What is involved in raising children?
Simply put, parenting is the process of promoting the development of children and guiding them into adulthood. But in order for children to reach such a level of fully formed development, more is required than a basic provision of material goods. Parenting requires attention to a number of facets of human development, thereby making parents "the first and most important educators of their own children" (Pope Bl. John Paul II, Letter to Families). A child's comprehensive human development includes growth in the following areas:
The physical care of a child is the most fundamental aspect of child rearing, one which makes subsistence possible. This requires adequate provision of shelter and nourishment, but also the provision of proper medical care and physical activity.
Children require signs of affection in order to develop a healthy sense of self-esteem and relationships with others. Parents encourage children’s emotional health by providing a peaceful living environment built upon a healthy marital relationship and a positive interaction with each child.
Children’s first experience of community living is the family. Parents foment this aspect of child development through the application of rules and procedures meant to instill discipline and a well-ordered respect for proper authority within the child. They also do this by encouraging their children to engage in healthy extra-familial interaction with different individuals and in different settings – extended family, friends, school, church, etc. This makes the child’s successful integration into greater society possible.
Many educational options exist for children. Families, given their particular circumstances, can opt among public school, private school, parochial school, or homeschooling. Regardless of the option, parents should take great care in ensuring that children are acquiring the knowledge and skills they need to become contributing members of society. Parents should also be mindful of children’s cultural formation and awareness.
Parents are the primary influencers of a child’s spirituality (or lack thereof). Through their example, parents can initiate children in the practice and knowledge of religion, and instill in them a genuine love for it.
All in all, the parent-child relationship constitutes the "civilization of love" that families are called to exemplify. Raising a child is an act of selflessness and partnership on the part of the parents, as together they outpour their love for their children. For this reason, John Paul II called parenthood a "genuine apostolate" and "a living means of communication, which not only creates a profound relationship between the educator and the one being educated, but also makes them both sharers in truth and love, that final goal to which everyone is called by God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit" (Letter to Families, 16).