by Father Shay Cullen Profiles in Catholicism
Earlier this week, a kind generous lady came to the Preda home for abused children who have few loving parents. She brought three big plastic bags of stuffed toys, gifts for the children, a stuffed toy for them to hug. Her grown children were mature and grown. The stuffed toys were better to be shared.
Christmas is a special time when parents shop to find a toy, a physical symbol, to express their love. It’s a beautiful gesture. While that gesture is important for a child, a material toy is no substitute for a loving hug, a truly caring mother and father. Every child needs that love and friendship with their parents especially when they are teenagers. Can parents be friends with them? That is the challenge parents have to meet. They need this and the teenage child needs it. It is the protective wall to counter the negative effect of social media and peer group pressure that will lead them into negative lifestyles, bad vices, and habits. This is when children need the most love and care, not less. Christmas should be a special bonding time for children and their parents. The greatest gift that a child needs and wants above all is a strong secure, loving family, that truly cares. The stuffed toy is no substitute.
All the toys and gifts in the world will never compensate for the loss of parental love. The loving family gives life lasting-spiritual gifts to their children such as total acceptance, affirmation, friendship, support, understanding, and trust. What the parents must have to make that happen is faithfulness and a loving relationship together based on honesty and integrity that gives security. These are real gifts that parents must have themselves if they are to give lasting gifts to their children and grandchildren if they really love them. There is no place for the unfaithful parent out seeking selfish pleasure with other partners. That is the worst betrayal of family love.
Many reading this will reflect on their own childhood and thank their parents for the love and spiritual gifts that they gave that last a lifetime. Those children that received them will be strong, secure people and will share the same gifts with their children. Not all will have been so blessed.
These gifts are better than stuffed toys. They are priceless and spiritual. As the children grow older, they will need to be taught the truth of human life by their parents. They are the wisest and best to explain the ways of the world, the good, the bad, and the beautiful and not so beautiful. This education that they never get in school will shape their lives forever. The children need to be helped to have an awareness of the world and realize the gap between the rich and the poor.
The children as they grow in knowledge with wise parents guiding them along the path of learning will hopefully learn the truth that millions of children suffer hunger and never had a stuffed toy or any toy. In fact, they will understand that millions of children never had a Christmas meal or a day without feeling hungry.
The children must be taught that this is the result of people making bad choices: being selfish and greedy and devoid of compassion and having no love of justice and equality. These are vital lessons for children so that they become champions of the good and absorb from their parents the values of helping the poor children in the world. Parents have to teach by example, not just words but action.
They will need to learn that they are better off than most children and that social inequality is what Jesus was born to eliminate. That is the real meaning of Christmas, teach it to your children.
When I was a child, although we were not well off, my mother would welcome the travelers. They were poor, homeless families that traveled about on a donkey and cart in Ireland. They were wrapped in blankets and their several hungry children, too. Once a week three women and four children were invited into our front garden. They were too many to fit into our small house. They would spread blankets on the grass for a picnic party. Mother would cook a big pot of rabbit stew and potatoes. She assigned me to share out and ladle the stew onto dinner plates for them to have a meal with dignity. Afterward, I would wash up the plates and dishes. That was my introduction and training in helping and serving the poor. I never forgot how happy the children were digging into the mashed potatoes and stew. Today, here in the Preda homes, it still goes on.
It is an essential part of child training that they are allowed to help poor children. They will respect the poor and have compassion and love for their neighbor by doing good. Giving advice is good but action is better and essential. The example of parents helping the poor and having their children with them is another priceless gift that will last a lifetime. The children would have the same feelings and compassion as parents and Jesus of Nazareth had. Faith without action is dead, Saint James writes in the Gospel.
Children need to be encouraged, shown, and allowed to do good. Just to be told to be good without the good example of parents is not very effective. How else will teenagers know good from bad if they are not trained to do the good and be a good Samaritan from an early age? This will guide them for life.
Once the power of the peer group takes over and brings the children as young as nine or ten even into activities away from the parents, the influence of peers can be over-powering. The allegiance will transfer from parents to their new friends. The friendship of the parents, if any, will be eroded if they do not maintain and grow it every day.
Children growing up can be overwhelmed by peer group activities for the good or the bad. The advice, words, and persuasions of parents cannot override the power of the peer group. They will see that their once happy, smiling, hugging a child is growing away from them. Don’t let it happen by neglect. Be wise, join many activities with your child, play games, go out with them, play sports, encourage them to read, play chess, anything that will tell them by action that you love them. Words are nice but cooking and serving a meal is better. Christmas is a time for bonding, strengthening relationships with our children at every stage of life.