As usual, in his down-to-earth, pull-no-punches way, Father Kelly keeps us focused on what is truly important in raising a Catholic family!
From The Catholic Family Handbook, Fr. George Kelly, 1950’s
If you could carefully study families that are genuinely happy–those in which father and mother truly love each other and their children, and where children obey, respect and love their parents–you would find that they have many traits in common.
These characteristics are distinct and recognizable, and sharply differentiate these families from those in which there is unending tension, bickering and bitterness.
No institution has had the opportunity to observe the characteristics of happy families as has the Church. Through the centuries, she has recognized the family as the ideal means of helping parents and children to lead holy and happy lives, and she has carefully noted which factors best encourage holiness and happiness.
What she has long known has been borne out in recent years by the studies of social scientists. These researchers have questioned thousands of persons who, by their own testimony, are members of happy families; and they have questioned other thousands who admit that their family life is not happy.
From such beginnings they have uncovered the characteristics of happy families which are lacking in the other kind. The findings of the Church, tested over the centuries, and of sociologists, using modern scientific methods, agree that there are five main characteristics of a happy family.
First, it places full, unquestioned trust in God. Father, mother and children accept the Almighty as their Creator without reservation. They show love and respect for Him and His laws in the everyday conduct of their lives.
They pray together; they attend Mass and receive Communion together; they practice other devotions together; they make their home a little sanctuary, with pictures and statues to remind them of Our Lord or the Blessed Mother.
The father who believes and trusts in God is best equipped to perform his functions as head of the family. Aware of his responsibilities to the Lord for his children, he strives to instill moral virtues by his own example.
The mother who holds the Blessed Virgin as her model develops the love and patience which nurture the spiritual and emotional growth of her children.
When father and mother give living evidence of their faith in God, they no longer need spend so much time trying to decide which course to pursue in bringing up their children. They usually know what to do, because they have a standard to guide them. They only ask: What does God want of us as parents? When they seek to understand His way and to follow it, they free themselves of the confusion which besets parents without standards upon which to rest.
Children in a home where God is worshiped also know where they stand.
They are taught to respect the Creator and, in respecting Him, to respect all lawful authority. They learn in a precise way what conduct is acceptable and what is forbidden. In their study of religion and religious truths, they learn at an early age that punishment will inevitably follow wrongdoing; thus they learn the major principle which will guide their conduct throughout their lives.
Many authorities have observed that a major sign of danger in marriage arises when one or both of the partners stops attending religious services regularly.
Records of the nation’s courts clearly prove that the home which worships God does not produce the child who appears before a judge on charges of juvenile delinquency.
Studies of unwed mothers prove that the girl who has learned the virtue of purity in a religious setting at home is not the one who gets into trouble in her adolescence.
Second, the happy family puts interest in its home in first place.
Father and mother fully recognize that the most important work they can do is to train their children to be a credit in the eyes of God.
One sometimes encounters a father who spends long hours at business during the week and then spends his week ends with business associates.
In pursuing success or wealth–and perhaps believing that he is a good father in doing so–he refuses his children’s fundamental need to know him as a human being.
On the other hand, one often sees men who hold positions which, by the worlds standards, are low in social prestige.
Perhaps they sacrifice material progress by devoting their leisure time to their children–playing and talking with them, sympathizing with their problems and encouraging them in their aspirations. Regardless of what the world thinks, the first type of father is a failure and the second type is a success.
In a happy home, parents often hold firm against other allurements which tempt them to put the needs of their children in an inferior place. Such allurements include the desire for an overly active social life, the constant pursuit of pleasure in the form of commercial entertainment and the exclusive choice of hobbies (golf, cards, dancing clubs, etc.) from which children are excluded.
Obviously, men must work to provide for their families. It is also obvious that parents are entitled to entertainment away from their children–in fact, an evening alone can have a pronounced therapeutic effect. Nor is the desire to succeed in business or to enjoy one’s self blameworthy.
But when a father becomes overly ambitious and sacrifices his children for his career advancement, or when a mother engages in an unending round of social activities, the great bond of unity in the family is weakened.
Mutual love and respect, which are born and held only in intimacy, are the ingredients that make for true family life, and they cannot thrive when the father or mother places other objectives ahead of them.
Third, in happy families, father and mother occupy a position of equality, but there is no misunderstanding that he is the head. The importance of the mother is an accepted fact. She is the heart of the family–the custodian of love and warmth, the first comforter and educator of the children. In according her a just status, however, we must not weaken the father’s traditional position.
By nature and temperament, he should exercise headship. When he fails to do so, his children lack an appropriate male model to guide them in their conduct, and they are likely to reach maturity without properly understanding the roles they must play as men or women. But while he must be the leader, he should not be like a common type of fathers of the past–the tyrant whose word was law, and whose wife and children constantly trembled before him.
Such a father does more harm than good; his children either become submissive before everyone, or become so rebellious against authority that they cannot lead normal lives as law-abiding citizens. In happy homes, the father is the just dispenser of punishment, but he also wins the respect of his children by the reasonable rules he imposes and the merciful way he enforces them.
Fourth, the happy family is based upon mutual sacrifice. In such a home, Dad will forgo desserts at lunch to save for a family vacation which all members of the family may enjoy. Mother will wear a dress that is several seasons old so that her daughter may take piano lessons; and the children will save for weeks to buy her a special gift for Mother’s Day.
When Dad must do extra work at home for his employer and Mother can help him, she gladly does so. When guests are coming and the house needs a thorough cleaning, Dad rolls up his sleeves and does his share of the manly work.
Johnny washes the windows as his regular chore, Billy sets the table for dinner, Mary washes the dishes while Mother rests, and after school Tommy sometimes watches the baby in her playpen while Mother shops. In this family, everyone makes sacrifices for the common good.
Fifth, the happy family runs on rules. The children know exactly what they can do without offending others, and what they cannot do. They know what their punishment will be if they break the rules. And they know that it will not vary from time to time or from parent to parent.
Establishing clear-cut family rules requires complete agreement between father and mother. Few things disturb a child more than when his father establishes one standard of conduct and his mother makes continuous exceptions to it. Once a father and mother agree, neither should change the rules without consulting the other, or the child will not know what is expected of him. And both father and mother must share in enforcing them.
Probably the happiest homes are those in which each family member imposes rules upon himself. One wife becomes unduly disturbed whenever references are made to the alleged inferiority of women in any area of activity. She becomes angry at jokes about women drivers, women who are late for appointments, women who can’t balance a checkbook.
Out of respect for her feelings, her husband never raises such subjects even in a joking way.
Many husbands have similar quirks in their make-up which may be unjustified from an objective point of view but which their wives respect for the sake of harmony.
Sometimes children also become sensitive about certain points. When family members are motivated by a spirit of Christian tolerance, they willingly impose the rule upon themselves not to raise such touchy subjects.
As this review of the characteristics of happy families suggests, achievement of a genuinely Christian environment in your home will not result from mere chance. Rather you must put into effect the principles that follow from recognition of the fact that the family should be a triangle with God at its apex, or else it is doomed to failure. For the very characteristics that make a home holy, happy, and a source of strength and solace for its members come from nowhere but Almighty God.
The love which the mother displays for her infant, the just and consistent way in which the father exercises his authority–these are but human copies of the loving authority which God exercises over all His children. And the respect for God and each other that family members display in the truly happy and Christian home springs from the two greatest commandments–that we love God with all our minds and all our hearts, and that we love our neighbor as ourselves.
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