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Lessons in Parenting from St. John Bosco

Today marks the feast of Saint John Bosco. It's a safe bet that he didn't have a whole lot of things to say specifically about pregnancy or birth BUT his work with children offers us a lot of wisdom when it comes to motherhood and parenting.

I was introduced to him in college. Back then he was assigned as reading and study for those of us in the theology/catechetics track. I enjoyed learning about him and what his Christ-like methods could teach us about evangelization and catechesis and ministry. It wasn't until I entered my vocation as a wife and mother, now with seven little boys of my own counting on me for their education and evangelization, that his words and method became much more profound. I'm no great expert on his life and I want to make ABUNDANTLY clear that I have a long way to go in applying his methods well but they teach so much about the type of mother I do want to be and what to do to get there. His words are so practical and they are filled with love. When I read them I can't help but be both convicted and inspired. Here's a few of my favorite quotes along with what I glean from them for my own mothering and teaching of these little people God has entrusted to me:

On Parenting:

"Unfortunately, parents are not always good counselors because they are not always guided by what is best for their son’s spiritual welfare, but by worldly considerations...But if your parents live their faith, they are your best counselors because they know you intimately and their advice can be naught but good and well-founded. Generally, if you ask their advice properly, you will get it."

There is nothing more important I can give my child than for me to have a real and living intimate relationship with God and with them. Nothing. Everything else flows from that. My dreams for them, my advice, our conversations, and all my parenting must be rooted in that. Simply loving them is not enough. That love must be grounded in divine truth and wisdom, not the priorities of the world. I must make sure to do everything in my power to know and love each of their hearts individually and uniquely.

On Childhood:

“Run, jump, have all the fun you want at the right time, but, for heaven’s sake, do not commit sin!”

Children are designed by God to play! Rejoice in the gift of their energy and health and let them be who God meant them to be...even when it's noisy, inconvenient, messy, or a just a little dangerous. Squelch the desire to overcorrect. Expect and teach them to respect and obey and follow the commandments, of course, but let go of the rest.

On Education: "Without confidence and love, there can be no true education."

I am educating real integrated people with minds, hearts, bodies, and souls. Every part of them is involved in education and a schooling that only focuses on one of these things to the exclusion of the others is feeble, if not dangerous. My children will learn best when they know they are deeply loved and have confidence that I am only seeking their good and can always be trusted.

"Just a few words around one striking thought to impress the boys and send them to bed fully taken up by the truth presented to them."

This is one of my favorites. The truth - whether it is something supernatural or simply the majesty that is creation - is not something that requires my convincing and I do not own it. It simply is. I can present truth, and beauty, and goodness to my kids and it has power in itself to move their minds and hearts. When children are given that freedom to ponder and reason and come up with conclusions on their own, their passion and love and awe grows stronger. Don't let your teaching get in the way of their learning. "Remember that good confessions and good Communions are the first steps to a sound education."

As a parent and as their teacher, I have an obligation to get them to Mass and Confession. It is more valuable than any lesson I can give them. After all, Jesus cares more about them than even I do and can speak to their souls in a way that I will never be able to. It's my job to provide those opportunities for grace. My goal for them isn't Harvard; it's heaven.

"A school without music is a school without a soul, for music aids education. It is a most effective means to obtain discipline, morality, and help good feeling..."

Music has incredible power to shape hearts and souls...for good or bad. It can change the whole mood of the house and is a gift from God to draw us towards Him. Use it well. "If young people are educated properly, we have moral order; if not, vice and disorder prevail. Religion alone can initiate and achieve a true education."

Parents are the primary educators of their children. The education of our children is profoundly important and can be the rise or fall of not only them but all of society. My education of my children must be steeped in the One Who is Truth for it to bear the best fruit.

On Discipline: "Never strike the boys for any reason at all."

Okay, then. "Do not reprimand or correct when you are angry or upset, lest your pupils attribute it to anger, but wait, even a few days if necessary, until you have calmed down."

Don't freak out. Stop. Breathe. Let your words be reasonable and meaningful. Be the example of what you want them to be. So much harder to say than do but absolutely a worthy goal.

"Likewise, when you must correct, reprimand, or warn a pupil, always try to do it in private and when he is not upset or angry. Wait till he is calm and at ease. Then tell him what you must, but end up with an encouraging word – for example, that from now on you want to be his friend and you will help him all you can."

Correction is best given and received when it is in the context of love, not fear or shame. Always correct out of sincere love and good for the child, not because my pride was affronted, my plans frustrated, or my anger riled. "Be careful not to ridicule a boy because of some fault of his, especially in his companions’ presence."

