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  • Writer's pictureLauren

Mother Love: Be Vigilant Against Bad Habits

Updated: Jun 5

This is the sixth installment of a ten-part series on "The Ten Commandments of a Christian Education" found in Mother Love: A Manual for Christian Mothers.

Sixth Commandment: Thou shalt not allow bad habits to take root in the heart of thy child; but, as soon as they appear, thou shalt carefully eradicate them. Such habits are: ingratitude, willfulness, disobedience, stubbornness, inordinate independence, imperiousness, vanity, arrogance, coquetry, untruthfulness, dissimulation, aversion, jealousy, satisfaction at the misfortunes of others, immodest conduct, gluttony, and sensuality.

Children, as author Leila Marie Lawler often puts it, are naturally mischievous. They aren't bad, they're simply prone to mild naughtiness. This shouldn't be surprising to us: for all their beautiful innocence, they are still children of Adam. For all the sanctifying graces of baptism, their souls remain weakened by concupiscence. They are humans, after all, albeit miniature ones, and they stand in need of conquering those corrupted inclinations that infect every heart.

Their hearts are gardens filled with the seeds of Christian virtue, scattered lovingly by the Hands of Our Lord Himself, but beneath the soil also lies the germs of weeds sewn by the enemy, which begin to show themselves quite early. While the child isn't culpable for these wayward acts before the age of reason, if we are parenting with a mind towards getting this child to Heaven, then it stands to reason that best parenting practices demand these weeds be rooted out as soon as they become evident and before they can put out deeper roots and runners.

"As is the child, so is the man," the old saying goes. We cannot fall prey to the temptation to think, "My child is still young; he doesn't really understand that _____ is wrong. It's natural childhood behavior. I will wait until he can truly understand to correct it." There is no reason for the child to fully understand the grievousness of a particular fault - indeed, can any adult truly say they fully comprehend the depths and endless ripple effects of their own sins? On the contrary, it is enough for the adult to simply know the act is sinful. It is the same with the child.

Practical Matters

To do this effectively, we must first pray for the grace of a horror of sin for ourselves and our children. We cannot hide behind fig leaves, afraid to see the sin in our own lives and the lives of our children. Admittedly, it is much more comfortable to think, "We are doing okay. I'm a good person. My kids will be alright. They're decent people, and whatever faults they may have, they'll outgrow." It's downright gut-wrenching, on the other hand, to have all pretenses stripped away and to see the ugliness, the depth, and the chaos of sin that infects even "decent" or "good" or "super Catholic" people.

Parenting requires great courage, as does living an authentically Christian life. We cannot be afraid to do the hard work here, and prayerfully discern what sins we or our children are most struggling with. If we find any present in ourselves or children, a family trip to the Sacrament of Reconciliation is in order, followed by pizza or a fun family activity to celebrate! If we identify any persistent patterns of behavior, a family meeting may also be in order to discuss the problem and prayerfully discern specific, concrete ways to attack the sin at its root. Spiritual direction and books like Rooting Out Hidden Faults and the Seven Deadly Sins can be very helpful. A daily evening examen, both individually and as a family (we usually do this by discussing our daily "roses and thorns" at family dinner each night), is essential.

Finally (and most importantly), do not neglect the prayer and fasting. Do not get discouraged if certain patterns of sinful behavior are deeply rooted in either yourself or your children and persist despite your best efforts to exhort, discipline, and redirect. God wants all of you; He knows your faults and your weaknesses and how utterly powerless you are apart from Him. He wants your salvation and the salvation of your children even more than you do! Don't be afraid to entrust this entirely into His Hands.

An Examination of Conscience

A quick Google search or scan of your Parish's confessional materials will give you a myriad of excellent examinations of conscience you can do alone and as a family. Here is a non-exhaustive one based on the faults listed in Mother Love:

  • Ingratitude: Am I ungrateful? Do I have a habit of complaining or fault-finding or tearing down? Do I go out of my way to find and verbalize something good and praiseworthy about a given person, event, or situation? Do I intentionally take time to say thank you to God and my family members throughout the day for even little acts of kindness? Do my children do this?

