Giving your child a sense of belonging is of irreplaceable value. So many little ones grow up lost, even in a family. Perhaps they are neglected. Perhaps they are abused. Perhaps dad and mom are just tired.
And so, in addition to the natural means of making a child feel wanted and loved, such as family dinners, nighttime prayers, playing together, physical affection, listening and talking, reading aloud, and so on, there is another you can add to what you are currently doing. This, Dear Parent, is convincing your child that Mary is our mother and the saints are our friends.
Your little child, so sweet and tender, is very capable of experiencing the affection of the Blessed Mother and the constant support of those saints in the Church Triumphant.
It all begins with tenderness. The little ones need a mother’s touch. And in our glorious religion, we have the supreme benefit of having an earthly mother and a heavenly one.
Deck your home with images of the Blessed Mother. As you carry your little one upstairs for bedtime, not only say good night to Daddy or the older siblings, but also Mother Mary, or as some affectionately say, Mama Mary. Place an image of your child’s Mama Mary in his or her room in addition to the most essential crucifix.
As your child matures into adolescence, clearly explain how the Blessed Mother is the model of purity. Her perpetual virginity is a sign of offering one’s body to God as the ultimate sacrifice.
Tell your daughter, directly, to keep the modesty of Mary in all her attire, in how she presents herself. Ask her how the Blessed Mother would approve of her behavior.
Tell your son, directly, to keep the purity of Mary in mind as he begins to interact with young women, and especially as he chooses a wife. Ask him if this or that girl reminds him of the Blessed Mother. And then tell him that if the answer was not an immediate yes, he should run from her as fast as his legs can take him.
When you, as Father and Mother, are worn to the bone tired—one more meal to cook, one more mess to clean, one more floor to sweep, one more diaper to change, one more toilet to plunge, one more drain to unclog, one more appliance to fix, one more insurance adjustment to make, one more bill to pay—remember the humility and charity that the Blessed Mother had when she served all those around her.
Yet again, the truth glares at us in the eyes: your child’s devotion to Mary will mirror your own. You must seek her intercession. You must have a little quiet place in your heart for her, a place you turn to in the midst of a crisis. It is a little place that belongs just to her. It is a place where you can meet her to become instantly refreshed in humility and charity. And then, as you come out of this sacred space, you will feel the very tenderness from your loving Mother and in turn pass it on to your little one.
Familiarity with the Saints
A child deserves to grow up surrounded by the saints of heaven. It is your duty, Good Parent, to feed their eyes with sacred images of the saints, their minds with sacred stories of the saints, their hearts with sacred devotions to the saints. Your child should consider the saints as alive as they consider aunts and uncles and friends; in fact, more so. When your little one complains that he has no friends, point to his heavenly companions, who are infinitely more loyal than any earthly friends.
It is important for you and your spouse—and perhaps your older children—to choose a patron saint of the family. Maybe it is glorious St. Joseph, but maybe it is a lesser-known saint who has meaning to your family. Choosing a patron saint should be an “event.” Carve out the time; have the participants bring a list of candidates and provide a written reason for each one; put them on a board or on a master list. Discuss all of them. There are no wrong ideas when it comes to the saints. Narrow it down to a handful. And then pray over it for a few days. Perhaps seek a holy priest’s opinion on your remaining candidates. Once you have chosen, find a sacred image of this holy man or woman, study their lives attentively, and invoke his or her intercession frequently. The end of the Holy Rosary is an opportune time to ask them to “pray for us.”
Additionally, choose your child’s baptismal name carefully. Do not be too trendy—an unfortunate trap modern parents fall into. Choose a biblical or canonized saint’s name. And then tell your child throughout his life that he has been entrusted to this saint by his very name. Again, have a sacred image of this patron saint right next to your child’s bed. While not as precious as one’s guardian angel, a patron saint is of great importance in the preservation of the Faith.
Furthermore, the properly formed family relies on the saints for all sorts of things—something that our Protestant brethren don’t understand. The communion of saints grants us the tremendous privilege to invoke their intercession in big things and small.
Your aim should be to form your child so that when they embark on a new task, challenge, endeavor, adventure, or suffering, they naturally ask, “Who is the patron saint of this?” If you have a little helper in the kitchen, tell them the story of St. Lawrence being grilled alive—and thus he is the patron of cooking! If your child is struggling with his school, tell him to pray to St. Benedict, patron of students. If you child can’t find their shoes as they are running out the door, quickly remind them to invoke the intercession of St. Anthony. If you and your child are going on a hike, mending a broken fence, burying a dead dog, whatever the task may be, pull out your smart phone and search right then and there, “Who is the patron saint of ____.”
The point, Dear Parent, is to use every opportunity to train that young mind in the ways of patron saints. It is a beautiful gift to give your children, one that they will carry with them until they meet all those holy men and women of God in their own glory.