Let’s face it; modern parenting is a vast juggling act. Between school, sports, music, coaching, medical appointments and homework it’s common to feel overwhelmed. Add to the mix for Christian parents, the responsibility to also nurture their child’s spiritual and religious formation, and we’ve got a whole cohort of stressed out, frazzled, and probably grumpy, parents.
In Familiaris Consortio, (The Family in the Modern World) Pope John Paul II recognises the challenges faced by contemporary families …
[Many families] have become uncertain and bewildered over their role or even doubtful and almost unaware of the ultimate meaning and truth of conjugal and family life. Bl. John Paul II, Familaris Consortio.
What’s a busy, exhausted set of parents to do?
With mortgages, food bills, endless laundry and small primates… oops!, children… and all their attendant activities, there is barely enough time or money to go round. We all know that corralling multiple children into a routine is like trying to pick up ping pong balls with chopsticks. Now there is Sunday Mass and family prayer expected on top of that?
Social Benefits of Prayer
While most people wouldn’t question that family prayer is beneficial, it’s always helpful to have scientific proof. So what does the data tell us?
Religious practice is associated with a variety of positive social outcomes1 like greater marital satisfaction, better relationships with children, higher career aspirations, better physical health outcomes, as well as
lower rates of teen pregnancy, violent behaviour, mental health issues, divorce and domestic violence.
These benefits are attributed to regular, weekly attendance of religious services and the community support that churches and parishes provide. It is more difficult to gauge the impact of private family prayer
itself given it is unique to every family.
However, sociologists have noted that the motivations of practicing religious families are critical to unlocking these benefits. Going to church for purely social reasons will not deliver these benefits. Rather, parents need to be motivated by their love of God (sociologists call this intrinsic motivation) to access these benefits for their family. Why does it make a difference? Most likely because Intrinsically motivated parents do not confine their faith to Sundays, but make family prayer an important part of every day life.
Creating a vibrant spiritual life for your family is no easy feat. It requires attention, perseverance, patience and a very large measure of grace. Whilst you’re busy cultivating those virtues, here are some tips to laying good foundations for your family prayer.
[accordion-group title=”Prioritise”]The first thing you as a parent must decide is to make it a priority. If family prayer time is bumped for scheduling reasons, your children will take away the message that family prayer is less important than homework, the TV series, visiting friends etc. It will require sacrifice and forgoing other opportunities or enjoyable activities. We all have the same amount of limited time in a day. Those that have successfully made family prayer a regular part of their life, have made it a priority.[/accordion-group]
- If you have young children, keep it SHORT. Let’s face it; a bouncy three-yearold boy could probably not sit through an entire rosary. So start with a Joey Rosary or a decade.
- Keep the timing as CONSISTENT as possible. Prayers can easily be incorporated into the bedtime routine whilst you have little ones. As they get older, consider a different time like after dinner or on the way to school in the mornings.
- At various seasons of your family’s life, one single, whole family prayer time might be just too difficult, but that is not a reason to give up! Even if you have to BREAK IT UP into small groups, making sure you or your better half gets some time to pray with the kids will have an impact.
- START SMALL, DREAM BIG. Choose a simple, short format that you can consistently keep. Don’t make this bigger than it needs to be initially because you can always increase time or complexity later if desired. Think of how you feel on the absolute worst day and what you could manage in that state. That should be your daily anchor
- Create a FAMILY PRAYER SPACE in a common area of your home. Not only is it a visual reminder of your family’s commitment to prayer. It also destresses the process by having everything in one place.
For those times when you’re exhausted, or you don’t know where to start…
- THE ROSARY– comes in many varied forms, The Complete, the Decade, the Joey and the Minute.
- THE DIVINE MERCY CHAPLET
- PRAYERS OF THE SAINTS. Some of our Favourites:
- GUARDIAN ANGEL PRAYER
- Spontaneous prayer with children can be heart-warming and great fun. To keep it somewhat orderly, especially with young children, have a special object to pass around to indicate who’s turn it is to pray. You can use a candle, a cross or some other prayer aid. TRINITY PRAYER This prayer follows a simplified version of St Ignatius’ Daily Examen offering Thank You prayers to the Father, Sorry prayers to the Son and Helping prayers to the Holy Spirit.
- Start by asking your children about the best and worst of their day. This helps them to process strong emotions and to grow in self-awareness and emotional literacy. Then show them how to thank God for both good and unpleasant things that happen, for we learn and are enriched by both. This is a wonderful bedtime prayer but can also be done over dinner or after school.
- Invest in a really good children’s bible and read your kids bedtime stories. Bam! Two birds with one stone!
- St Augustine said, “When we sing, we pray twice.” If you or your better half can play an instrument/sing well, there is no reason why you could not incorporate those gifts. Learn some contemporary praise and worship songs and classic hymns and get jamming.
- Get into the habit of saying Grace before your family meals. It’s a simple way to get the ball rolling on this family prayer thing. You could use a traditional Grace, or make up your own.
Starting with Older Kids
If you have never introduced a regular prayer routine and your kids are 10 and older is a little more delicate getting them engaged.
- CHOOSE A TIME WHEN BOTH PARENTS CAN PARTICIPATE. Your kids, especially your sons just won’t be interested if it is purely ‘Mum’s thing’.
- TALK ABOUT IT. Have a family discussion and let the kids have some input in the timing and format. Agree to some expectations around attendance and behaviour.
- TRIAL AND ERROR. Lent or Advent is perfect for starting a new habit and might make it a bit more palatable with a timed ‘trial period’. If it doesn’t work, adjust it as needed.
- KEEP A CONSISTENT FORMAT so that time is not wasted by with awkward discussion about what kind of prayer to do. We recommend starting with Lectio Divina.
- KEEP THE PRESSURE OFF! No nagging, guilt-tripping or cajoling. Remember, you cannot control heir relationship with Jesus! All you can do is create opportunities and invite.
- DON’T MAKE ATTENDANCE COMPULSORY. Forced attendance just breeds resentment and frustration.
- JUST START DOING IT. Even if it is just you. You will benefit regardless and your example makes a powerful statement to your kids.
At the end of the day…
… much of this is in God’s hands! He knows your struggles and will reward every effort, especially in the early days when it all seems fruitless and pointless. As parents, the most valuable gift you can give your children is the knowledge that Jesus loves them. It will be imperfect, but thankfully, Jesus doesn’t need perfect, just a willing and open heart.
Authors: Kiara & Francine Pirola
This article featured in the February 2014 eMagazine. For more, check out: