The theme for the 6th World Meeting of Families held recently in Mexico City was “Families as educators in human and Christian values”. But we could ask: “Who and what does most of the educating these days, not just of children but of all members of the family?”
Parents do still have some knowledge and much insight and experience to share or pass on to their children, but there is no doubt that children are teaching their parents a whole lot too, and other sources are teaching us and our children, especially in the e-world.
I, and I am sure very many parents and grandparents, feel quite hopelessly intimidated by the electronics world. I wonder who taught the pope about YouTube as one of his latest means of communication? I’m at an age when I don’t really have to know how Mix-it works, but I am aware how common and popular it is not only with the youth or younger kids but also with younger adults. I am aware that it is too easy, for young girls especially, to lay themselves open to abuse and exploitation. Similarly, the Internet could be like a modern-day version of Little Red Riding Hood’s walk through the forest to visit her grandmother. Where is the wolf hiding, or is he at home in the bed?
One of the inputs that impressed me particularly at the World Meeting was from Professor Gaitano from Spain on “The Family and The Media”. While recognising the benefits, he stressed the potential harm in the various forms of media, magazines, TV and movies in influencing our value systems. Research notes the increasing amount of violence in TV programmes and also in computer and TV games and an openness around sexual matters. These cannot but have an insidious undermining effect on all our values and morals. Sexual promiscuity in various forms and break-down of traditional stable family units are social realities. We can tell our children about values but what are we living ourselves and modelling to them?
Prof Gaitano’s ultimate message was that in the face of many difficult realities parents and families are still the primary educators when it comes to human and Christian values.
So how can we go about doing our duty? I have always believed that the season of Lent is a teachable moment. As a community we go out of our way to do that little bit extra, are encouraged to go to Mass, pray the Rosary and the Stations of the Cross, give up things or take up things by way of making sacrifices.
My suggestion for this Lent is not so much to go out and do, but to stay home and do. One of the other speakers at the World Meeting expanding on the slogan “the family that prays together stays together”, adding that “the family that eats together stays together.” I often add to that: “the family that plays together stays together.”
So here is my recommendation for this Lent. Decide as a family to eat together, to have a family meal with no TV but a chance to sit around a table, talk and share your lives with one another. Don’t focus too much on table manners or sorting out family fights or serious issues, but make this quality time. Then, at least once a week and more often during Holy Week, do some faith reflection, perhaps using the MARFAM Lent and Easter booklet “Teaching the Way of Love” to learn more about the Social Teaching of the Church applied to family life, yours and others.
And in case you need more ideas, the booklet contains a Family Lenten Calendar with at least 50 suggestions for Acts of Love and Sacrifice. And then there are Stations of the Cross that can be prayed at home. Those are teachable moments, special, enriching family moments to bring us closer to God and to one another.
That for me is what educating in human and Christian values is firstly about.