Today, family life faces many serious challenges that can undermine the vocation of spouses and deflate a child’s development into an attentive and thoughtful young adult. Over the last several years, I have been struck by the number of authors who have offered reflections and guidance for the formation of the family and what we can refer to as intentional parenting for child development.
Today’s hectic pace often crams the week with hard choices as to what needs to take priority in the family’s schedule. In this reflection, I would like to offer a model by which a family’s formative experience can be strengthened when an adult intentionally parents his or her child by making seven choices that seek a particular end in the child’s development. In fact, when a family actively makes these life choices, children tend, on average, to perform better in school, achieve more in their education, develop broader interests, better accept weaknesses in others and avoid addiction issues and teen pregnancy.
First, a parent needs to choose to have dinner as a family as many days as possible. Sitting down together has profound cultural and ethnic repercussions in children’s development and perception of what the home means to them. Of course, there are days that are exceptions, but those must remain and feel like exceptions.
Second, the choice to belong to a parish and practice the faith regularly has long-term positive effects. Some research indicates that weekly attendance at church is among the strongest forces in child development, especially when both parents attend. In general, living out one’s faith as a family directly correlates with a child’s later sense of self-worth and ability to avoid drug abuse and teen pregnancy. It is invaluable for young people to learn with their parents that God loves them unconditionally in good times and in bad.
Third, a parent can make a big difference by choosing every night to review a child’s homework. This daily time together not only will strengthen a child as a student, but afford the parent a daily time to be together free of other concerns. Here, children learn that they are a priority because you care about their work, achievements and struggles.
Fourth, a parent must demand that a child shares the truth of his or her day and relationships. This is a very important aspect of the parent-child relationship. Without truth-telling, the parent-child relationship will not develop an authentic and lasting trust. As the child grows and later faces the harder decisions adolescence and young adulthood bring, this truth-based trust will be a bond in the family.
The value a family places on truth in the home is very much tied to parents’ personal growth in the sacrament of penance and reconciliation. If parents practice personal acceptance and deepen their faith through the sacraments, they naturally grow and facilitate truth and trust in the home. Related to truth-based trust is prudence: parents’ keeping adult conversations between themselves as spouses.
Fifth, every year, a family needs to schedule a vacation away from home that makes the child’s recreation the priority. This doesn’t mean you need to spend a lot of money renting a vacation property or staying at a resort. The vacation lets the child know that he or she is the priority in a special way. No cell phones, business contacts or Blackberries should go along for the ride – this is the family’s time to invest in its relationships. What wonderful memories childhood vacations can make, no matter what the destination.
Sixth, in many cases, a child benefits when a parent actively helps him or her to establish a balanced schedule that allows for a team sport, personal hobby or artistic or musical talent. Time and again, research has shown the great value in a child’s personal growth when he or she develops the varied skills associated with sports, hobbies and music. Developing these skills helps to foster a healthier sense of self-worth that translates into greater achievements in life.
Seventh, a parent needs to choose to require social skills and proper manners of their child, in the house, at school and in life. As difficult as this can be in today’s fast-paced culture with little appreciation for social convention, a child who is required to be accountable for his or her speech and actions will develop a great respect for others and learn to take responsibility for himself or herself in any situation.
These seven parental choices to intentionally parent a child lead to a child’s greater appreciation and development of self, family and community. In turn, these parental choices naturally lead to better life choices by the child. All parents need to remember that they can choose to invest in their child’s development and assist him or her in avoiding the bad choices that every young person is faced with today.
Our children are the future, and they will get there better prepared with their parents’ intentional choices.
Father Hinkley is the pastor of Blessed Sacrament Parish and the Shrine of Saint Anne for Mothers, both in Waterbury.