It's not easy, but there's something powerful that can happen when you bring your children along.
When my kids were all too young to go to confession, I hated taking them along when I went because it was stressful. For one thing — they were all small and full of energy, and keeping them still and quiet was difficult. It also meant that I couldn’t use the time in line to do a thorough examination of conscience, so I did it before I left the house, fully aware that I’d forget at least half of my sins in the bustle of wrangling kids out the door and keeping them quiet in line.
But I needed to go to confession more often than I had opportunities to go alone. Just being real here — mom life with five kids under 10 was one of the most trying seasons of my life, and it taught me just how lacking I am in pretty much all the virtues. So more often than not, the kids came along.
Every time we went, they asked the same questions. “Why do we have to go? Why can’t we go in with you?” And every time, I gave them the same answers: “We’re going to confession because I need to tell God I’m sorry, and you can’t go in with me because this is a conversation between me and God.”
Sometimes one of them would ask what I needed to say sorry for. The first few times I dodged the question, saying that it was between me and God. But one day, after a particularly difficult night when I had lost my patience, yelled at the kids, and we had all gone to bed crying, I answered them.
“I have to tell God I’m sorry for getting angry with you and yelling. It was a sin to yell instead of choosing to be calm and loving, and even though I apologized to you already, I still want to apologize to God.”
They all looked at me soberly for a few minutes. Then my 6-year-old Charlotte said, “I want to tell God I’m sorry too, because I hit my sister and lied to you.” I just stared at her for a minute, stunned a little. In the silence, her siblings began to name out loud the sins they wanted to say sorry for. One by one, they did their own examinations of conscience.
It was a beautiful moment, and I told them that what they’d done was just like confession. In fact, there was an element of the sacrament in that moment — one that they couldn’t grasp, but I saw it. Well before the age of reason they were already learning to confess freely, without fear of condemnation. And they weren’t motivated by fear, either — they were motivated by love, for God and each other.
After that day, I always took them with me when I went to confession. Before we left, we would have a conversation about the sins we had committed and why we were sorry. By the time Sienna was old enough to make her first confession, she already had years of practicing an examination of conscience under her belt, and the others followed in her footsteps.
There’s no denying it — taking young kids to confession is difficult. You should do it anyway, even if you don’t talk about your sins and they don’t talk about theirs. By taking your little ones with you to confession, you’re actively teaching them how to live a life of virtue. You’re showing them what faith, perseverance, fortitude, humility, temperance, and charity are simply by letting them see you stand in line, go into the confessional, and pray afterward. You’re setting their feet upon the road to Christ before they’re even old enough to choose that road themselves … and that should be motivation enough for all of us.