Our children deserve to be treated with dignity, no matter what they have done or any quirk they may have. Do unto others as you would have them done unto you applies to everyone, including our children. They are unique human persons with the same rights and dignity as us. Never shame or embarrass a child to make a point, get a laugh, earn sympathy, or teach a lesson. You may get your immediate result but you will lose something far greater. "In general, do not wait for several transgressions before you correct anyone. Speak immediately and plainly. Praise those who mend their ways and encourage the slothful."

Mean what you say and say what you mean. My children's first experience of trust is through me. Follow through on what you say (as long as it is not misguided or in error) so that they know you always speak the truth and can be trusted. Don't lie to your children to avoid conflict. Avoid negative humor or ugly sarcasm. Acknowledge and celebrate when they have worked hard and overcome a fault.

"Be quick to forgive - and do so wholeheartedly - whenever a pupil shows he is sorry. In this case, forget everything. Never say, "You will pay for this," to one who may have disobeyed, answered back, or lacked respect. That would be very un-Christian."

Forgive, work through, and and move on. No grudges in the family. Don't punish out of anger or pride but only if it can truly help the child. Natural consequences seem to usually teach so much more effectively anyway. And here's a very long but beautiful one: "It is easier to become angry than to restrain oneself, and to threaten a boy than to persuade him. Yes, indeed, it is more fitting to be persistent in punishing our own impatience and pride than to correct the boys. We must be firm but kind, and be patient with them. I give you as a model the charity of Paul which he showed to his new converts. They often reduced him to tears and entreaties when he found them lacking docility and even opposing his loving efforts. See that no one finds you motivated by impetuosity or willfulness. It is difficult to keep calm when administering punishment, but this must be done if we are to keep ourselves from showing off our authority or spilling our our anger. Let us regard those boys over whom we have some authority as our own sons. Let us place ourselves in their service. let us be ashamed to assume an attitude of superiority. Let us not rule over them except for the purpose of serving them better. This was the method that Jesus used with the apostles. He put up with their ignorance and roughness and even their infidelity. He treated sinners with a kindness and affection that caused some to be shocked, others to be scandalized, and still others to hope for God's mercy. And so he bade us to be gentle and humble of heart. They are our sons, and so in correcting their mistakes we must lay aside all anger and restrain it so firmly that is is extinguished entirely. There must be no hostility in our minds, no contempt in our eyes, no insult on our lips. We must use mercy for the present and have hope for the future, as is fitting for true fathers who are eager for real correction and improvement. In serious matters it is better to beg God humbly than to send forth a flood of words that will only offend the listeners and have no effect on those who are guilty." On Protecting our Children: "Guard your eyes since they are the windows through which sin enters the soul."

I have a duty to my children to guard their eyes. This means that I will do everything in my power to keep them from seeing vulgar television, movies, commercials, magazines, websites, and will keep to the rule that other people's phones are off limits. No devices or phones unless in a common area. No personal phones until at least 16 and at that age only with no internet access and if they've shown they are mature. We will talk about and work on helping them have custody of their own eyes so that they can train themselves in self control.

“Fly from bad companions as from the bite of a poisonous snake. If you keep good companions, I can assure you that you will one day rejoice with the blessed in Heaven; whereas if you keep with those who are bad, you will become bad yourself, and you will be in danger of losing your soul."

The company we keep makes all the difference in the world. I have a sacred obligation to my children to help them develop friendships that encourage them to grow in virtue and fulfill their God-given potential. And I have a sacred duty to protect them from ones that don't. "Do not pamper your body; guard your senses, especially your eyes. Above all, avoid bad reading."

It is my responsibility to be diligent about the voices I allow to speak to my child and form their thoughts and beliefs. It is entirely appropriate to only allow reading in our home that is true and good. Reading for the sake of reading is not a good. Reading is a tool that is meant to draw our hearts and minds to Goodness itself. I'd rather have them not read at all than read things that will do the opposite. "As soon as you become aware of temptation, busy yourself with something. Idleness and modesty can't go together. In overcoming idleness, you will overcome temptations against purity." and "An idle mind is the devil's workshop."

Boys especially need to be physical and active. Our lifestyle in many ways is privileged and easy. But work and labor is dignified, sanctifying, and good for us. Require that they do chores and that leisure time be spent purposefully. If you're bored, you get chored. His whole life and these words are humbling, yes, but they also give me such hope and peace for loving and raising children. While I'm far (FAR) from where I want to be in living this well day by day, he gives a way that is clear, firmly rooted in the Gospel and in Christ. His work with his boys, most of whom came from dysfunction or disadvantage, gives me hope that cycles truly can be broken through real active love and the healing grace of God. I'm so thankful for his intercession and the witness of his life. Saint John Bosco, pray for us parents trying so hard to do this well.


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