“When I grow up, I’m going to be a priest and a policeman.”
“I want to be a nun who rides horses and sings. Can a nun have babies?”
“Mummy, when I grow up I’m going to marry you.”
I smile as I remember these statements made by some of my children when they were very young. As the mom of eight children, I have been listening to my children’s future plans for many years and it’s interesting to observe how their plans change and evolve as they become older.
Children begin to think about their future from a very early age. The photo, above, is of a journal entry made by eight-year-old Gregory. In it, he writes that when he grows up he wants to be a priest and eventually he would like to be the Pope. Gregory’s mom told me that ever since he’s been old enough to take part in the “what I want to be when I grow up” conversation, his response has been the same—priest and Pope. Gregory’s parents know that eventually his plans may change but they wisely understand that it is important to teach their children that as long as they listen to God’s calling for their vocation, they will be truly happy.
With ages ranging from their mid-twenties to preteens, my children have many thoughts about their future. Usually, their concerns and questions are about career choices, but for the older ones especially, the choice of vocation—holy orders or religious life, sacramental marriage, single life—is a serious consideration.
Usually, when the word “vocation” is mentioned in a practicing Catholic family, the word “priest” follows closely behind. With six sons, the question comes up fairly regularly: “Which one is going to be the priest?” My standard answer is: “That’s between him and God.” As Catholic parents, of course my husband and I would be overjoyed if one or more of our sons entered the priesthood. We would be equally happy if one or both of our daughters entered religious life. But it’s not our place to tell them they should enter the seminary or the convent any more than we would tell them who to marry.
When it comes to our children’s futures, the most helpful and most wise action on parents’ part is to pray unceasingly for them and give them our constant support and unconditional love. A Christ-centered home gives our kids the strong foundation they need as they discern God’s plan for their lives.
That’s a very tall order for any parent and I know we can’t do it alone. We need to seek out help from trusted people whom we know have our children’s best interests at heart. With that in mind, I asked our family friend, Fr. Allan MacDonald, how Catholic parents can best support our children’s discernment. Fr. Allan is the Vocations and Admissions Director for the Companions of the Cross, a new community of priests founded in Canada with active ministry and parishes in Toronto, Ottawa, Halifax, Houston, and Detroit. He has a wealth of experience in vocations discernment. Here are his answers to my, and I’m sure, many parents’ questions:
How do we encourage our children to properly discern their vocation without
…turning them away from the faith? Love them where they are at and encourage them in their uniqueness. Support and encourage them when they do well and even when they make mistakes.
…scaring them? Ask them what they think God could be calling them to do with their lives.
…or shutting them down? It’s their vocation, not their parent’s. Don’t tell them what to do. Show them how to live a life of prayer and service.
How do we strengthen our children in their discernment? Remind them that God has a plan for their lives. Talk about how you discovered that God’s plan for your life was in the vocation of marriage, that you discerned this and didn’t just fall into it or accept it by default.
How do we build a climate in the home where vocations to the priesthood and religious life are encouraged? Say only the good things men need to hear” (Ephesians 4:29). Invite priests and religious into your home or on your family outings so that young people see that they are “normal.”
As my children continue to discern their future, I am reminded that figuring it all out can be a confusing, sometimes frightening, perhaps disappointing, and often challenging process. Plans change, doors close, unforeseen circumstances arise. Parents ought to continue to pray, sustain, and love their children, encouraging them to seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the intercession of our Blessed Mother. We trust that our Providential God who placed them in our care will continue to move and act in their lives so that regardless of their vocation, the Will of God will triumph.
Photo used with the permission of Gregory and his parents. (Thank you.)