Bernardo M. Villegas
Articles  >> more topics
Bringing Up Future Responsible Leaders (Part 3)

            Getting children to participate in the carrying out of household chores is not just a matter of “giving them things to do”, but making them realize that they are making a very positive contribution to the well-being of the entire home since they are relieving their parents’ workload, assisting their siblings, putting order to their possessions, etc.  They should come to realize that their contribution is in some sense irreplaceable and in this way, they will learn to obey willingly and not grudgingly.

Neither is it enough for parents to talk to their children and make them understand their mistakes.  Sooner or later, it would be necessary to correct them, to show them that what they do has consequences, both for them and for others.  Often an affectionate but very clear conversation will suffice.  In other occasions, it may be important to take certain steps, because some harm needs to be repaired, and repentance alone is not sufficient.  There should be appropriate punishments for a bad action.  For example, to perform a certain job in order to pay for a broken object.  In response to poor school grades, it may make good sense to limit a child’s ability to go out for a certain period of time.  In these cases, however, it is important not to lose sight of the fact that the goal here is to provide the child with the time and means needed to do what he has omitted to do.  It would make no sense to prohibit children from going out with friends, while allowing them to waste time at home.  Nor would it be prudent to prevent them, without a real need to do so, from doing activities which are good in themselves, such as playing sports or going to a youth club, simply because “these are the things that they enjoy doing.”

           It is part of authoritative parenting (as contrasted with authoritarian parenting) to help children understand the values they want to transmit to them, while always respecting independence and their particular way of being.  This would require that, above all, children feel unconditionally loved by their parents and are in tune with them. Indicating clearly what children can and cannot do would be useless and even harmful if not accompanied by affection and trust. As St. Josemaria wrote In Conversations:      “The parental authority which the rearing of children requires can be perfectly harmonized with friendship, which means putting themselves, in some way, on the same level with their children.  Children—even those who seem intractable and unresponsive—always want this closeness, this fraternity, with their parents.”

           As they reach adolescence, children need even more this relationship of friendship and confidence with their parents.  Children want to be taken seriously, but adolescents even more so.  They have to deal with physical and psychological changes that unsettle them and that can become paramount in their lives for a time.  Teenagers are looking for adults who can serve as a reference point for their lives:  people who have clear standards, wo live in accord with principles that give them stability. This is exactly what adolescents are seeking in their own lives.  At the same time, they realize that no one can take their place in this effort, which is why they refuse to accept automatically what their parents tell them without the necessary explanation.  More than not trusting their parents, they are just seeking to understand better the truth on which a certain way of acting is based.  It is, therefore, very important for parents to give the children the time they need, and to be very resourceful in finding opportunities to spend time together with them.  This could be on a trip in the car alone with a son or daughter, or at home watching a television program or talking about some school event.  These are times when parents can talk to them about topics that affect them more deeply and about which it is important for them to have clear ideas and criteria for judgement.

           Some Filipino parents, learning from experiences of other parents from abroad, have organized youth clubs with other parents of similar minds.  These youth clubs organize activities related to sports, culture, and career guidance during which fathers closely interact with their sons.  There can be mountain climbing excursions, basketball or football games and other group activities which are occasions for fathers to spend a good amount of time fostering closer friendship with their respective sons.  Parallel youth clubs are also organized by their mothers with their daughters.  These are occasions in which the parents can put themselves at the same level of their children and deepen the relationship of personal friendship and trust.

           To avoid the dangers of authoritarian parenting, parents should be careful not to impose matters of opinion on their children.  Some things that parents do not approve of are, at times debatable and are not worth fighting over, when a simple comment will suffice.  Examples of these are styles of haircuts, manners of dressing (unless related to the virtue of modesty), and political issues.  Children will then learn how to differentiate between what is really important from what is not.  They will discover that their parents don’t want them to be “carbon copies of their own way of being, but rather that they be happy in their lives, men and women who are authentic.  Parents, therefore, should not interfere, while of course still showing interest, in things of their children that do not impair their children’s dignity or that of the family.

           When children are convinced that their parents trust them, they will be moved to try to earn that trust.  As St. Josemaria wrote: “Parents should bring up their children in an atmosphere of friendship, never giving the impression that they do not trust them.  They should give them freedom and teach them how to use it with personal responsibility.  It is better for parents to let themselves ‘be fooled’ once in a while, because the trust that they have shown will make their children themselves feel ashamed of having abused it—they will correct themselves.”  Obviously, one can never avoid completely small conflicts and tensions.  But these can be overcome with joy and serenity, showing children that a “no” in a specific matter is compatible with loving them and understanding their situation.

           For couples who have received the Sacrament of Matrimony, they should always remember that they are not alone in the important task of bringing up their children to become responsible adults.  God, who has given them the mission of guiding their children to Heaven, also gives them the help they need to fulfill it.  Therefore, the vocation of being a parent brings with it the need to pray for their children.  They need to talk to God about them, about their virtues and their defects, asking how they can help them, and asking for God’s grace for their children and patience for themselves. 

           In the task of the upbringing of children, St. Josemaria said that “spouses receive a special grace in the sacrament of marriage which Jesus Christ instituted…They should understand that founding a family, educating their children, and exercising a Christian influence in society, are supernatural tasks.”  By applying the human means of authoritative parenting, as described above, parents can count on the special grace of their vocation to help their children mature and if God wants, for them to become highly responsible leaders who will promote the common good of Philippine society.  For comments, my email address is