How to have great conversations with your kids

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It is always good to talk with our children, but certain great conversations truly make a difference, echoing in their minds throughout their lives. We parents (and grandparents) possess a unique ability to initiate and guide these conversations so that our children can discover their primary identity as a son or daughter of God.

In a 2017 Notre Dame study, Justin Bartkus and Christian Smith concluded, “Of all actors, it is parents who exert overwhelmingly the greatest influence upon the eventual religious views and commitments of American children.” Similarly, a 2018 study by Georgetown’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate found that “Young people will unconsciously absorb parents’ attitudes.” For better or for worse, they are listening to us.

Unfortunately, we far too often cede this strategic high ground by inaction. To quote Wayne Gretzky and Michael Scott: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

Our new Office of Marriage and Family Life is organizing a series of interactive presentations around the Archdiocese of Seattle to encourage parents to take those shots and speak with their
children about faith and the church’s good news about love and marriage. Among the things these presentations teach parents to communicate are the following:

We are body and soul: Questions like “What is something about you that is a gift from God to you?” and “What is something about you that is a gift from you to God?” help parents to talk with their children about the reality that our bodies define and limit who we are, and that our souls, providing form to our bodies, enable us to make our lives a response to God’s gift of life.

Our hearts are restless until they rest in God: Unless we understand this maxim from St. Augustine’s Confessions, we are going to struggle in relating to God or other people. Parents who ask children questions like “Have you ever really wanted something and thought ‘If I can just have this, I won’t need anything else?’” explore with their children the reality that, made by God for God, our hearts hunger for the infinite and will never be satisfied with the finite.

We are sinners in need of a loving savior: All of us struggle with sin. St. Paul put it best when he said “What I do, I do not understand. For I do not do what I want, but I do what I hate.” (Romans 7:15) By talking with our children about times when we did the wrong thing, by apologizing to them when we do wrong and by going regularly to the sacrament of reconciliation, we help our children come to terms with the fact that we all struggle with sin and need our Lord’s forgiveness.

Love and life come from the cross: Describing times in our lives when we gave something up — something we really cared about — in an act of love helps communicate to our children that love is more action than feeling. It also helps them to appropriate Jesus’ invitation to pick up their cross and follow him. Of course, this discussion about the paschal mystery must be accompanied by weekly participation in the Eucharist if we want our children to be able to properly internalize the message.

God calls us to a vocation: Sharing with our children the story about how we met our spouse and came to marry them helps to communicate how we discovered our vocation (something God calls us to and through which we respond to God), and it helps them consider what God may be calling them to do with their life. If our personal vocation story isn’t perfectly inspiring, no worries. God is at work in there somewhere, and we should let our children know.

If you find the information above helpful, consider joining us for one of the Great Conversations presentations. Find a presentation near you at marriagefamilylife.seattlearchdiocese.org, or suggest bringing one to your parish.  

Northwest Catholic - December 2019

Deacon Eric Paige

Deacon Eric Paige is the Archdiocese of Seattle's executive director for evangelization, formation and discipleship. Contact him at eric.paige@seattlearch.org.

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