Have you ever been tempted to turn on the TV to get your kids to settle down? Have your kids ever been in the room while you watched or listened to something that wasn’t kid-friendly, banking on the fact that they didn’t understand it? Have you ever sat with your computer/tablet/phone while your kids are playing in the room, maybe even asking to play with you, and you brushed them off with a quick “Daddy’s busy”?
Well, I’ll confess. I’m certainly guilty of all of the above.
Raising a family has never been simple, but an atmosphere of Kardashians and “Fifty Shades of Grey” certainly doesn’t help. As a young father of two, I know some days feel like I’m trying to swim upstream while pulling my family behind me. I know I am far from alone, and at least I have the benefits of supportive friends, parents and grandparents — gifts not everyone has to lean on. Which is why I’m grateful for the World Meeting of Families that will take place weeks from now in Philadelphia.
Living the vocation of family life involves giving a loving example to your children and nurturing the child’s own relationship with God. As the preparatory catechesis for the World Meeting of Families explains, “Family life requires living with attentiveness ... like building a marriage, discerning a vocation does not ‘come from the air.’”
As we know from those questions above, though, living with attentiveness is much easier said than done.
The fact is, screens were everywhere as I grew up, blaring their cultural message in every room and every storefront. Passive receptivity was the normal mode of engaging with the culture, whether by music, TV or video games. And this is the culture that overwhelms us, in our homes, cars and nearly everywhere we go. Young parents, in particular, eagerly engage in new tech trends and still pour a lot of time into social media.
The preparatory catechesis reminds us to be more reflective about where we put our eyes and those of our family. “[E]ngaging in these forms of culture is not something that should happen on autopilot. ... [P]arents and children need to reflect on their family’s way of being in the world without belonging to the world.” The first step to this is actually paying attention to what your kids are seeing, reading or hearing. It’s too easy to assume that because something is a cartoon, rated G or has “For Kids” on it that it’s acceptable. Scrolling through your social media accounts can also put things in front of your children that you never would have shown them. We must practice more discernment in how our children come into contact with the culture.
Culture forms a huge part of who we all are, for good or for ill. It shapes our picture of “the good life,” the way we treat others and want to be treated, and many other facets of our lives. Without the presence of God to steer by, it’s not so simple to figure out what sorts of media are harmful and, conversely, what “material ... protects their innocence, gives them an appetite for the adventure of Christian living, and evokes a vocational approach to life.”
The choices we make affect not only our children but our communities and the future as well. Pope Francis showed his understanding of the challenges we face today when he said, “Christian spouses are not naive; they know life’s problems and temptations. But they are not afraid to be responsible before God and before society. They do not run away, they do not hide, they do not shirk the mission of forming a family and bringing children into the world. But today ... it is difficult! That is why we need the grace, the grace that comes from the sacrament!”
The pope added that “Grace is not given to decorate life but rather to make us strong in life, giving us the courage to go forward! And without isolating oneself but always staying together.”
The World Meeting of Families — and the pope’s presence there — will help us keep from either falling into the culture or removing ourselves entirely from it. It will help young parents to stand stronger in our own households and to actively live our vocations as spouses and parents. The Church has so much to help us.
Now, when I need to do work, or when I simply want a break, the temptation is strong to just turn on a cartoon and let the kids have at it. But when that becomes a go-to habit, it’s shirking responsibility.
Let’s get our kids away from the TV and the Internet. Let’s go outside with them. Play ball! Go to a museum! Show them the world and walk with them. And when you do let the kids watch TV or a movie, watch it with them. The best way to know what your kids are reading, seeing and hearing is to spend time with them.
Daniel McGiffin writes from Washington, D.C. He works for Catholic Voices USA.