Early in his pontificate, Pope Francis has given parents yet another tip – admitting our failings to our children. One of the common themes of Pope Francis has been that he consistently has stated that he is a sinner. All too often, we parents forget that one of the most important things we can show our children is that we are not perfect – that we sin or have sinned and that we are in need of a Savior, in need of forgiveness. We have the opportunity to show them this in our everyday lives. As the Church teaches in the Catechism, this admission, this acknowledgment of our guilt actually makes us better able to guide and correct our children. It seems counterintuitive. However, in our experience with our children, it has turned out to be true for several reasons:
1. When we acknowledge our failings, we show our children that we do not expect perfection from them. We expect humility. The best way to teach this is to lead by example. Our example provides the children some level of comfort in admitting their own failings to us. If our children believe that we are perfect and if they are concerned about what we think of them, when they fail and recognize their own lack of perfection, they may tend to try to hide that failing from us – or even deny it. If they have seen us admit to our own failings, on the other hand, they, over time, will feel more comfortable admitting them to us.
2. When we acknowledge our failings to our children, we show them the best way to reconcile with people we love. When they see us quickly admit that we have lost our temper with them or mishandled their correction and when we follow that admission with asking for forgiveness, we model for them the key to all healing in relationships involving fallen people. All reconciliation begins with admitting to guilt and then asking for forgiveness. The key here is to “name it and claim it”. We must specifically name how we failed. Instead of just saying, “I’m sorry for losing my temper”; we should say, “when you didn’t pick up your plate and put it in the sink, I yelled at you. That was wrong. I should have spoken more carefully. For that, I ask for your forgiveness. Will you forgive me?” Then, make them say, “I forgive you.” Over time, you’ll see them quickly adopt this themselves. Maybe even at the moment. In this circumstance, not infrequently, we will see the child say in response, “I was wrong for not picking up my plate and putting it in the sink. Will you forgive me?” Our admission of guilt begins the teaching process.
3. When we acknowledge our failings, we actually point them to the need for the Sacrament of Reconciliation and Penance. Ultimately, our daily lives and our living out of the mystery of parenthood helps us better understand the Church as a family. By admitting our guilt specifically, asking for forgiveness, and then allowing them to see how quickly peace can be restored to a broken relationship in our own family, we become a sign of what happens in God’s family. We should point out that in our family, in any family – in fact, in every family – people fail and that failure negatively impacts the family as a whole. It breaks or damages relationships. The way to restore the relationship is to admit to our failure and ask for forgiveness. When they experience this reality over time concretely in our family, we can point to the fact that we are in God’s family and our sin and failures impact his family as well. In the same way, we must go to the Father through the Son made present sacramentally in the priest, name our failing (our sin) specifically, ask for forgiveness, and then hear the forgiveness of the Father through the priest. Ultimately, our goal is not just to have a peaceful home; it is to get us all to heaven. Family life points us to life in the Church – God’s family.
So, for the next couple of weeks, challenge yourself to admit your failings to your children and see if Pope Francis’s example doesn’t bear fruit within your family as well.