Archive for Young Children – Page 2

Helping Our Children Encounter Christ During Advent

An Advent tea party at the Cameron-Smith home

An Advent tea party at the Cameron-Smith home

In his Monday homily last week, Pope Francis urged us to “encounter Christ” during Advent and to allow Christ to encounter us as well.  I’ve been thinking about how I can help my children to this end.  I have to accept my role as a servant in facilitating this encounter, especially if it includes allowing Christ to encounter my children in their uniqueness — in their personal reality.  They are each so very different, and each developmental stage brings new opportunities for cultivating in our children a personal experience of the authentic and living Christ.  Especially for my very young children, I may get off on the wrong foot if I assume they will encounter Christ like I do, by the same means.

How can we create the kind of emotional, spiritual, and physical environment that best allows that encounter to unfold naturally?  Here are a few tips for helping your young children encounter Christ this Advent season:

Children Encounter Christ Through LOVE

It’s not that doctrinal truths are unimportant or irrelevant for young kids, but they must experience these truths through love if we want them to come alive — if we want them to factor in our kids choices and lives long term.  This means we must love our children unconditionally, because we are the models of the kind of love they will internalize.  Children who are ignored or mistreated can never internalize the mercy and tenderness Jesus feels for them.  Even when they stumble and fail, Christ adores them.  Can our own love reflect this Christ-love better, even while we try to steer them on the right path?

This also means that we should announce to our child God’s love for her and make that love as concrete and inviting as possible.   So when we set up our nativity set this Advent, we can emphasize how much God must love her that he sent this precious little baby to come into the world just for her – so that she could know him and love him. We can emphasize the reality of Christ’s early life with his family – how he lived with Mary and Joseph in a family just like she lives in her own family; that he did chores, learned to read, said prayers, fed his animals, just like she does; that he understands what makes her sad and angry because he felt all those things when he was a child.

Children Encounter Christ Through PLAY

Advent in the Cameron-smith home

Advent in the Cameron-smith home

Children experience God in a private, emotional way and they also experience God through the descriptions they hear about God in catechetical instruction and Bible stories.  Play is where those two very real experiences come together for children.  Play helps them make sense of what they’ve experienced emotionally and intellectually.  Playing with Christ during Advent can include stories and hands-on play.  Read engaging, beautifully illustrated stories about the nativity and early life of Jesus during Advent.  Allow your child freedom to explore these stories through art, drama, or just good ol’ table talk.

Include lots of hands-on experiences – a Jesse Tree, Advent wreath, Advent Calendar, and nativity set.  Permit your child to engage with these religious objects, especially your nativity set, because this is where the story of Christmas really comes to life for kids.  Some families have heirloom nativities which are too precious for little hands to bonk around, but consider having a second “play nativity.”  My family found a very affordable felted nativity set and my children spend all of Advent moving the pieces around our house as Mary and Joseph journey to Bethlehem!

Children Encounter Christ Through PRAYER

We want our children to develop a personal relationship with Christ in which Christ understands her and cares for her in specific, unique circumstances.  Little children are open to developing a friendship with Jesus, and this includes chatting with him in prayer.  If your child doesn’t pray much, try starting during Advent.  You can start with communal prayer.  Create a prayer plan for your family, but recognize that children don’t pray like grown-ups.  When we impose our own prayer styles on our kids, we risk extinguishing their authentic experience of God.  I’m not suggesting that we don’t teach them the great prayers of our Faith.  We do.  But sometimes we get out of their way, we listen, and we learn from them.  When you give your child emotional space to pray, he will tend to pray in short bursts, sometimes incoherently.  This is okay.  You will also notice a collapsing of the transcendent and nearness of God in your child’s language. (“You are the most beautiful thing in the world!  Look, I think you are like Harold my goldfish!”)  This is also okay.  Just listen and affirm your child in his experience.

So, let’s bring our children to Jesus this Advent and let them sit a while on his lap.  Have a blessed Advent!

But Jesus Is IN There!

42082As Joseph waited expectantly for my wise answer, I scrambled to think quickly but truthfully.

