May 2021 Print

Who Is My Child?

By the Sisters of the Society St. Pius X. Translated by Maria Trummer.

As a mother leans over the baby cradle, she may think to herself: “Here is this tiny human that I am going to love, care for, and educate for the next twenty years. Who are you, my little Peter whom God has entrusted to my care?” Certainly, this is a fundamental question. Who is this tiny human? The answer depends on the choice of education that will be given to him. If we say, like Jean-Jacques Rousseau, that a child is a naturally good being, then we will undoubtedly educate him just as our current society encourages. However, the results will not be convincing. . .

From Meaning to Intelligence

Saint Thomas Aquinas, reiterating the Greek philosophy of Aristotle, states that man is a “rational animal.” Rising up, the mother will say, “my little Peter is not an animal!” No, of course not! There is a profound difference between a kitten and a tiny human; the profound difference of the intellect. But little Peter, nevertheless, has a body and senses. Rightly so, these two elements call upon the parents’ attention first. The necessity to care for the physical needs of the child goes without saying. However, from the beginning, good habits must be transmitted; they are the foundation of the child’s education. There needs to be a set time for meals and sleep. The baby has to learn how to soothe itself rather than crying to be held, to not touch the electrical sockets otherwise it will receive a slap on the hand, to sit upright in the chair without fidgeting, etc.

Naturally, we will not remain at this level, for it is the intellect and the will of the child that we must train. However, it is only little by little that the intellect will be properly molded. It is only little by little that Peter will acquire language skills which will serve as a tool of thought; a tool that will improve from infancy all the way to writing philosophy compositions in 12th grade. It is only little by little that he will acquire the habit of judgment, of reflection. It is only by trial and error that he will succeed in thinking independently. This is why it is necessary to adapt the child’s education to his level of understanding. At the beginning, the parents think for the child because he is not yet capable. There is no point in telling little Peter, at 3 years old, that he must eat his green beans because they contain essential vitamins for growing big and strong. More simply put, “Peter, eat your green beans, otherwise, you will not have dessert.” Any other talk on the matter is superfluous. What Peter is capable of understanding at this age, and what he needs to learn, is not nutrition, but rather that his parents give the commands and that the child must obey. Later on, he will understand that it is good for him and his health.

Undoubtedly, the older that Peter is, the more necessary it is for him to be provided the proper explanations. A teenager no longer solely obeys his father. The teenager should receive explanations and not justifications. Parental authority does not have to “justify” in detail the legitimacy of their orders. The mother and father give orders because they are the parents, they are responsible before God for the children He has confided to them. However, for children to obey their parents, it is necessary that the reasons and circumstances around the situation are explained. In doing this, children will learn how to reason for themselves by the time they become adults. “No, Peter, you cannot go to Kevin’s house this weekend. He has a collection of video games and you will take advantage of it. Now, you know the worth of these games. You can invite him to our house. He will benefit, at least a little bit, from a real family atmosphere. Friendships are worth the value of the goods we exchange.” Like that, the opportunity arrives for the father to have a serious discussion with his son about what true friendship is.

Be careful! Even though the child does not yet know how to express himself well, his intellect is present, and sometimes, the young child understands more than we imagine he does. Also, make sure not to have conversations between friends in front of the children because at times, they are all ears without giving the impression. ”Oh, my dear friend, your Agatha is so cute with her curly hair and blue eyes and you even sewed her that beautiful dress! She is such a sweetheart!” There you have it, such exclamations have not fallen on deaf ears. . . unfortunately.

From Sin to Grace

Now, we have not completely exhausted our description of the little boy, Peter, in saying that he is a rational animal. Peter is a child of Adam, bearing the marks of original sin. However, since his baptism, he became a son of God, raised to the supernatural state through sanctifying grace, and destined to eternal life.

The fact that Peter bears the mark of original sin and a tendency toward evil stemming from it, is, unfortunately, observed quickly. This is the truth of experience. The first tantrums happen quickly. As early as six months old, a child is perfectly capable of expressing her demands that are anything but reasonable: Emily cries as soon as her mom puts her in the cradle. She has to be held in mom’s arms and she never sleeps unless overcome by fatigue. Joan is very hungry for dessert and not at all for spinach. She is extremely tired when she has to clean her room, study her lessons or help her mom, but she gets back all her energy to play or annoy her sister. She has the unbelievable ability to invent lies to cast a favorable light on herself, etc. No, despite whatever Rousseau says, man is not naturally good. It would be an absolute crime to allow a child to do what he feels like. Look at all the poor children in modern society that were never refused anything, and who are nothing but regrettable playthings submissive to their impulses, their untamed passions! As adults, they see how their passions are destroying them (the passion of laziness, impurity, ambition, substance abuse, pleasure . . .). After having 20 years of continual bad habits, they do not have the strength to fend off or resist such passions.

Thankfully, the grace of God is present in the soul of the newly baptized, to heal, little by little, these bad tendencies and to raise him to be a future member of the celestial paradise. A baptized child opens up quickly and seemingly spontaneously to the supernatural realm. Very soon, he will give Jesus a kiss before going to bed, a presage of his future night prayers. He walks straight into the spiritual world and makes himself right at home. Stories of Jesus and Mary captivate this soul which is opened by grace to the divine mysteries. How much more will such an arduous habit, done for a completely different reason, be filled with even more enthusiasm: “What are you going to do this year for Lent to console Jesus who is saddened by our sins? How about you make the effort to tidy up your room every night without me having to repeat myself? That will make Jesus happy.” To help the missionaries, the children are going to do without candy. Rather than spending their pocket money on such treats, they are going to send the money, with the help of their parents, to a particular mission in a poor country. Children are even capable and immensely generous when it comes to converting sinners or helping the poor souls in purgatory. It is up to the adults to arouse, encourage and direct them. This seed of faith that was infused into the soul of the child at baptism needs a thorough education in order to develop; this means good examples, family prayer time, a religious education, the habit of receiving the sacraments . . .

How can we be surprised that a child’s soul sometimes resembles that of a battlefield, where so many opposing tendencies clash? They are torn between two contrary tendencies (animal . . .yet intellectual; sinner. . . yet supported by grace). This is what is at stake. This is the serious challenge of education. It is necessary, once an adult, that this little man has understood that he is the general in charge of combat. He is to take accountability for himself in this struggle to triumph with the grace which will make him a saint.