How to be Good Parents
It is not easy to be good parents today. One may go further and say that it is never easy to be such, because parenthood begets very serious obligations, and fallen human nature rather rebels against being obliged to anything.
It is good then to review the principles that underlie the obligations of parents towards their children. The fourth commandment of God reads: "Honour thy father and thy mother." Implicit in this commandment is the law that parents must rightly fulfil their obligations towards their children. To fulfil these obligations, parents must know and ponder on them often.
Principle 1. The authority of parents is a delegation of the authority of God, through which they are to direct their children first towards Heaven and secondly. towards a useful happy life in this world.
The means to achieve these ends are threefold: 1) The knowledge of God, attained through faith and reason; 2) observance of God's laws, made known through the teachings of Christ and his Church; 3) the use of prayer and the sacraments.
Principle 2. The authority of parents will never be effective unless it is exercised against the background of manifest love.
God never commands human beings without at the same time showing His infinite love for them. It was this love that inspired Him to die in the cross.
The love of parents must be manifest, so that the children will see that the same parents who command them, love them wholeheartedly. The love of parents is made manifest only through sacrifice, respect for the human nature of their children, companionship and a deep interest in their studies, the work, the play and the spiritual progress of their children.
Principle 3. The authority of parents will rarely be effectively exercised unless it is backed up by their good example.
In all moral and spiritual matters, the example of parents should be the first teacher of their children; explanations, commands, prohibitions, corrections are of little lasting value unless the good example is there.
Principle 4. The authority of parents must be exercised with full recognition of the differences of treatment required by the differences of temperament, sex and age of their children.
Every child born into the world is a distinct human personality, with its own particular disposition and temperament, with the special characteristics of its sex, and with a need for different kinds of treatment as it advances more and more toward maturity
Basic to the needs of all children, however, is that they be trained to respect the authority of their parents from their earliest years. Parents who let their children have their own way throughout childhood will never win them to obedience in later years. It is hopeless to try to direct a child toward good and to rescue it from evil by beginning to exercise authority only when the child is advancing into its teens.
At the same time each child must be looked upon as an individual boy or girl, and is subject to growth and development requiring changes of approach on the part of parents as the child advances toward greater and greater maturity.
Thus the father will be on guard against trying to deal with his daughter in the same manner as he directs his sons; and the mother will beware of trying to mould a son's character according to the same pattern as that of a daughter.
Thus both parents will study to learn the individual temperaments of their children and to direct them accordingly. They will come to realize that a moody child needs encouragement and the building up of self-confidence; an extrovert child needs discipline, order and frequent correction; a child with a tendency to want to dominate others needs praise and at the same time humility; a lazy or phlegmatic child needs frequent prods administered with patience and understanding. Despite all this no child can get along without respect for parental authority instilled at the earliest age.
As the child grows into its teens, the authority of parents gradually expresses itself more often in suggestions rather than in sharp commands. Too many parents make the mistake of commanding a fifteen year old to do things in the same manner as they would a five year old child.
Principle 5. The authority of father and mother must be mutually exercised, each contributing what is most natural to their particular role.
The mutual exercise of parental authority means that neither one will abdicate authority, nor delegate to the other the making of all decisions concerning the direction, correction and punishment of the children. By the design of nature a father leans towards justice and severity, the mother towards mercy and leniency.
Yet decisions must appear to the children as coming from both parents, the one always supporting and upholding the other when the decision has been mutually made.
Principle 6. The authority of Chdstian parents must be exercised with full recognition of the fact that false, dangerous and bad standards of conduct are approved and tolerated by many parents in the world today, and they must, therefore, band together to reject all such standards.
The good parents have to resist the mournful appeal of their children: "Other parents allow these things; why should not my parents allow them to me?" Parents are bound to use their own knowledge and experience to guide their children towards what is good and away from what is bad, no matter what popular modes of juvenile conduct may be.
A number of clear examples of what is right can be set down:
1. Recreation outside the home. Parents are bound to know 1) where their children, (including teenagers) go for recreation; 2) with whom, they go; 3) how long they will be away from home.
2. Recreation in the home. Parents have an obligation to welcome the friends of their children into their home for informal and formal gatherings, because this is the only adequate way in which they can get to know the kind of company their children keep. Further, they are obliged to chaperon and take part in such gatherings.
3. Steady company-keeping. This is lawful only when marriage is considered possible and desirable within a reasonable period of time, which may be estimated at about a year or so. The second reason is that no child can acquire a worthwhile high school or college education if it is distracted from its studies by an immature love affair.
4. Sex instruction. Parents have the prime responsibility for seeing to it that their children are not only properly informed on matters of sex, but prepared to meet the problems that will arise in this matter.
Serious thinking about these matters against the background of the principles set down above, will reveal to them what sort of programme will be the best for the eternal and temporal interests of their children.