It’s almost that time again. That’s right folks: Lent will be here in exactly one week. If you’re at all like me, and by that I mean a fairly busy mom to a decent size family, who homeschools and basically has no time to herself, you may not be prepared for it. How does one make Lent meaningful to children who are barely old enough to understand what a sacrifice is or why we need to make them? Have no fear. Auntie Bridgie is here, and she has some thoughts on the matter at hand.
- Remember to breath. Lent is supposed to be a time of prayerful preparation for Easter, not a time to make yourself or your children crazy trying every craft and project that comes down the [Internet] pike. Try dividing the kids into one or two age groups (“bigs” and “littles”) and pick one group project or a couple of small crafts for them to focus on instead. I’m not normally a big fan of religious crafts (maybe that’s why I rebel against the idea of sending my kids to CCD?) but for Lent I make an exception as I find that a few well planned activities can really help Lent become more tangible to kids.
- Fast. Keep a good attitude while you fast. Children are little mimics; at least mine are. If I walk around all day complaining about being hungry, then all they get out of a day of fasting is a bad attitude and mistaken connection between grumpiness and fasting. Not a great way to start them off on the path to holiness.
- Help your children choose something to give up. Then, help them stick to it. This is a tricky one. I always find myself wondering if I’ve pushed for a child to give something up just because I’d like to see less of it (Ahem! Two foot tall Princess Twilight Sparkles My Little Pony with movement and sound.) Be sure to help without leading. And then, offer gentle reminders, privately if you can, about giving up what they’ve given up.
- Have a family fast of something other than food. I’ve found this one has worked so well with my children because it shows them that all of us are expected to work together. As I am constantly telling them, “God puts us here in families for a reason, so that we can help each other get to heaven.” What better way than by making a sacrifice as a family. It can be anything, as long as it is meaningful to everyone. We tend to watch less TV.
- Pray. If you’ve been considering adding a family Rosary to your daily routine, why not try it now? Perhaps daily Mass is something you are blessed enough to be able to attend with relative ease? Something that takes less than 30 minutes out of your day can have a huge impact on your children’s prayer life. And if it’s hard with the children and the idea of keeping it up all the time makes you want to tear your hair out, remember: It’s only 40 days.
- Celebrate the feasts. I come from an Irish family, so St. Patrick’s Day is a big deal to us. I think though that part of the reason we look forward to it so is because it gives us a little respite from Lent. Children need days like that to remind them that, even when we are sad or suffering, God is with us and wants us to be happy with Him. I’m a firm believer that the Church, in Her wisdom, places feasts within specific seasons to teach us something and we shouldn’t ignore them. Don’t worry if you aren’t Irish. St. Joseph is a feast for everyone, no matter what all the Italian grandmothers I know might say.
- Break out the purple. Seriously. Decking the home in purple fabric (which can purchased relatively cheaply and at almost any fabric store, or Walmart) is an easy way to remind children what liturgical season we are currently in and on what we should focus. Save the bunnies and flowers for the actual Easter season. They’ll be far more meaningful then.
- Give Alms. There are so many easy ways to help children participate in this aspect of Lent. Try saving up money they might have spent on treats at the store, and giving it instead to a favorite charity or the parish. Collect all the “found money” (you know, the coins they find on the floor or in the couch; mine are constantly asking to keep any coins they find while cleaning) and donate it to a Crisis Pregnancy Center. Clean out the toy box and have the kids help you take what you aren’t keeping to a children’s hospital.
Essentially, don’t do nothing, but don’t go crazy. Little kids are amazing in what they can understand if given the chance and Lent is something they need to understand. Why not help them along their way while helping yourself maintain your own prayer life and sanity?