I was preparing dinner one afternoon, when five-year old Joseph came running up to me with a serious look on his face. He was always full of energy and mischief but he also had a delightful spirituality that was not taught but inborn. Once again, Joseph had another theological question for me,

“Mum, does Mary live in my heart?”

I did some fast thinking. Heaven is within us and Mary is in heaven, I thought. So I answered,

“Yes sweetie, Mary is in your heart.”

Joseph sighed and concluded the discussion,“I guess that means that God is in my feet.”

I laughed silently to myself and thought that was a very theologically correct concept since God is our foundation. I had no idea what went on in Josph’s head after that answer but I soon found out.

It was about a week later, when all the kids who were old enough (and one who wasn’t really old enough), were playing hide and go seek.

When Joseph pinched his toe with a closet door he ran up to me again, this time he was sobbing. Although I tried to calm him down, while he sat on my knee, he wouldn’t stop crying. Finally I tried to reason with him,

“Joseph, you are fine. Look there isn’t even any blood. There will be just a little bruise.”

“I know”, he cried, ”but Jesus is in there!!”

Pope Leo XIII’s “Fidentem Piumque Animum” (Day 9)

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On this 9th day of our series of 1-minute Rosary Quotes, ponder this beautiful quote from Pope Leo XIII’s “Fidentem Piumque Animum”:

The form of prayer We refer to has  obtained the special name of “Rosary,” as though it represented by  its arrangement the sweetness of roses and the charm of a garland. This is most fitting for a method of venerating the Virgin, who is rightly styled the  Mystical Rose of Paradise, and who, as Queen of the universe, shines therein  with a crown of stars. So that by its very name it  appears to foreshadow and be an augury of the joys and garlands of Heaven offered by her to those who are devoted to  her.

I think for many of us our children comprise many of the roses on that garland that Our Lady offers to us.  Then there are our spouses, our friends, our parishes, and the gifts we’ve been given in living out our Christian calling.  When I consider my own garland, I know I don’t recognize some of the roses:  gifts sent to me by Mary, those “little graces” of the Christian life.  But I can strive to notice them!

 

When Your Preschooler Hits

Angry PreschoolerHitting is a common problem in the preschool years.  Kids at this age are having more frequent interactions with other children and are increasingly interested in playing with others, but they lack the emotional control and social skills necessary to handle every frustration and struggle they experience.  Catholic parents want to raise their children to be compassionate and loving, so what can we do if hitting emerges in our child’s preschool years?  How can we prevent it from becoming a more serious problem in later childhood?  I explored this topic with Greg & Lisa Popcak on their Catholic radio show More2Life on Thursday October 24th.  You can listen to the Podast here.  My segment is about 20 minutes into the show, but the entire show was wonderful: The Popcaks addressed the dynamics of anger and when anger is a healthy response to a threat.

Let’s go over and expand upon some of the points I made on the show about preschool hitting.  First, don’t freak out.  Hitting is not a sign that your child is going to join a gang or become a bank robber.  They usually just need a little support during these years in learning how to manage their impulses and big feelings.  Here are few things to keep in mind when you’re dealing with a Little Hitter:

Understand the goal

The goal in “disciplining” our children isn’t to control their behavior or to force them to comply with our wishes out of fear of punishment ( . . . or pain).  We want them to gain the self-control and virtue necessary to make wise choices as they mature.  To accomplish this goal, we have to view our children as disciples who need guidance rather than prisoners who need guarding.

Create clear expectations and consequences before a problem occurs

At a time when your child is calm, have a talk about acceptable behavior and why hitting is not acceptable.  Ensure your child knows that you understand his frustrations and how hard it is to handle anger, and that you will help him deal with his feelings in a better way.  But be clear with him that physically harming others is not okay.

Tell your child what the consequence will be for hitting in the future.   Some people do time-outs, others do “time-ins” (sitting quietly with Mom or Dad until the child calms down), but it is important to separate the child from the person he hurt.  I prefer the “time-in” approach because it sends a clear message to my child that I’m not punishing her, but rather trying to help her get herself together.  Ensure that you follow up by explaining to your child what alternative way she might have handled the problem.

