Most parents have already begun this work without even realizing it …
“Mom and Dad love each other, and they love me.” That is the message that can make a child happy. It’s all about knowing that you are loved within your family, and about growing in love. Seeing their parents love their siblings is, of course, also a key part of that sense of security that a healthy loving family provides.
Sometimes parents worry about finding a way to explain values and virtues to their children. But the fact is that they have probably already done most of the work before they even open their mouths simply through their example.
The power of example
When children of any age see that their parents love each other and are faithful to each other, it gives them peace of heart. They feel secure in the sanctuary of the family, and they intuit that even if something should go wrong, as long as their parents are united, nothing too bad can happen.
Children have a very special sensibility that detects everything: Mom’s dislike, Dad’s anger, an unkind or discontented facial expression, a lack of care … They immediately catch on when something is not going well at home, and then they try to figure out their role in that story.
When parents live fidelity, children learn right away what that means: to act in a way that honors and respects a commitment to something or someone, through loyalty and support. They see it, for example, in the long-lasting commitment and support of grandparents who take care of each other and still say “I love you” after many decades of marriage.
When their mom and dad respect each other, listen to each other, pay attention to what the other wants, when they kiss and embrace … it is noticed. Children can tell when Dad has eyes only for Mom, and when Mom makes it clear that Dad is her one and only. They also notice hesitations, if there are any.
Fidelity implies that the couple has passed the test of time, that their parents could have chosen other spouses or partners, and yet still preferred the one they are with.
What matters most
The children can see at home that you are keeping the marriage vows and those vows are brought to mind by your wedding photos. It doesn’t matter if the corners are bent and the colors have faded. The little ones learn that we are faithful when we hold onto our beliefs, regardless of what we would like to do.
Fidelity is the greatest and most important form of success. Does it seem that other friends got richer faster, or are more successful in their careers, or that another relative married a more physically attractive spouse with a gym-sculpted body? What our children care about most is that Mom and Dad are happy and irradiate that happiness at home. A gym membership or a cruise every year doesn’t replace that.
Kids can be faithful, too
Do children have to wait until marriage to put into practice the fidelity they see in their parents? Of course not! They have plenty of opportunities to practice being faithful:
- Faithful to friends and companions;
- Faithful to their commitments and responsibilities at school;
- Faithful to their teachers;
- Faithful to their convictions (because they already have an idea of how justice is lived, for example);
- True to their beliefs, even if someone laughs at them;
- Faithful to their family and their responsibilities in that context — their chores, the family schedules, their duties to help their siblings, etc.
None of us is perfect, but if our children see that we strive to be faithful in our everyday lives, and do our best to make up for the times we fail, we will give them a great gift that will set them on a path of responsibility and happiness that can help them succeed in what matters most: their relationships with other people — especially their future spouse — and with God.