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Teaching the faith the old fashioned way: By imperfect example

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Our parents didn't have Pinterest and websites to make them feel inadequate; they just taught the faith they knew.

Dear Katrina,

How do you go about teaching little ones about the faith? I feel like most Bible stories will go right over my toddler’s head, yet at the same time I really don’t like the watered-down, over-simplified Bible stories that are typically aimed at small children. Should I just focus on teaching the basics like prayers, the commandments, virtues, and some simpler Bible stories? I’m worried about too much too soon, but also worried about not doing enough.

Karissa

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Dear Karissa,

I think the temptation to do everything perfect weighs heavy on new parents, and that it chips away at our confidence until we mistrust our innate parenting instincts. Ultimately we know what is best for our own children, but there is always that nagging sense of doubt that comes with seeking out perfection. You worry about doing too much but not enough because you want to do it right.

Being a parent means letting that idea of rightness and perfection go. You are going to mess up. You are going to do things wrong. And that is 100 percent okay..

I think of my Catholic great-grandparents and how they didn’t have to buy a ton of children’s Bibles and kiddy catechism books, or research Amazon reviews and scour mommy forums to find the best Catholic educational series, and I think it made it easier for them to trust their instincts. There wasn’t this competitive need to have Pinterest-worthy Advent crafts, yet they some how managed to miraculously raise Catholic children.

How do you go about teaching little ones the faith? Start by not overthinking it, and follow that with openly living your faith. Young children will model the behavior they see at home. You don’t need to stress over which Bible story is age-appropriate. Just be Catholic with your toddler.  

When my son was four years old, I decded that every evening after dinner I would pray the Rosary. My son would play at my feet with his Hot Wheels on the living room floor. Each night I would bring out his wooden rosary beads and put them on the coffee table as an invitation, and just leave them there. Eventually, I’d only get a decade or two in before my son would ask “Whatcha doing? Why? Tell me about Mary? What’s a mystery? Does the Rosary make you happy?”

Sometimes he would pick his rosay up and pray along. Sometimes he would pray along while never looking up from his toy cars, and sometimes I’d get no reaction from him at all. But I was still teaching.

And he was still learning. In fact, that’s how my son learned the basic prayers — from listening to me. He learned the dinner time prayers and the prayers for the evening through the repetition of incorporating them into our daily routine.  

Pray the prayers you love and let your children know why you love them. Tell the Bible stories you love, and that love will bring them to life for your kids.

I use to worry, too. I worried when I couldn’t afford a subscription to Magnifikid. I worried that I wasn’t doing enough, compared to those moms on popular Catholic parenting blogs and in forums. I felt like a miserable failure when I set the Christmas dinner table on fire with the Advent wreath (true story).

And then one day I looked up and saw my teenage son kneeling in adoration and realized, despite it all, everything worked out. Not by needless worry, not by doing everything perfectly, and if I am being honest, not even by my own doing.

There are so many factors at play in the formation of a child’s faith – God, parents, the church, and the graces from the sacraments. But in the end I’ve often found the best lesson in faith is showing your kids that you have some.

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