You may also want to tell your child what the consequence will be for hitting in the future.  Consequences should be logical.  Being hit as a consequence for hitting somebody is not logical!  A logical consequence for hitting may be the loss of play date privileges for a few days so that you can play one-on-one with your child to teach her how to handle her anger and frustration.

Mentor small children in cooperative playing

When your child is playing with siblings or having a play date, don’t just sit back and expect things to go perfectly.  Preschoolers need our occasional active mentorship in how to be a good friend, in how to love others generously.  Small kids aren’t usually old enough to know how to cooperate and deal with disagreements on their own, at least not every time.

While he’s playing with others, gently remind your child about “gentle hands,” sharing, and how to negotiate over toys.  You don’t have to be like a military general directing the troops, but do be aware of what is happening.  If things seem to be getting heated, be sure to step in before somebody gets hurt.  Separate the children until they are calm and then mentor both children in friendship and cooperation.

Dr. Greg made a superb point on the show.  He mentioned that sometimes children hit not only because they are angry but also because they’re “worked up.”  If little ones are getting rowdy and out of control, tame the room before arms and fists start flying.  I have a certain affection for rough and tumble play:  I think it’s actually healthy for children to roll around together, even wrestling.  But what Dr. Greg is talking about is the emotional energy that can accompany rough and tumble playing.  If the kids are starting to “lose their minds,” have them take a breather.

When your child hurts somebody

If your child has hit somebody, first ensure the other child is okay.  As Lisa pointed out on the show, this shows the other child (and her parent) that you are concerned about her and what she experienced.  It also models for your child empathy and compassion.

Then, view this as an opportunity to teach your child about the Christian virtues.  What virtue was lacking in the situation your child was in?  Begin to explain to him the importance of compassion, patience, mercy, and love.  Help him see things from the perspective of the other child.  These are giant lessons that take most of us a lifetime to comprehend, but it’s not too early to begin evangelizing your child.  You will continue to repeat these lessons in virtue with increasing depth as your child matures. Require your child to make things right with the other child:  a hug, apology, kiss, whatever seems appropriate to you.

As always, keep in mind that our primary goal in raising our children is to protect their hearts and lead them to heaven.  We will have a harder time doing the latter without doing the former.

Pope Leo XIII’s “ADIUTRICEM” (Day 8 of 1-Minute Rosary Quotes)

rosary button

On this 8th day of our “1-Minute Rosary Quotes,” we offer this quote from the 8th encyclical from Pope Leo XIII on the Rosary:

The power thus put into her hands is all  but unlimited. How unerringly right, then, are Christian souls when they turn  to Mary for help as though impelled by an instinct of nature, confidently  sharing with her their future hopes and past achievements, their sorrows and  joys, commending themselves like children to the care of a bountiful mother.

Mary is my mother, your mother, our mother.  Last night I hosted a lovely multi-family gathering in honor of our Lady and the Rosary.  As I heard the little prayers of our children rising up to Our Mother, I was moved to tears.  Children by nature turn to their nurturers for help and direction, for hope and inspiration.  I want to be more like them, not relying on my own strength or smarts.  I want to rely on Jesus, knowing he knows the way I should go.  Hail Mary!

Pope Leo XIII: Days 3 & 4

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Day 3 One-Minute Rosary Quote from Pope Leo XIII’s On the Rosary and Public Life

Mindful that in moments of great trial, pastors and people have ever had recourse with entire confidence to the august Mother of God, in whose hands are all graces, certain too, that devotion to Our Lady of the Rosary is most opportune for the needs of these times, We have desired to revive everywhere this devotion, and to spread it far and wide among the faithful of the world.

