The domestic church is like an enclosed garden; a planned space
for the cultivation, nurture and care of the family.
The present is the only chance to build our family as a domestic church.
The few weeks before school starts in the fall, we find that our kitchen calendar (or smartphone calendar) begins to fill up with schedules of sports, musical or church events for the children. Let us take the time to build another sort of schedule for our domestic church. This schedule is not one with time slots or dates, but a plan for each of our children for the coming year. As they are one year older, a bit more mature than last year and more capable of doing a variety of work, we set some goals to aspire for and they serve as guides for us as parents.
Areas of Growth
To simplify this, there are four areas in which each of our children can grow every year in the domestic church: spiritual formation, moral/character formation, intellectual formation, and practical skills. When our children were young, we had few and simple entries like - learn to pray the Our Father, learn how to say May I and Thank You, learn how to read, and learn how to set the table. Through the years, before the summer ends and school begins, my husband and I would sit down and together, look over how each child did with the goals set for them last year and decide what entries we write in for the coming year taking into account each of our children's personality, age, strengths and weaknesses.
As they got older, we showed them these goals and we were all clear as to what goals were set for them and they began to take on these targets for themselves. Each of our children has a notebook where there are entries there since each was in Kindergarten - 5 years old. They like leafing through to see the goals they have achieved in the past years.
As parents, our job in this is not so much daily reminding them of these goals but making plenty of opportunities for these goals to be reached. We provide the home, the community, the encouragement and the affirmation. As a family for instance - let us pray before bedtime and incorporate the Our Father. Let us bring them to Mass and cue the child when the Our Father comes up in the liturgy. When someone needs help, let us teach them to turn to God and intercede for that person and end with the Our Father.
Training of the Will
Our children are not empty vessels into which we pour everything; rather, they are persons made in the image and likeness of God. Their dignity, as in ours, includes the exercise of their free will. In affirming their dignity, we as parents teach and form our children by the training and engagement of their will, not by making available to them a multitude of options for every choice. This training and engagement happens in the small and daily stuff of family life. When they have a clear goal before them, many opportunities to practice them, and an expectation to act rightly, they move their will to do it. Many times, the children do not even need the customary pat on the back because the daily small sense of accomplishment serves as their reward. As parents, we notice when they diligently employ their will and we diligently give them that positive feedback, "You did that very well."
The daily routines of school work, extra-curricular activities, relationships and family life all can be opportunities to help our children grow and train their will. Parents can take full advantage of all these opportunities if there is an over-arching plan for each of our children that makes all these seemingly separate areas into an integrated whole.