Little Way of the Family


Violent Video Games Delay Development of Moral Judgement in Teens

If you needed more reasons to keep violent video games out of your home, here it is. New research shows a clear connection between playing violent video games and a lack of moral development in teens.

What struck me most about this particular article was not the confirmation of the obvious – that video games are bad for kids – but one throwaway comment by the author of the study.

Bajovic concedes that “prohibiting adolescents from playing violent video games is not realistic.”

The notion that it’s unrealistic for parents to prohibit destructive behavior in their teens is self-evident to a Science Daily journalist and accepted by a researcher in teen behavior. It’s a pretty common delusion. I know parents of 2nd graders who can’t say no when their kids ask for a smartphone. I have had other parents tell me to just send my kids to public school. You can’t keep them from being exposed to that stuff anyway, right?

It’s so wrong-headed it makes me want to hit my head against the wall. Our kids don’t have to play video games. They don’t have to be sexually active. They don’t have to try alcohol as a minor.

As parents, we must have a firm loving hand. We need to show strong moral leadership. We have to keep them away from bad influences and surround them with positive.

It’s a ton of work, it requires sacrifice, and there are no guarantees. Our children are humans with free will, after all. But that doesn’t mean it’s useless to try. Car seats and seat belts aren’t guaranteed either, but we’d never consider not using them.

Be strong and protect your kids while you can. They’ll enter the big bad world soon enough.

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Forget the New Year’s Resolution. Try Writing a Family Strategic Plan Instead

Litany of Broken Resolutions

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I used to make New Year’s Resolutions. The same ones year after year. They were always broken, usually by mid-January.

The problem is that New Year’s Resolutions typically are little more than good intentions and wishful thinking. Neither gets you anywhere except frustrated and disappointed. But every year we keep trying. We keep telling ourselves that this is the year we will keep that diet, stick to that exercise regimen, or drop that bad habit for good.

Then one day my lovely and intelligent MBA wife introduced me to the concept of strategic planning and proceeded to apply that concept to our family life. With that strategic plan we are able to make substantive long-term changes (for the better!) to our family life. And it’s not at all hard to do.

Writing Your Family Strategic Plan

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What is a strategic plan? It is a method of figuring out what you want to accomplish, why you want to accomplish it, and how you are going to accomplish it. You start out at the highest level with the big “why”, the mission statement. Then you write down a vision for the future. Then you break down specific objectives designed to meet that vision. Then you write down steps, or goals, that will help you to achieve those objectives. Does that sound hard? If so, lets take it step by step.

The Mission Statement

Most businesses have mission statements. These represent the business’s raison d’etre, its reason for being. Usually it is something that seems, from the outside, to be either self-evident or rather meaningless. Something like “To meet the needs of our customer’s and employees with integrity and excellence”, but perhaps with more specifics.

But it’s not meaningless. It is a yardstick by which any action can be measured. The business decision makers can determine if any particular action furthers the mission, works against it, or is a distraction from it. It helps keep the focus.

A family needs a mission statement too. What is the purpose of your family? Why did God put your family here on earth? It is not an easy question to answer.

It took us quite a conversation to write our first mission statement, and it evolved over the first couple of years, especially as our faith matured. But we now have a mission statement that accurately reflects our family and that I believe will do so for years to come. Here it is:

To be witnesses of Jesus Christ within our family, in our community, and throughout the world.

Simple, isn’t it? It wasn’t when we started. It took awhile to distill our mission into what is, on the face, rather simplistic. That process, however, told us so much about our family life, and it gave us a renewed focus and determination toward simplicity of life. Hopefully your mission statement will be just as succinct and just as meaningful to you.

The Vision

Where do you want to be? Who do you want to be? What do you want to accomplish? This is your vision.

Take some time to discuss with your spouse where you see your family in a year. In five years. Perhaps you want to move closer to extended family. Perhaps you want to get out of debt. Perhaps you want a reinvigorated faith life. Perhaps you want a stronger marriage, or more children. If you see yourself exactly as you are now, that is a perfectly wonderful thing.

Be specific. If you want an employment change, what kind of employment do you desire? If you want to move, where? If you need a bigger house, how big?

This should be a fun and enriching activity for a couple. You likely shared your dreams of the future when you were engaged or first married, but for many, those conversations get overwhelmed by the day-to-day effort of living. So take your time, and enjoy it. Remember to make separate vision statements for one year out and for five years out. Here are some questions that might guide you. (I am presuming you are married.)

How many children will you have?
Where will you live?
Will you and/or your spouse be working? In what field? At what job?
What will your relationship be like with your extended family – parents, in-laws, etc?
What will youu faith life be like?
What kind of lifestyle will you be living?
What will your kids be doing?
Is there some sort of vocation that you wish to be engaged in?
Are there any major changes to your life you desire or foresee?