  • Willfulness, Disobedience, & Stubbornness: Do any of us struggle with willfulness? Are we stubborn or prone to digging in our heels? Do my children obey quickly, cheerfully, and completely? Do I obey my superiors (my husband, Church superiors, my boss, governing authorities, etc.) without arguing and with a good attitude, even when I think I may know better than them (so long as what they order is not contrary to faith or morals)?

  • Inordinate Independence: Does anyone in our family have an inordinate independent streak? Do I refuse to ask help of others, or insist on doing things my own way? Do I ridicule others who do things differently? Have we taken time to intentionally cultivate a community of like-minded Christians and surrounded ourselves with people who are also striving single-mindedly for Heaven? Do we regularly contribute to our parish with our time, talent and treasure? Do I operate as if the entire family life revolved around me, my moods, my whims, my schedule? Or have we created a family life that revolves disproportionately around one or more of our children, their extracurriculars, or their likes and dislikes?

  • Imperiousness & Arrogance: Do I or my children act with imperiousness? That is, do any of us spend any time thinking of our own importance or superiority to others? Do I ever have an arrogant, or demeaning attitude? Do I look down on others for any reason? Do I always think I know best? In my disciplinary actions, am I overbearing and domineering, or am I motivated instead by love and gentleness?

  • Vanity: Do any of us struggle with vanity - that is, spending time thinking about what others think of us or trying to attract attention in some way, either through our actions or manner of dressing? Do I spend an inordinate amount of time or money on my clothes, hair, makeup, nails, etc.? Do I spend time worrying about my weight or spend too much time exercising or worrying about my food intake, when that time would be better spent with my family? Do I desire to be the center of attention or life of the party? Do I interrupt and speak over others, including my children?

  • Coquetry: Do I speak with members of the opposite sex in a flirtatious way, or do I maintain friendships with members of the opposite sex that aren't becoming to my married state of life? Do my children talk about "boyfriends and girlfriends" or attend mixed-gender events without sufficient supervision?

  • Untruthfulness & Dissimulation: Do I lie, either positively or by omission? Does my yes mean yes, and my no mean no? Do I follow through on disciplinary matters? Do I say one thing in public and another in private? Do I act or dress or speak differently depending on what group of people I am with? Do I exaggerate or tell white lies?

  • Aversion, Jealousy, and Satisfaction at the Misfortune of Others: Do I hold onto resentments against others by harboring grudges, rehashing arguments in my head, complaining, or gossiping about them? Do I avoid certain people simply because I do not like them? Am I prone to irritability or impatience with others? Do I pray for those who have hurt me, or do I wish them harm? Do I teach my children to pray for those who have hurt their feelings? Am I constantly comparing my situation with that of others?

  • Immodest Conduct: Do I dress myself and my children modestly? Do I buy more clothes than I need? What is the intent behind the way I dress myself or my children - is it to attract attention or to simply fit in with the crowd? Is it the way the Blessed Mother would dress? Does it communicate the inherent dignity of my body and my children's bodies, and does it convey the dignity of my vocation as a wife and mother? Do I avoid situations or places where immodest conduct or dress will be present, especially if my children will be attending?

  • Gluttony: Do I overeat or drink too much? Do I eat food that I know is bad for me, that will cause headaches or sluggishness or upset my stomach? Do I serve my family a variety of good and nutritious food, or do I allow picky eaters or whatever is "fast and easy" to regularly dictate our family menus? Do we observe Fridays throughout the year as days of abstinence from meat, and do we regularly observe days of fasting (such as throughout Advent and Lent, on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays of the week, on Ember Days, or on Rogation Days)? Do we celebrate Sundays and special Holy Days in a special way, or do desserts and treats so fill our schedule that our "feasting" is indistinguishable from our weekday fare?

  • Sensuality: Am I or any of my children overly concerned with entertainment or our comforts? Do I get cranky if something isn't to my liking or taste? Am I uncomfortable with silence, or do I always have to have the TV or music on? How often am I on my phone, especially around my spouse and children? Do I have strict time limits and parental controls on any media my children consume? Do we allow time for leisure, or are our schedules so packed that we end up wasting time "decompressing" or "vegging out" or engaging in some form of escapism?

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