Recently, I’ve heard young parents lament: “Praying at home is a big uproar. The children are unbearable. Shouldn’t we just stop? What is the point of trying to pray with our family under these conditions?” Another mother confessed: “In the evening, I am exhausted and I can’t wait to put the children to bed. If my husband is not at home, I don’t have the courage to reunite the children for prayer.”
It is true that praying with little children is not easy, especially if they are many and close to the same age. It is not easier to pray with children of very different ages either as the elders feel embarrassed by the agitation of the little ones, yet are unable to stay still for long moments of silence. For many different reasons that vary from a family to another, family prayer is rarely easy, especially at certain times. Yet, it is important to pray along with your family, for the less you pray, the less easy it is. Let us try to find some solutions to help and solve the difficulties that many families encounter.
Choose a good prayer rhythm
First, do not compare yourselves to the others. What is possible to achieve for one family may not be possible for another. The example of others should encourage us, give us ideas, but it is up to each family to find their own way to pray together.
It is important for a child, even a small one, to become accustomed to this time of daily prayer. It is better to pray one minute every day than 10 minutes every week or every month. When, for various reasons, we have not prayed before bedtime, we can always, while going to kiss them in their bed, pray a few seconds with each of them: an Our Father, a little hymn, a cross on the forehead. These “short prayers” are better than no prayer at all.
Large families may, at certain times, introduce a prayer appropriate for each child and teenager. This is not ideal, of course, but it may be necessary temporarily. We can also adopt a “motley” system: pray by age groups during the week, and then all together on Sunday.
We can even, from time to time or during a variable period, pray with each child in his — or her — bedroom (or one after the other in the common bedroom). It is better than not praying at all when the family prayer has become too heavy to perform. This may sometimes be the only solution, especially when one of the parents is opposed to family prayer. It can also be a way to start praying with your family because, little by little, children will express the desire to pray along with others rather than alone: everyone will meet then in one room, and soon you can create a “prayer corner” where everyone gathers every day.
Distribute tasks and responsibilities
The end of the day is a time when everyone is tired. The children are all the more agitated that they feel the nervousness and tension of their parents. The best is to divide the tasks: while the dad takes care of the last details proper to a family life (end of the meal or the tidying of the bedrooms, for example), the mom can go to the “prayer corner” to start praying. Two or 10 minutes later, the children arriving at the “prayer corner” will find a relaxed mother already inhabited by the silence of God. Even if they arrive in a scattered order, they can, like their mother, start praying in silence while waiting for everyone to be there.
The children’s agitation sometimes comes from the fact that they are poorly installed in a place that does not encourage meditation. It is important to try to find a quiet place to arrange the “prayer corner,” to place a beautiful icon, a pious image or a statuette in front of the children’s eyes (and not to a height that they can’t see anything properly unless they twist their neck). A thick carpet or wall-to-wall carpeting, cushions, and prayer stools can help children to behave properly without waddling or slouching. Some families turn off their mobile phones during the time of prayer, in order not to be disturbed by untimely ringing.
Do not feel guilty
Most of the pictures showing families in prayer cannot be more edifying — children piously kneeling, staring at the icon or the crucifix. Everything seems perfect … and may possibly be so. Looking at this, we think: “Family prayer is great, but we are incapable of such a feat. Our family prayer does not look like this.”
First, we are not asked to look like the neighbor, but what the Lord expects of us. Then, we must remember what a photo is: a cliché more or less posed that does not reflect the daily difficulties that we all encounter. Most (if not all) families whose meditation arouses our admiration and envy certainly experience the same difficulties as the others. They also know the “prayer uproars,” the excitement and fatigue of the end of the day … but, of course, these are not the moments that the photographer will choose to immortalize.
When we pray, God does not ask us for extraordinary things: He asks us to be there and that’s all. Our children are rowdy, agitated? We are tired? The Lord sees it all, He knows it better than anyone. If we were aware of the immense tenderness with which He looks upon each of our families, how affectionately He receives all our family prayers, even very poor, clumsy, agitated, interspersed with heckles or reprimands, if we could understand that He loves us as we are, we would never hesitate to pray as a family.
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