Day 4 One-Minute Rosary Quote from Pope Leo XIII’s Octobre Mense

Now, among the several rites and manners of paying  honour to the Blessed Mary, some are to be preferred, inasmuch as we know them  to be most powerful and most pleasing to our Mother; and for this reason we  specially mention by name and recommend the Rosary. The common language has  given the name of corona to this manner of prayer, which recalls to our minds  the great mysteries of Jesus and Mary united in joys, sorrows, and triumphs.  The contemplation of these august mysteries, contemplated in their order, of  fords to faithful souls a wonderful confirmation of faith, protection against  the disease of error, and increase of the strength of the soul. The soul and  memory of him who thus prays, enlightened by faith, are drawn towards these  mysteries by the sweetest devotion, are absorbed therein and are surprised  before the work of the Redemption of mankind, achieved at such a price and by  events so great. The soul is filled with gratitude and love before these  proofs of Divine love; its hope becomes enlarged and its desire is increased  for those things which Christ has prepared for such as have united themselves  to Him in imitation of His example and in participation in His sufferings. The  prayer is composed of words proceeding from God Himself, from the Archangel  Gabriel, and from the Church; full of praise and of high desires; and it is  renewed and continued in an order at once fixed and various; its fruits are  ever new and sweet.

Pope Leo XIII’s “Superiore Anno: On the Recitation of the Rosary”

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In his second encyclical on the Rosary, published in 1884, Pope Leo XIII  instituted the daily prayer of the Rosary during the month of October, especially in parishes.  Pope Leo XIII had been concerned about the Church and its need for protection from Satan.  He saw the Rosary as one of the most powerful weapons against the powers of darkness.  Our quote today:

Indeed, from the spirit of prayer which is poured out over the  house of David and the dwellers in Jerusalem, we have a confident hope that  God will at length let Himself be touched and have pity upon the state of His  Church, and give ear to the prayers coming to Him through her whom He has  chosen to be the dispenser of all heavenly graces . . . May our Heavenly Patroness, invoked by us through the Rosary, graciously be with us and obtain that, all disagreements of opinion being removed and Christianity restored throughout the world, we may obtain from God the wished for peace in the Church.

Here’s the entire document.

Our families are critical to the renewal of the Church, the New Evangelization, and the resistance against Darkness within the Church.   Our prayers are powerful, especially when we include the voices of our children in our prayers, especially when we offer up a Rosary!

Pope Leo XIII’s Encyclical on The Devotion to the Holy Rosary

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Pope Leo XIII has been called “The Rosary Pope” because he issued eleven encyclicals on the Rosary.  For the next 11 days I’ll post a quote from each of these encyclicals, with the links to the full text.

Here is a quote from his first Rosary encyclical, published in 1883:

It has always been the habit of Catholics in danger and in troublous times to fly for refuge to Mary, and to seek for peace in her maternal goodness; showing that the Catholic Church has always, and with justice, put all her hope and trust in the  Mother of God.  And truly the Immaculate Virgin, chosen to be the Mother of God and thereby associated with Him in the work of man’s salvation, has a favor and power with her Son greater than any human or angelic creature has ever obtained, or ever can gain. And, as it is her greatest pleasure to grant her help and comfort to those who seek her, it cannot be doubted that she would deign, and even be anxious, to receive the aspirations of the universal Church.

Pope Leo XIII’s emphasizes the power of Mary to intervene for on any matter and that our hope in her is well-placed.  Link to Pope Leo XIII’s The Devotion to the Holy Rosary

The Rosary Box

rosary buttonFour years ago, when I had four children aged 10, 7, 5 and 2, I realized we didn’t have a good handle on the mysteries of the Rosary.  My husband, having grown up in a Catholic family and having attended Catholic schools, was quite proficient on knowing the mysteries.

I felt our practice of praying the rosary could be improved.  When we had one child, we could pray a whole rosary as a family in the evening.  The one quiet daughter would happily sit on our laps or hold a rosary near us during prayer time.  When we had two and three children, we switched to praying just a decade as a family in the evening.  Twenty minutes of quiet before bed seemed so difficult to impose by this mother.  Our prayer time would collapse in mother’s disappointment.  Most often it was mother’s disappointment in her lack of patience.

Fast forward to four kids.  There had to be a way to help them focus for 20 minutes!  I began to look for simple images to convey the mysteries.  There are lots of resources on the internet.   Some very beautiful.  Some very traditional American.  Some very basic.  I purchased this durable book-Mysteries of the Rosary for Children by Cy Speltz.

rosarysorrow

 

Images only work great for those that can visualize and sit still!  So I began to think developmentally for my 5 year old and 2 year old.  What could help them?  What things did I already have around the house?  What things could I find simply, inexpensively?  What could represent the mysteries as a small manipulative?

