Two years ago, Sister Mary Rose McReady, the founder of Covenant House, entered into eternity. As a Daughter of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, Sister Mary Rose devoted most of her more than fifty years to the care of America's homeless children. Covenant House currently reaches over sixty thousand "street kids" each year with the spiritual, psychological, and physical caring that they had been devoid of during their very difficult young lives. In 2012, she wrote a book, Sometimes God Has a Kid's Face. In this work, Sister Mary Rose narrates the tragic stories of those broken and terrified children who sought shelter at the door of Covenant House. There is a section at the end of the book entitled, Family Survival Guide within which there are tips for parents on teaching one's children the values that might keep them from the horrors of a loveless life. I believe that all of us, parents or not, would benefit from the following condensed listing of some of these ideas:
- Children learn their values from those that they respect. Loving parents can make all the difference.
- When it comes to communicating values, actions always speak louder than words.
- The family unit – loving, protective, and nurturing – provides the best setting for the infusion of values.
- Parents need to take time to truly listen to their children.
- Teach children that the source of authentic self-respect and self-worth is the fact that they are children of God. Respect for others grows from this realization.
- Jesus stresses the great value that must exist for a civilized community to thrive: "Love your neighbor."
These important elements of communicating values say much about the significance of a parent's attitude toward their children. Yet, there is another essential lesson to be learned in reflecting on the advice of Sister Mary Rose: All that is said about instilling values to one's children must be applied to one's self. Parents need to witness the values that define their moral lives and to reach out to one another with the same sincerity and interest that they would want to apply to the parenting of their children. Contemplate the words of the former President of the Notre Dame University, the late Rev. Theodore Hesburg, "The greatest gift a father can give to his children is to love their mother." Every effort made in growing in marital love and respect, problem solving and responsible family management, and, especially, faith development and personal commitment gives an indelible credence to those who observe, to those who watch and listen – their children.
What about the influence of culture? It has been stated that the peer group has more influence on youth than parents. A strong desire to belong to the peer group and to follow the mores of their generation does have great influence and may answer the lament of good parents questioning where "they" went wrong as they experience one or more of their children reject the values of their upbringing. In most cases, this rejection of the principles expressed as most important by parents might be a temporary one. As a child matures and has to face the same challenges as their parents, recognition of the truth and power of the morals of their upbringing can engage in their minds and become operative in their own lives. Pray that God gives us the presence of mind and heart to see that if children are to be valued, we must strive to influence them to be children with values.