While becoming a parent is “one of life’s greatest joys,” says Pope Francis, parents need “networks of support” to help them be “better prepared and, above all, not to feel abandoned or discouraged.”
The Pope said this November 11 when meeting in the Vatican with the European Parents’ Association (EPA).
The Holy Father recognized that parents often find themselves with “educational responsibilities for which they have little preparation.”
We can think, for example, of the need to give children loving care while at the same time helping them to grow into maturity and independence; or helping them to acquire sound habits and healthy lifestyles while being sensitive to their individual personalities and gifts, and not imposing our own expectations. Similarly, helping them to adjust to school and to develop a positive approach to affectivity and sexuality, while at the same time protecting them from threats such as bullying, alcohol, tobacco use, pornography, violent video games, gambling, drugs and so forth.
That’s why parents need networks of support, he affirmed. And this is especially true because the “educational mission of parents is certainly not encouraged by today’s cultural context, at least in Europe, marked as it is by ethical subjectivism and practical materialism.”
“The dignity of the human person, while constantly affirmed, at times is not respected,” he noted. And the cultural environment that kids “absorb from the media” is “often at odds with what, until a few decades ago, was considered ‘normal’ but is no longer the case.”
Parents thus find themselves constantly having to show their children the goodness and reasonableness of choices and values that can no longer be taken for granted, such as the importance of marriage and the family, or the decision to accept children as a gift from God. This is no easy task, since these are values that can only be passed on by the witness of life!
Support and encouragement is a constant necessity in such an environment, the Pope said.
But there’s good news
Raising children, though, has a strong starting point: the human nature that God has created. The “yearnings of the human heart are powerful allies of every educator,” he said.
“To raise children is to teach them what it means to be fully human,” the Pope explained.
The culture all around us may change, but the needs of the human heart remain the same, and eventually this is seen to be true, even in the lives of children. That must always be our starting point. God himself has planted in our nature an irrepressible need for love, truth and beauty, an openness to others in healthy relationships and an openness to himself as our Creator. These yearnings of the human heart are powerful allies of every educator. If children are helped to recognize them and to be sensitive to them, they will have no difficulty seeing the goodness and value of the example their parents set.
Education is a success when “children come to realize the beauty of life in this world and grow confident and enthused about the prospect of embarking on the adventure of life, convinced that they too have a mission to carry out.”
And this implies the “deeper realization of God’s immense love for us.”
When we realize that at the root of our being is the love of God our Father, then we see clearly that life is good, that being born is good, and that loving is good. Everyone can say, “God himself has made me a good gift, and I myself am a gift to my loved ones and to the world.”
Parents’ right to educate in freedom
Raising children is a genuine contribution to society, the Pope observed. It means training young people with “a sense of duty and the value of sacrifice for sake of the common good.”
“What good work this is!” he said. Without it, “society ‘deconstructs,’ grows impoverished and is progressively weakened and dehumanized.”
But this implies the need to protect “the right of parents to raise and educate their children in freedom, without finding themselves constrained in any sphere, particularly in that of schooling, to accept educational programs contrary to their beliefs and values. Indeed, this is a very great challenge at present.”
The Holy Father encouraged the association to move forward with courage, “drawing constant inspiration and support from the Gospel’s witness to the holy parents Mary and Joseph.”