No matter where you looked, you couldn't miss the nervous looks on parents' faces all over the room. Nearly 100 of us gathered in the church basement for the first session to help our 7-year-olds prepare for their First Reconciliation.
On this particular Saturday morning we were handed a textbook for parents as well as for kids. A priest, a nun, and a trained director of religious education stood before us. We could tell, once our kids were sent away, that they were going to ask us questions. Uh-oh. It began to feel like eighth-grade catechism class all over again, waiting to get drilled by the bishop on our Confirmation day.
Luckily they didn't quiz us about the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit or the corporal works of mercy. Instead we heard about being our children's "first and best teachers," the ones who would teach them more about the sacrament of Reconciliation than anyone else ever could.
Nervous looks again. You could see what a lot of parents were thinking: "Who, me? I don't know all that religious stuff." Or "I barely have time to do the laundry and get dinner going, let alone sit down with a textbook." Or "I'm not exactly a saint, you know. I want my kids to learn from someone holier than I am."
But the more we heard the more we began to get the point. The truth is, kids learn most of their ways from us. Even the most rebellious teen, in the long run, takes her lead from her parents. Some of the most basic lessons in life--what forgiveness and kindness look like, how to be honest without hurting feelings--are really "caught" by children rather than being formally taught by parents. Here are some ways your children can catch their most important spiritual lessons from you.
One thing our kids catch from us is attitude. Maybe it's genetics, the food we eat, or the late nights we keep, but a parent who's a grump is bound to have at least one little grouser in the house. Likewise, the parent who can find humor or hope in sticky situations usually has a child who is optimistic. Most of us are a mix of both.
Encouraging positive attitudes, however, creates household harmony by keeping whining and bickering at bay. Positive attitudes also hold great power to influence how we respond to our neighbors, our church, and our world--areas of our life that, according to Jesus, beg for a Christian reaction from us.
Parents can help their kids be positive, and positively spiritual, when they:
* Encourage attitudes that are especially Christian. Probably the best-known list of Christian attitudes can be found in 1 Corinthians 13, in St. Paul's description of real love: patience, kindness, hopefulness, and mercy, among others. Look them up in your Bible or at www.biblegateway.com. Maybe even post them on the fridge.
Specific saints, too, are known to champion certain attitudes. St. Francis de Sales liked to emphasize gentleness: "When you encounter difficulties and contradictions, do not try to break them but bend them with gentleness and time," he wrote. And, "Have patience with all things, but chiefly have patience with yourself. Do not lose courage in considering your own imperfections but instantly set about remedying them. Every day begin the task anew." Mother Teresa talked a lot about joy. St. Therese of Lisieux was good at finding gratefulness in everyday tasks.
* Cultivate an attitude of forgiveness. Many consider forgiveness to be uniquely Christian. Jesus was a religious pioneer in emphasizing the need to forgive. When negative attitudes get the best of us--when we say vicious things about people or snap at our children when something else is bothering us--our kids need to hear us ask for forgiveness. They also need to know that Mom and Dad are generous with forgiveness and mercy when children, in turn, make mistakes.
* Put attitude in its place. While attitude is important, it's not the final judge of how we act. …