Parenting takes patience and persistence. Correcting children’s behaviour sometimes feels like a thankless and ineffectual task. It seems that when one misbehaviour is overcome another replaces it.
Parents get tired and sometimes want to give up! But parents’ constant efforts to correct children’s behaviour actually bring the good news of Jesus Christ into their lives and into the world. That’s an awesome and lifelong job!
Effective discipline in the home is essential for children who want to succeed in school, in work and in all of life! Most importantly, it is basic faith formation for children. Teaching siblings to resolve their conflicts by talking, patience and negotiation is giving them the skills to be peacemakers.
Becoming peacemakers is one of the essential characteristics of Christian behaviour as outlined in the Eight Beatitudes.
The Sermon on the Mount is about molding character, and that fits naturally into the intricate web of relationships and activities of family life. In Matthew’s Gospel, the Eight Beatitudes are followed by Jesus’ words to his followers that they are to be a "light" to the world. Families too have the intimate and day-to-day opportunity to shape one another in those characteristics which make both good citizens and exemplary Christians who bring Gospel living into the world.
Every member of the family has the opportunity now and then to practise being merciful to one another, for example. Most children have a natural stroke of mercy inside them. I was impressed to see a kindergarten boy hand over his own helium balloon to his little brother when the wind blew the brother’s away.
Becoming a merciful person is learned early in life, long before formal religious education begins.
The family is usually the first place one encounters death. It seems paradoxical that those who are mourning could be blessed or "highly favoured" as one beatitude says. Facing loss, death and disappointment with courage and trust in God’s providence is part of the essential character of being a Christian.
When my own small children observed my grief at the death of my mother years ago, they learned that grief could be tempered by our faith in Mom’s eternal reward in the presence of Jesus who is with us in our sorrow.
Adults and children alike learn this through the example and counsel of parents and close family members before they have studied or memorized the Eight Beatitudes in school.
Teaching the Eight Beatitudes at home is not something extra added on to a parent’s already overloaded schedule. Resisting evil and becoming pure of heart are lessons woven into the fabric of everyday encounters, learned first by observation, almost by osmosis!
Catholic tradition sees the home as the "domestic church" because children and parents alike learn to "thirst for justice" and be "poor in spirit" long before formal religious formation begins.
Research in child development reveals that children’s values are established to a great extent in the first five years of life. Parents and grandparents along with other significant adults pass on the beatitudes by being honest in their relationships, treating and speaking to one another respectfully, avoiding racist and degrading comments about others, and resolving conflicts through communication instead of violence.
Families can never do this perfectly. We can only make daily efforts at becoming disciples in the way the beatitudes suggest. But with every effort every day, with each encounter between parents and children, a ray of light and a grain of salt are brought into the world.
It is no coincidence that in Matthew’s Gospel Jesus encourages his followers: "Your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father" (5:16).- By Mary Jo Pedersen