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The First Educators: The Family – Dr Nathan Leber

It was beautiful to see so many families attending the commitment masses. It is comforting to see parents agree to support the faith journey of our young people. The Church exalts the role of parents, carers and families in the education of their children. Consider the Ten Commandments! The first three are about good relations with God, and the fourth is:

Honour your father and your mother.

Truer words have never been spoken, but there is an obligation to be something honourable – to give them something to look up to. Saint Paul explains this family advice (Ephesians 6:1-4):

Children, be obedient to your parents in the Lord – that is your duty. The first commandment that has a promise attached to it is: Honour your father and your mother, and the promise is: and you will prosper and have a long life in the land. And, parents, never drive your children to resentment but in bringing them up, correct them and guide them as the Lord does.

The Catholic Church calls parents and families the ‘first educators’ and the ‘domestic church’. Countless studies have shown the importance of parental involvement and attitude in their children’s success at school. The same is valid for faith. Just as we guide our kids to make good choices in what they eat and drink and how they behave, we should also support their curiosity as they search for understanding and meaning: a search that often leads to questions about God and faith.

I should point something out. In 2008, all State Education Ministers gathered to sign the Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians. This was revised in 2019 with the Alice Springs (Mparntwe) Education Declaration. Both documents outline the goals for education in Australia regarding schools and the young Australians attending them. Despite being secular documents relating to all education throughout Australia, both contain references to young Australians’ spiritual wellbeing. The latter Mparntwe Declaration states something fundamental:

Parents, carers and families are the first and most important educational influence in a child’s life. They have a critical role in early development, including social, emotional, intellectual, spiritual and physical wellbeing.

Social, emotional, intellectual, physical and SPIRITUAL wellbeing. While outlining the best practice for ALL schools (public, Catholic or private), they acknowledge not only the importance of a spiritual dimension to a child’s growth, formation and wellbeing, but the responsibility of families in making sure this happens. As the Book of Proverbs advises (22:6):

Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they grow old, they will not turn from it.

Something always fills the gap. If children are not taught to understand and appreciate healthy food, they may develop behaviours detrimental to their health (from someone who struggles in this department). Something always fills the gap – including the vacuum of faith. It is about allowing the space for a sense of the sacred to arise and develop.

For many, supporting a faith journey can be challenging. Sometimes we bring our anxieties and issues to bear on our children. This is certainly understandable but ultimately unwarranted in their circumstances. It can also be intimidating, especially if you do not feel particularly religious or knowledgeable on spiritual matters. Many of us feel the same when it comes to maths homework. However, we owe it to engage in issues important to them (sometimes even before they understand how important they are). This means beginning somewhere. Perhaps you might start with:

  • Asking your children what they learnt in RE today.
  • Find out what they know about God and be willing to talk about ‘God stuff’.
  • Help them to pray and develop a relationship with the divine.
  • Read with them Bible stories and help them to understand its meaning.
  • Talk about Jesus and what his life and message tell us about God.
  • Accompany them as they explore their sense of the sacred and develop their faith.
  • Find time to go to Mass – start small (once a month) and see where you go.

You might find that you need to reawaken your faith, which might mean seeking some help from others. Talk to the school, the teachers, your priest, or others. Personally, I am always up for a chat and happy to organise some informal gatherings for anyone interested. You also may find your own journey restarts or begins with your child’s discoveries. How special to share this together!

Lastly, I would like to urge all of us to remember to keep our promises. It is so important to be a model of the value of integrity. What do we tell our children when our words and actions are different? So, if you committed to supporting your child through this time of discovery and understanding, please take it seriously. Talk to them about their journey, help them to see the importance of the steps they are taking, and let them develop the spiritual side of themselves. Everyone will benefit – your child, yourself, and ultimately society!

Dr Nathan Leber


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The School community seeks to foster a living faith, based on truth, where the potential and dignity of the individual is respected and nurtured in an environment of trust.