At a local crafting store, I found four small cardboard boxes (about 3×3 each) which could fit into a larger box (about 8×8).

I collected five small images and 5 small manipulatives for each of four boxes.   Putting this work together for the child forced me to think through and be more familiar with the mysteries myself!

I covered each box in what I thought was appropriate themed paper.  For the Joyful mysteries, a happy floral paper.  For the Luminous, a shining paper.  For the Glorious, a gold paper.  For the Sorrowful, a sad blue paper.  The larger box that houses all our items, I covered in a red paper.  Each box has a label.  I also added a few handmade rosaries and a couple of simple booklets for children about the rosary.

rosary box

rosary box2

There isn’t a magic item for the boxes.  Any object that creates a memory device for you or your child works.  In our Joyful mysteries box, we have a small dove for the mystery of the Annunciation, a spring for the Visitation, a small wooden baby for the Nativity, two small birds for the Presentation in the temple and a scroll for the Finding in the temple.  If you were creating this for a younger than 3 year old child, you might wish to increase the size of the items and the boxes to prevent choking hazards.

In our house, these boxes appeal to the 3-7 year old age children.  I encourage the children to remove one box at a time. During a child’s own quiet prayer time, I observe them using this box.  When we pray as a family, the younger children remove the objects and images.  It is a great memory game to return all 20 mystery items to their correct boxes.

Using this rosary box, does not promise peacefully well-behaved children during the family rosary.  It does mean that there might be more participation from the younger crowd in your home.  And you just might be inspired to pray as a family more often.

31 Days to Discovering the Richness of the Rosary

The Tierneys' Rosary shelf!

The Tierneys’ Rosary shelf!

The rosary.  It’s been described as a wreath of roses and a powerful weapon.  It grants us the grace of the intercession of a woman who cares for the world with gentleness and humility but crushes the head of the devil with unrelenting perseverance.  It’s beautiful design engages our bodies, minds, and souls in formulaic prayer, meditation, and praise.  It can protect us from sin and bring peace to the world.

Celebrate the gift of the rosary by increasing your devotion through knowledge.  Print this list and have your children help you cut the facts, quotes, and inspirations apart.  Create a chain with the strips of paper and tear one off to read each day of this month of the rosary.  Fan the flame of devotion to our Blessed Mother and she will reward you with her prayers and protection.  As your family increases in understanding of this beautiful prayer, you will be filled with a desire to emphasize its importance in your home.  Place a statue or picture of Mary and your family’s rosaries in a prominent place and start a tradition of praying together.  Begin with one decade once a week with small children and work up from there.  Our family is just beginning to reap the benefits of this powerful prayer, and we trust Mary will continue to lead us on our rosary journey.  Run into the arms of your heavenly Mother and entrust your children to her, and she will never abandon you until she has placed you and your family at the feet of Jesus Himself!

“The faults of children are not always imputed to the parents, especially when they have instructed them and given good example. Our Lord, in His wondrous Providence, allows children to break the hearts of devout fathers and mothers. Thus the decisions your children have made don’t make you a failure as a parent in God’s eyes. You are entitled to feel sorrow, but not necessarily guilt. Do not cease praying for your children; God’s grace can touch a hardened heart. Commend your children to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. When parents pray the rosary, at the end of each decade they should hold the rosary aloft and say to her,”With these beads bind my children to your Immaculate Heart”, she will attend to their souls.”

— St. Louise de Marillac

 

October is THE MONTH OF THE HOLY ROSARY

Say the Rosary every day…
Pray, pray a lot and offer sacrifices for sinners…
I’m Our Lady of the Rosary.
Only I will be able to help you . . .
In the end My Immaculate Heart will triumph.”

Our Lady at Fatima

 

It’s October 1st!  Can you believe it?  Time to change out the cheery spring welcome sign on my front door for a more reserved (though hopefully no less welcoming) fall wreath.

rosary buttonThe Church devotes October to the Rosary – yep a WHOLE MONTH.  The Feast of the Holy Rosary is on October 7th.  Well this month on CAPC we’re gonna try to help you folks bring this great Church devotion into your homes, the domestic church.  We’ll be bringing you great essays, links to websites and books, and daily quotes all about the Rosary and how to make it matter more and work better in your family.

