Our society now finds it entertaining to watch parents apply wigs, false teeth, makeup, and evening gowns on little girls so that they can prance around on stage looking like streetwalkers. How about the show featuring small children who are fire and brimstone preachers? A four year old boy mimics his Pentecostal preacher father, and with a microphone in one hand, wipes his brow with a handkerchief in the other. He hops around stage in a suit, shouting into a microphone, as the congregation shouts back to him, "Alleluia! Yes!" The boy makes appearances around the country on news programs and is a big hit on YouTube. He supposedly has the makings of a prophet, so this can't possibly be the same thing... right? There is also a reality show about children with so-called "psychic abilities." Children offer vague descriptions about unseen entities and this is entertainment? The only difference I see between a parent who has each of their children enrolled in 20+ hours a week of extracurricular activities and these reality show superstars, is their choice of activity. Time for cooked meals together at home, prayers and devotions, and quiet time cannot exist if a parent chooses to be an event planner instead of a parent.
Consider the acronym EGO, or Edging God Out. That is exactly what we are allowing to happen when we let our priorities become tangled in a secular world. I honestly believe that all parents try their absolute best be good parents. Try as they might, more and more of us are failing our children as we slowly edge God out of our lives. Most of us do not set out to push God aside, but sadly that is where He is placed each and every day. Enough about what we have failed to do or have done wrong. Let's look at a new beginning and suggestions on where to start.
- God is first. By making God your first priority, everything else will follow in your life. Your children cannot come first. If they do, you are making them a god. Put God first. If you are married, your marriage must come second, with God placed at the center of the marriage. Your marriage should be a trinity: God + Wife + Husband, with love binding all three. Children should be our third priority. By making God the first, your marriage the second, and your children the third priority, you will be a much happier person and your entire family will be better for it. Secularism tells us that our children come first before anything. By displacing God, you are failing your children. How do you put God first if you have cast Him aside? After making a good confession, consult God on everything you question in your life. A simple "God, help me!" will do and listen with your heart. Learn the difference between what you want to do and what God wants you to do. He always answers prayers, but not always how we would have hoped. You will fall, but thankfully God is patient.
- Cut the noise. Instant gratification rules our days and if you have put suggestion number one into place, you are looking for ways to cut out the distractions in your life. Ask yourself the following questions. The answers may vary by due to work, health issues and other situations unique to each family:
- How many cellphones do you need in your family? Do you need them at all? If you need them, do they need to be on at home?
- Does texting replace conversations that could take place over the phone or better yet, in person? Do family members text only out of necessity? If teens are texting, can they invite friends over to the house and socialize in person instead?
- Do you really need the television? Cable and satellite bills are very high and the quality of television programming is very low. What would happen to your life if you cut the cord? Do you think you would survive without watching the big game or watching the news ticker? Don't worry about how the family would fill the time. Families have lived without television since creation and have managed quite well. Netflix (only $7.99/month) and a DVD player allow for family entertainment but put you in charge of what material is allowed into your home.
- Do you have "God time" programmed into your day other than bedtime prayers? Do you attend parish-sponsored devotions as a family?
- Do you make it a priority to have a set number of meals together as a family as frequently as possible? Are there activities or distractions that are unimportant standing in the way of family meal time? Is the phone turned off during meal time? Does every family member have an opportunity to share and discuss their day?
- Is time spent playing video games and on the computer limited for adults and children? Does your family sit around with varying electronic devices in the evening, ignoring one another? Does time spent on all electronic devices get in the way of "God time" and family time?
- Does your family spend time outdoors exploring God's creation? Is outdoor time mostly spent traveling from one activity to another and on the sidelines at games?
- Be a parent. Being a friend to your child can come after they leave your home. While they remain in your care, they need a parent who puts God first. Don't be afraid to say no. Children need boundaries, though they may not always agree. Just because all of the kids are "doing it" doesn't mean that a parent who puts God first would let their children "do it" - no matter what the "it" is. Having a "boyfriend" at eleven years old may seem cute and harmless to many. If you consider for a moment that dating and having boyfriends as being a preparation for marriage, maybe they would reconsider. Parenting is not a popularity contest. If you want to be popular, you've clearly not put God first.
- Educate your children. Don't blame the school or religious education program if your child doesn't know what you think he or she should know. Blame yourself instead! I'm not proposing homeschooling your children, but if you are up to the challenge, certainly consider the option. If you are Catholic, send your kids to a Catholic school. Can't afford it? Don't kid yourself. If you put God first, all of the material goods have been removed from their place of worship. Offer to volunteer at the school, and plead with the principal and Parish Pastor for assistance. Eat home more. Drive older cars. Make your coffee at home. Live within your means. Make sacrifices to send your kids to Catholic school. If there is no Catholic school in your area, find a private school that reinforces your family values. No school is perfect, but if you put God first, why would you send your kids to an institution that forbids even the mere mention of God?
I did not include my note on education last because it is least important. To the contrary, it was the topic of education that prompted me to make these entries on parental priorities. You see, our little Catholic school that has existed for 130 years is teetering on the brink of closing. The reasons for this situation are numerous, but I believe the main reason behind it is the failure of many parents to put God first. More on that in my next and final entry in the three-part series.