Put down the finger puppets. Trying to make prayer fun sends the wrong message ...
Help! My kids don’t enjoy praying. They get bored with the rosary, bored at Mass, bored out of their minds during adoration. All I want is to pray together as a family without all the fidgeting and whining. How can I make prayer time more fun?
Dear Playful Pray-er,
You can’t. Next question.
Even I get bored praying the rosary sometimes. Prayer is tough, even chore-like, for adults, so imagine what your kids are going through. I suggest having age-appropriate expectations.
Using the chore analogy — why do we give our kids chores? Because we are sadistic and enjoy their misery? Free child labor? We find their whines pleasing to the ear?
OK, maybe a little.
No, we give our kids chores because it teaches them responsibility. It teaches them that they are functioning members of a family and have a purpose. Get rid of the notion that chores are bad. Now get rid of the notion that prayer needs to be fun.
Trying to make prayer fun sends the wrong message — that only entertaining or interesting things are things worth doing. Also, that prayer is only useful as long as we are getting something out of it, that something in this instance is fun.
Not that we don’t get anything out of prayer. Some rewards of prayer are grace, comfort, and spiritual growth. But that’s not the only reason we pray, to get something in return.
We also pray to give God thanks and express our love to him, whether we feel like it or not. That’s the key. As parents do we not do that much for our kids — foregoing our own sleep to stay up with a sick child? Not because lack of sleep is fun, but because we love our kids. We suck it up and get the job done.
Instead of trying to make prayer fun and less of a “chore” we should be teaching kids the importance of praying even when we don’t feel like it. Spiritual perseverance is a real thing.
If Mother Teresa could experience a Dark Night, then what exactly makes you think your or your children will ever be immune to spiritual boredom and chore-like prayer?
I know as a parent you worry that unless you make prayer fun your children will associate it with unpleasantness and grow up to avoid it all costs. It’s a legitimate concern. But just because you know someone who knows someone whose kid went to parochial school all their life and was forced to go to church and now wears black lipstick and listens to Slayer in textbook rebellion doesn’t mean your kids will too.
Let me ask you something: As a parent is prayer always pleasant for you? And have you left the Church and abandoned your faith yet? Are your kids quitters? Do your kids have a tendency to quit everything the minute things get unpleasant?
No? I didn’t think so. Then forget about it. Put down the apostle puppets and quit trying so hard.
Just pray together. That’s it. Nothing fancy. No crafts required. No thick books full of footnotes and ribbons. Just pray, and practice your faith. Go to adoration at least once a week (even if it’s just for 5 minutes). Start a First Friday or First Saturday tradition. Go as a family to confession monthly. Have a weekly rosary, if daily is too much — and maybe just a decade at a pop, to start — but pray daily, as a family, even if it’s just grace before each meal and before bedtime to start. You can also say a quick prayer for the dead with your kids every time you drive past a cemetery or pray for emergency responders and the people they are helping when an emergency vehicle goes by. Little things build big faith.
The point is this: openly live your Catholicism. And if the kids moan and wail, let them. Your only duty is to make sure your kids are spiritually fed; you’re not required to make them enjoy it.
What kids do you know love their veggies? Did you feed them candy for dinner instead because it was fun and easy? You see where I am going with this.
To recap, chores aren’t bad. Chores teach things like responsibility. Chores help kids define what is important within the context of family and home. We create chores for tasks that are important and to better manage the household.
So if you can make time to delegate chores and make sure important tasks get down, then why not place the same importance on prayer? Make sure it gets done, not matter what. This will teach your kids that prayer is just as important to a functioning household as doing dishes and laundry.
I know none of this sound exciting, but again, what makes you think prayer has to be exciting all the time? Prayer is not about how we feel, it’s how we feel about God.
And if you, the parent, struggle with a dry spell in your own prayer life don’t hide it away from your kids. Let them see this struggle. Explain to them it’s the natural ebb and flow of spirituality. Show them, through your own perseverance, that you place prayer above all else in your life — above convenience, comfort and feelings. Just keep praying.
[Editor’s Note: See Also The power of childhood prayer]
Katrina Fernandez has a PhD in being single, and a master’s in single parenting with a concentration in Catholic guilt. She’s been writing about these and other life-survival topics for more than a decade. Submit all questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.