You can write it any way you like, in a list format or a narrative paragraph or some other way. Try to keep it realistic, but don’t be afraid to be ambitious. Try to avoid materialism. Remember that this vision will represent the kind of person you will be. If your vision is focussed on money, so will you be.

Objectives: Breaking It Down
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Now that you have a one year and a five year vision, start thinking about how you are going to get there and what you need to accomplish this year to make that vision a reality. But to do that, you need to break it down into pieces you can get your arms around.

What are the important parts of your life? Each of these will have an Objective.

The key areas of my family’s life are:

1. God and Faith
2. Marriage
3. Children
4. Careers
5. Education (both children and parents)
6. Recreation
7. Health and Wellness
8. Finances
9. Household
10. Community Service/Charity
11. Extended Family
12. Time Management
7. Finances
8. Recreation

Setting an Objective

Each area gets an objective. This objective is a little bit like a mission statement for that part of our life, its guiding principle. Just like the mission statement, it should be succinct and should accurately reflect your most cherished values. And just like the mission statement, it should not change from year to year, once you really have it nailed down. For instance, our objective for our children is:

“Build a legacy of faith through the generations.”

Pretty simple, but everything we do for our children leads back to that one statement.

The Steps/Goals
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Now to the meat of it. Here is where you lay out the specific things you are going to do to meet the above objectives and to reach the vision you set out for yourself.

These will include steps to take daily, weekly, or monthly, as well as one time goals, possibly with a due date attached. For instance, in the above example, we have a goal to keep our kids in Catholic school. We also have a goal to maintain family faith-based rituals to strengthen their faith. We also have specific goals for extracurricular activities that will strengthen their character and self-discipline as well as let them make the best possible use of their God-given talents. One goal is to involve the children in weekly service projects. Another is to ensure that each child is taking lessons on a musical instrument.

Don’t put steps here that are vague. Saying “eat less” won’t get you anywhere. Steps here should be of the type where you can say, with no uncertainty, whether or not it was accomplished or at least whether progress toward it is being made. If you don’t yet know exactly what to do but have a general idea, put in a planning task such as “create meal plan”. This plan would then be a supplement to the strategic plan.

Finally, these steps should be realistic. Don’t make commitments you are pretty sure you won’t be able to meet. Therein lies frustration. You may find you need to adjust your one-year or five-year vision if the steps you need to take aren’t do-able. Perhaps scale the vision back and make your one-year vision a little more intermediate.

Following Through

No plan is worth the effort if it isn’t carried out. There are several necessary steps toward following through.

1. Log both the specific dates and the recurring tasks on your calendar.
2. Review your calendar (as a couple) daily, weekly, and monthly.
3. Review the strategic plan (as a couple) once a month.
4. If you are straying from the plan, consider revising it to either make the goals more realistic, eliminate items that have become moot or obsolete or add steps to remove roadblocks.
5. Reward yourself when you have accomplished one of the more difficult steps.

Don’t get discouraged if you fall behind in any particular area. This is a plan, not a “resolution”. You work toward the plan until you complete it, even if it takes longer than you originally thought. And don’t be afraid to decide that you were wrong, that one or more of the objectives you wrote down wasn’t really what God had in mind for you. Part of this whole activity is a process of discernment, giving you a framework on which you can struggle to find out just what it is that God wants of you in the here and now.

New Years doesn’t have to be a time for false promises or the cultivation of future disappointments. It can be a catalyst for real change, and a Family Strategic Plan can be a road map to that change.



Humility and the Holy Family

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One of the virtues of the Holy Family that I try to emulate is humility. It’s a challenging virtue, and easy to forget in this competitive, success-oriented world.

It’s so easy, in the day-to-day effort to grow in holiness, to become judgemental and preachy, especially toward those who don’t seem to share my values. “I can’t believe she dresses like that for Mass.” “Their children are completely out of control. They probably let them watch too much television.” “You can tell they’re using contraception. Otherwise they’d have had another child by now.” “I’m just glad we’re not like that.”

It plays out in the abortion debate too, with some pro-lifers more focussed on condemning than saving, overwhelmed by their anger at the injustice of it all.

We all do this, to one extent or another. It’s in our nature, and it’s certainly an integral part of our culture. We like nothing more than holding up others’ faults to make us feel better about ourselves.

The thing is, we may very well be “correct” in our assessment of others. The young woman may be dressed inappropriately for Mass. The family may be letting too much culture rot into their home, with the resulting influence evident in their kids’ behavior. The couple may be using contraception. But self-righteously pointing that out – and basking in the pride that we aren’t like them – will win no converts and help no one get into heaven.

