Thousands of books have been written about parenting, but what can we rely on and how do we get it "right"?
What is our goal when it comes to raising our children? Do we aim solely at teaching them how to “get along” socially? Do we primarily try to prepare them for a good job that will earn them a comfortable living, to “be a success” in life, or at least ensure their physical security? As Christian parents, once we’ve baptized them and sent them off to catechism class, do we think “job done, mission accomplished”? To what do we attach the most importance; on what do we place the most emphasis as a parent?
Perhaps we should start by asking ourselves these two fundamental questions: What is a good upbringing? And, practically speaking, what do we do to ensure it?
The two questions are complementary, because sometimes we can invest a lot of energy and good will, but in the wrong direction. In other cases, we sometimes can have excellent principles, while in everyday practice doing the exact opposite.
What is involved in raising children well?
St. John Paul II wrote: “In answering this question two fundamental truths should be kept in mind: first, that man is called to live in truth and love; and second, that everyone finds fulfillment through the sincere gift of self.”
Our children aren’t the result of chance: they have been willed and loved by God from all eternity. And God created them to offer them participation in his divine life. “You have made us for yourself, Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you,” said St. Augustine. Isn’t a well-reared child the one who is offered the means to respond to his vocation as a child of God? Simply by asking this question, we see that there is no one “right” way to raise a child well with clear-cut parameters, but as many uniquely “right” ways as there are thoroughly unique children.
We also come to see that it’s not possible for us to judge right now the success or failure of our parenting. Take the example of the Good Thief: his parents were probably devastated by their son’s behavior; perhaps they thought they’d got their parenting all wrong. And yet that brigand was the only saint “canonized” in his lifetime — by Jesus himself on the cross.
In the matter of child-rearing, no one can boast to have succeeded, nor despair at having failed, and no one can ever consider the job completely done. Our mission as parents doesn’t stop when our children come of age or when they leave home. Even when we can no longer do anything directly, we can — and we must — keep them always in our prayers.
The recipe for good parenting?
The answer lies in knowing there is no recipe. Even if books can sometimes offer invaluable advice, encouragement, and food for thought, even if experts in child development have a role to play complementary to ours, even if it’s important to listen to the wise observations and advice of our loved ones (who may have a more objective and sometimes clearer view of our children than we do), it nonetheless remains that no one can raise our children better than we can.
The secret of a good upbringing isn’t to be found in educational treatises: it’s found in God, because it is he who is the teacher par excellence, He who chose us to share in his Fatherhood. And God never gives us a ready-made recipe, a one-size-fits-all answer: he invites us to experience the great adventure of love in which all must endlessly be invented day by day in the joyous freedom of the children of God.