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District Superior's
Letter to Friends & Benefactors

August 2005
[written on July 1]

Dear Friends and Benefactors,

It was a pleasure seeing many of you at ordinations again this year. It is also quite edifying to see an increasing number of families returning each year. God will surely reward the sacrifice made to return year after year.

This month let us return to the consideration of character training in responsibility, so important in childhood development.

As rational animals, we learn a great deal by trial and error, especially when we are young. Parents must understand that in order to promote responsibility they should allow this process of trial and error to take its course by not solving problems for their children that they are perfectly capable of solving themselves. This will require proper supervision, neither too much nor too little. The job of parents is not to prevent their children from making errors but to ensure that errors are contained and that they convey important lessons that will help their children learn to take responsible control of their lives.

Many of todayís parents take their children and themselves entirely too seriously. This results in parents who are a paradox of overreaction and defensiveness. On the one hand, they become upset when their children do something foolish; then on the other hand, they deny that their children are even capable of such foolishness. They fear that such foolishness may reflect some higher flaw in them. We must not forget that children are born with original sin and even though cleansed by baptism, there remain the weakening effects among which we find foolishness. This foolishness, coupled with the fact that they have free will, make for unpredictable, incomprehensible behavior on their part. Parents, therefore, need first to take the responsibility of not denying that their children are capable of foolishness. If the child is habitually foolish, then the parents must look to themselves, but occasional foolishness can be expected from every child and says little about the parents. Of course, parents have the responsibility to correct this foolishness when it appears, by doing something to make their children a bit less foolish. But they will not do this if they foolishly refuse to place the blame where it belongs, on their children. One fool is enough in this relation.

There is a great difference between a child who makes mistakes and one who chooses to misbehave even when he knows better. Children, who value their parentís approval, are penitent when they realize that a mistake is made and try to correct it, i.e., atone. Sometimes drama may be necessary to show how serious the mistake is or to impress a permanent memory in the childís mind. But if the cornerstone has been laid properly, these times will not be dominant. In most cases, it will be sufficient for the parent to simply point out the foolishness, making clear that repeat performances will not be favored in order to correct the child.

The most effective way to allow this process of trial and error and so prime children with responsibility is to assign a regular daily routine of chores around the house. By age four, children should already be pulling their own weight as full contributors to the family by doing routine chores. Chores help children to see themselves as valued members of the family because they participate in the family work, which also bonds them to the values, which define and enrich the family. They will also gain a sense of accomplishment and proper self-esteem and learn the principle of reciprocity, give and take, which is very important in social life. Their participation will also help to give them a sense of security and self-sufficiency as they learn so many important domestic skills.

They should start with simple chores, at least by their third year, and advance as they get older to more difficult ones. They can begin with such things as picking up their toys, keeping their room clean, or helping to clear the table. As they grow older, the chores can extend to all areas of the home. They can make their own beds, help with the sweeping or vacuuming of the house, take out the garbage, set and clear the whole table or wash and dry the dishes. There are also many outdoor chores such as sweeping sidewalks, raking leaves, helping in the garden by planting, weeding, watering and, of course, picking and tasting the fruits of their labors. There is also the care of animals, whether pets or livestock, through which they learn invaluable lessons about life and even death.

It is very important that parents explain to their children what is needed and what must be done for their various chores. Many of the misbehavior problems parents have are the result of improper guidance as to what is expected. When children know what is expected, because their parents have clearly, calmly and commandingly communicated this to them, they will be much less likely to disobey. Misbehavior often occurs because parents have not communicated their expectations.

It is also important that parents understand that when asking their children to do something they must not argue with them. The resulting power struggle is one of the most vicious cycles in a parent-child relationship. Many parents are tempted to stand over their children after asking them to do something, thus giving them the opportunity to get into a power struggle, which many children will do since they are, for the most part, unable to understand an adultís viewpoint. The solution is to simply give instructions to the children in a clear, calm and commanding way, then walk away. If after a reasonable time period the child has not complied, impose a penalty that is unforgettable, even if the child then decides to do it.

Unfortunately, there are far too many children in this country who do not contribute to their families on a regular basis. In most cases, it is a result of improper training by parents who try to reason it away. They say it is more of a hassle to get the children to do something and do it right than to do it themselves. Or they say that childhood should be relaxed and carefree, not filled with responsibilities. Or they do not expect self-sacrifice from their children, "Chores would interfere with my childís after-school activities."

Through such excuses, children are taught to be selfish and to think that they can get something for nothing. Remaining under this illusion, they will never become full members in the family or any other social group. As they enter school they will view education as something that someone gives to you rather than something you have to work for and they will expect it and everything else to be handed to them on a silver platter. Theirs will be a rude awakening when they face the real world.

Since I will be gone for most of July, I will resume the consideration of the 3Rís in the September Regina Coeli Report. Please keep the intentions of our General Chapter in your prayers.

Sincerely in the Precious Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ,

Fr. John D. Fullerton

 
 

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