A child today, a parent tomorrow: Children's role in family morality
WHAT PARENTS EXPECT FROM CHILDREN
Speaking about family morality, we need to take cognizance of the role of children in the family setting. The Psalms describe children as reward from the Lord (Ps.127:2). Children are intended to be source of great joy to parents. They change the family dynamics completely. Let’s start with the reminder that every human being is a child. We are first and foremost God’s children created in his image and likeness. Christ asks us to call God “Our Father in heaven” (Matt.6:9). Our fatherhood proceeds fundamentally from God since “the Spirit himself joins with our spirit to bear witness that we are children of God” (Rom.8:16). As humans, too, every individual was born of parents. Pope Francis maintains, “Even if one becomes an adult, or an elderly person, even if one becomes a parent, if one occupies a position of responsibility, underneath all of this is still the identity of a child. We are all sons and daughters” (Amoris Laetitia, 188).
While thinking of the roles of parents in building strong family morality, I see children as indispensable cooperators. Children help parents in becoming who parents want them to be. Nothing can be disheartening as a child who disappoints her parents, who makes them feel hopeless and near regrets. Imagine the pains of carrying the baby in the womb for nine months. Imagine also the joy that overshadows this pain, remembering that a new baby was coming into their lives. The pope describes it as dream; “For nine months every mother and father dream about their child” (Amoris Laetitia, 169). Imagine the challenges of nurturing this child through infancy, breastfeeding, teaching, providing and being available in every step she takes. Parents hope the child would become some important and responsible personality in life. Parents never stop hoping.
I was counseling a child of about twelve years old recently whose mom brought for his exuberant lifestyle. The mom feared that he was beginning to have negative peer influences. The kid was found in the company of his friends who smashed the windshield of some cars. The mom was hurting terribly and felt ashamed that her child was already facing a police charge. She knelt before this boy and begged him to change. It was pathetic watching this mom’s action. Simply put, children must decide to be good and to reward their parents for the sacrifices they make on their behalf. Think about how humiliating it is for a parent to kneel in front of her child to beg him to be good. Think about how that parent feels for the mess the child puts himself in. Think about the wishes of that parent that never come through, hopes crashed. And in the end, the entire blame goes back to parents irrespective of their efforts and commitment.
What should children do?
Love your parents: In as much as parents show love to their children, children in turn should love their parents. Love is reciprocal. Loving one’s parents does not necessarily mean giving them money. It’s about making them feel joy and happiness that their efforts in us weren’t wasted. It means appreciating their care. Love is the greatest support that parents seek.
Obey: The fourth commandment states, “Honor your father and mother” (Ex.20:12). This is repeatedly stressed in the scriptures; “Whoever respects a father expiates sins, whoever honors a mother is like someone amassing a fortune. Whoever respects a father will in turn be happy with children, and the day he prays for help, he will be heard” (Sirach 3:3-5). Saint Paul expands this thus, “Children, be obedient to your parents in the Lord, that is what uprightness demands. The first commandment that has a promise attached to it is: Honor your father and your mother, and the promise is: so that you may have long life and prosper in the land” (Eph.6:1-4). Therefor obedience to one’s parents is a duty to God as well. It is a way to show love and gratitude to parents for their sacrifice in making us who we are. It is the greatest way to measure a child’s attitude towards the larger society as Pope Francis opines, “A society with children who do not honor parents is a society without honor… It is a society destined to be filled with surly and greedy young people” (Catechesis, L’Osservatore Romano, February 12, 2015, p.8).
Care: Children owe it a great deal to care for their parents especially at old age. As the saying goes, “once an adult twice a child”, this presents itself in the life of every person. At infancy, the baby is cared for, nurtured and directed. The baby grows into adulthood and responsibility. She is independent and takes care of her needs. As the person grows into old age, she returns somehow to the level of need and support. She becomes mentally and physically weak and dependent. One great joy of old age is to have caring and loving children whom old parents rely on. The wise Sirach states, “My child, support your father in his old age, do not grieve him during his life. Even if his mind should fail, show him sympathy” (Sir.3:12-13). Many parents dread the nightmare of abandonment and loneliness. Some wish to die rather than be dumped in senior apartments or old people’s homes. Children should make it a point of duty to care for their parents. Even if you feel aggrieved, it is never a good thing to pay back your parents by abandoning them or hurting them back. Always make out time to dialogue with your parents at some point if in any way they treated you badly. The remorse they would feel would be greater than the regret you would feel if you kept the malice in your heart and only resort to revenge. The elderly are our parents, they deserve our care.
Be responsible: As we grow up, it looks to us as if we are going to be reasonable for our parents alone. That’s bad. Sometimes parents fight with their kids to make them do the right things. At that point, the psychology of the child tells her that being good will benefit not her but the parents. She resists corrections. On a deeper level, it is wrong. Being good benefits fundamentally the individual. When, at a certain stage the child becomes autonomous, she either benefits or suffers for the proper or improper formation of her conscience. That makes it imperative to be responsible.
Appreciate discipline: Discipline is part of formation. It helps family morality to flourish. Every child should be grateful to the training from parents which manifests in discipline. By disciplining the child, she acquires self-discipline and sense of responsibility. She becomes reasonably independent. The book of Hebrews writes, “For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons… For the moment, all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Heb.12:7-11).
As children, let us reappraise our commitment to family values and morality. We need to be sources of joy to our parents, and that way bring joy to the society. Sometimes, we make parents’ duties tough and seemingly regrettable by our lack of cooperation, appreciation and support. That could be disheartening to parents. Don’t forget this, “today a child, tomorrow a parent”. The golden rule holds, “Always treat others as you would like them to treat you” (Matt.7:12).
A good time to adjust is Lent.