proud of him, and he could tell, and he was so proud of himself. For days after that, he had an explosion of prayer, asking that we kneel down and pray at all sorts of times, about all different things! It was amazing.
So, that’s my advice for whenever you get worried about your kids’ praying habits: consider their age, and whatever you are worried they’re not doing, back off. Take a deep breath, get out of the way, and set the example — kids are beautiful, they’ll just coming running along up behind you and keep running out beyond you! Sometimes we have to make ourselves remember, Jesus didn’t say, “And make sure to shove those crazy kids into the door of the church so they can hear about me!” He said,
“Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” — Matt 19:14
If I have any readers out there, what has been your experience? Has something like this ever happened to you?