Perhaps you’re skeptical.

Perhaps you’ve tried praying the Rosary with your kids and they’ve either whipped the beads around their necks like a hula-hoop or asked incessantly, “Why are we doing this?”

Let’s be honest.  Perhaps you’ve even asked yourself while praying the Rosary, Why are we doing this? . . . What am I making for dinner? . . . I hope the phone rings . . . Why is that sock under the t.v.? . . . Is that the phone? . . . I think I have an eye infection . . . Um, why are we doing this?  (Trust me, I know these wandering wonderings from personal experience . . . )

Well, we don’t promise to be the answer to all your Rosary praying problems and party poopers, but hopefully we can shed some light on why this devotion is by far the most popular among the faithful.  In fact, it was John Paul II’s favorite prayer. If you’ve never prayed the Rosary, why not start on October 7th, the official feast of the devotion?

The Basics

First, for those of you who are new to the Church or who didn’t grow up with the Rosary, it is a series of prayers (primarily the Our Father and the Hail Mary) using prayer beads.  After each prayer, we move on to the next bead and the next prayer. Kids seem to like the Rosary because they know most of the prayers and they like feeling the prayer beads.

There are 4 sets of prayers called Mysteries which focus on some aspect of Christ’s life, death, resurrection, and glory.  So the point isn’t just to say the prayers; we also meditate on these moments in salvation history.  This is why John Paul II said, “The Rosary, though clearly Marian in character, is at heart a Christocentric prayer. In the sobriety of its elements, it has all the depth of the Gospel message in its entirety.”

Second, if you want to try praying the Rosary with your family, just start.  You don’t have to do it perfectly or resemble a gathering of monks.  Just grab a Rosary and gather your kiddlies.  If you don’t know the prayers or the format there are tons of books and resources.  The Rosary Center has a good on-line tutorial on how to pray the Rosary.  Here are some of my family’s favorite Rosary books:

I Pray the Rosary by Margaret Rose Scarfi.  For littlies.

A Child’s Guide to the Rosary by Elizabeth Fiocelle.  For middlies.

Amazing Love:  Rosary Meditations for Teens by Mari Seaburg.  For biggies.

The Essential Rosary by Caryll Houselander.  For biggies.  This is the Rosary companion I purchased in a tiny book store in Oxford when I first returned to the Church and it’s still my favorite guide!

Dealing with Little Ones

What if you have a bunch of itty bitty kids who can’t pray the whole Rosary, which consists of five decades of prayers?  You can pray one decade if that works best for your situation.  Announce the Mystery, begin with the Our Father, pray your 10 Hail Mary’s, end with the Glory Be and O My Jesus.  At this age, just focus on the spirit of the prayer and give the kids lots of visual and tactile aids (and tender, patient love).  Check out this awesome “Rosary Board” from Lacy at Catholic Icing.

Rosary Board by Lacy at catholicicing.com

Rosary Board by Lacy at catholicicing.com

 

A friend of mine made Lacy’s board with her daughter and it turned out beautifully.  Giving small kids large wooden or plastic Rosaries is also a great idea.  My small kids tend to break the delicate Rosaries I purchase at our Catholic book store.  Be reasonable with expectations with small children: make Rosary prayer time enjoyable; stop when they’ve have enough.  Ensure they have positive associations about praying with the family.

If your family loves praying the Rosary, please consider sharing your ideas with the rest of us in a comment or a guest post!  We’d love to hear from you!

Why I Let My Son Drop Out of Preschool

michaelynPlease welcome our new staff writer, Michaelyn Hein!  Michaelyn lives in New Jersey with her husband of 8 ½ years, and is a stay-at-home mom to their 4 year-old son. After earning a B.A. in English, and M.A.T. in Secondary Education, she taught high school English for seven years. She left her career when her son was born in order to raise her family. She blogs at Thoughts from the Pew in the Back.  In her inaugural essay, Michaelyn takes on a tough issue:  whether to place small children in preschool.

I have a confession to make: I am the mother of a preschool dropout.

I’ll admit, it took me a little while to get used to the idea. For months, I’d anticipated the start of his education, evidently with more excitement than him. But, a year ago, things didn’t go as planned. In my four years of mothering, I’m finding most things never do.

That’s how I became an “accidental” attachment parent. When our son was born, my husband and I planned to have him sleep in his beautiful, brand new crib my mother gifted us. But, our son, even in infancy, had different plans. I soon found the only way any of us could get any sleep was if he was in our bed. So, we began co-sleeping, and we were all much happier (though maybe not my mother – it was an expensive crib). The same thing happened with nursing. I planned to try to squeeze six months out of it, but a year later, my son and I still had a happy nursing relationship. I figured why ruin a good thing?

See, I had these plans for how it would all go, because I listened to the suggestions coming from the world around me. But, when I actually became a mother I found that listening to my own intuitions (and my son’s own voice) made my home a much happier place for everyone.

So, why I threw that intuition out the window when our son turned three, I’m not sure.

I could say it was because I felt left out of the conversation when all my friends discussed the preschools they were sending their kids to. I could guess it was because I thought the backpacks lining the shelves of every store we entered were just so cute. But, whatever the reasons, and despite a voice deep down inside whispering not to do it, I did. I enrolled our son in preschool.

As my mother always said, man plans and God laughs, right? And I’m beginning to think that God tells us His better plans through the laughter – or cries – of our children.

Because our son wasn’t ready for school.  At all.  The first two days, he muddled through, and I lied to myself that only ten minutes of crying was an indication of success. But, I guess our son wasn’t happy that his mother suddenly seemed not to be listening to his needs. I imagine in his innocent mind, he didn’t get why his mommy, who’d spent every day at home with him since his birth nurturing, guiding and teaching him, was suddenly abandoning him, even if it was only for a few hours two days a week.

Still, I tried to convince myself that all was well with him entering preschool. However, our son, who suddenly felt silenced by my ignoring his looks of dread when I left him in the classroom, found a way to make his voice heard. On the third day, he cried.

Well, sobbed, really, and he’d done so for an hour straight, the teacher said. I shudder to think that on the fourth day, I brought him back. What was I thinking? I, the mother who’d been horrified by even the idea of making my son cry it out in his crib as an infant, took my preschooler back to the place where he’d just “cried it out” in the classroom.

57280720It took him clinging to me that morning – literally latched onto my leg so that I’d have to pry him off like a leech – for me to realize that he still needed me more than he needed any school. In their book, Hold Onto Your Kids, Gordon Neufeld, Ph.D., and Gabor Maté, M.D., explain that “the more children are pushed, the tighter they cling” (188). By how tightly my son gripped me that morning, he was obviously being pushed too hard.

And, I finally got the message. We pulled him out of school, but friends were concerned. Weren’t we worried our son would be a social outcast? Well, though he was an only child despite our hopes to give him a sibling, not really; more time at home with us would make him more secure in relationships. Didn’t we fear he’d be academically behind his peers? It couldn’t be that hard to teach basic counting, or number and letter recognition. Weren’t we worried we taught him to be too dependent on us by giving into his tears? I couldn’t fathom that at three he was too old to have his tears acknowledged. In fact, I couldn’t imagine that any of us is ever too old to benefit from having our fears validated. It was pondering this last question that, in the end, convinced me we’d done the right thing.

Well, that, and the Bible. In the Gospels, Jesus asks, “Which one of you would hand his son a stone when he asks for a loaf of bread?” Our Lord then goes on to acknowledge that we know how to give good gifts to our children (Mt. 7: 9, 11, NABRE). I was reminded that as parents, we do know how to give our kids what they need, and that we don’t need society to guide us. We have God to do that.

It’s been a year since we allowed our son to drop out of preschool, and in that year he’s learned valuable lessons. We played together, and he learned to expand his imagination. We made crafts together, and he learned to create. We read books together, and he learned his letters. He helped with the cooking, and he learned how to measure. And by having his needs responded to when he was most vulnerable, he learned that he is respected, that he is heard and that he can depend on the people he loves.

But, really, I think the greatest lesson has been mine: that if we want our children to honor us, then we first need to honor them.