What that will lead to is our own humiliation. For when we sin – and we will – others will see that as a confirmation that we were full of hot air. That all that talk of holiness was just another attempt to one-up the next guy. That it was all a lie. And we will be like the television evangelist caught in adultery or theft or some other scandal. Just another holy roller with skeletons in our closet.

Instead, we have be aware of our own sin (the log in our own eye). And we have to publicly acknowledge it’s presence and our need to overcome. We have to be little in our own eyes, and our words and actions should acknowledge that littleness. Then we can become an example to others of following the path to holiness. Then any good actions we do point to Jesus and not to ourselves.

The Holy Family – Joseph, Mary, and Jesus – is a perfect example of this humility. Mary did not go around preaching to the other mothers in Nazareth, pointing out their faults, making sure they knew that God had chosen her to be His mother and not them. Joseph did not try to become the next great rabbi or get followers of his own. Instead they tried to obey God’s will the best they could. They suffered the humiliation and scandal of a pre-marital pregnancy. They lived the life of a simple carpenter’s family, all the while keeping knowledge that would change the world held close in their hearts. They knew their limitations, that all the good that was to come would come from God and not from them.

As parents, this humility is doubly important. Our kids know our faults. We can’t hide them. If we aren’t genuinely humble, our kids will think (and possibly rightly so) that all our “religion talk” is simply a way for us to control and manipulate their behavior. I think that a lack of parental humility is one of the quickest ways to ensure that a child leaves the faith as an adult. During those difficult, rebellious teenage years, they will be quick to jump on any hypocrisy, any “do as I say, not as I do.”

If I tell them not to drink but put down four beers every night after dinner, they will find no reason to avoid drinking when they have an opportunity. If I tell them to be pure and then they find pornography in my internet history, they will decide that porn must really be ok. If I tell them not to lie then brag about cheating on my taxes, lying and cheating will become second nature to them. If I tell them they better love Jesus but they see no love for Jesus in my actions, they will put Jesus in the box with Santa and the Easter Bunny and walk away forever.

If, however, I tell my children that I am weak. That I make mistakes. That I am a sinful man just as St. Peter was. If I tell them these things and say that with God, however, I am working to overcome those weaknesses and that He is making me a better man. Then they will see the reality of the journey that I am on and the journey that God is calling them to. Hopefully they will decide that is a journey that they want to take.

I wrote this post for the Feast of the Holy Family, which was this past Sunday. Obviously, I didn’t finish it in time. Just another example of where I don’t quite measure up to where I want to be. And that’s ok. If I was perfect, I wouldn’t be here, I suppose.



Advent is Upon Us
December 10, 2013, 6:47 pm
Filed under: Advent, Children, Culture, Daily Life, Family Time | Tags: , , ,

Hard to believe there are two purple candles already burning on my kitchen table. Hard to believe that Thanksgiving has passed and the leftover turkey is a pleasant memory. Hard to believe I haven’t posted since October.

It is a time for reflection and preparation. Our Lord has given me opportunities for reflection that I would rather He hadn’t: health issues kept us busy throughout the month of November. Kept me from blogging. Put us way behind on our decorations. (Yes, that’s important!)

It has put me in a reflective mood, though. The little worlds we build up for ourselves can come crashing down so easily. When we treasure the wrong things, we are crushed when we lose them.

In this life, nothing is more important than faith. In this world, nothing is more important than family. Sure we treasure those things in our thoughts and promises and declarations. But what about our actions? Do we treasure them in our actions? Or are we dismissive and impatient? Do we neglect, thinking that God and family will always be there, but this TV show/game/work opportunity will be lost if I don’t act now?

Treasure every little grace from God. Treasure every moment with your family. That is the best way I know to keep the oil in the lamp, ready for Him to come.



Blessed John Paul II: Teacher, Hero, Saint

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I am thinking today of our former Holy Father on his memorial. He was an inspiration to me as I converted. Earlier I described my conversion story, but what I didn’t mention then was that during my “searching” period in Italy, I actually saw Pope John Paul II. I was on one of my weekend jaunts to Rome, when I happened upon a very large crowd in St. Peter’s Square. After a bit I figured out that the Pope was speaking right there in the square! I couldn’t get close – he was barely a white speck to me – but he was a discernable white speck, even in the 35mm photograph I took and still have today.

To many in the world, I fear that John Paul II was just another historical figure, akin to a politician, one of those characters of the cold war who are only interesting because of the times they lived in. I fear they think the Church is canonizing him just because he was Pope, and that maybe they canonize anybody that was Pope. He was so much more.

He was a teacher. His books are marvelously accessible, and he broke such important theological ground, both in his work as a bishop and cardinal, particularly with respect to Vatican II, and as the Holy Father. He gave us a much more profound understanding of human sexuality, of our roles as male and female, and especially of the family.

He was a hero. This is a man who became a priest durin the Nazi occupation of Poland, a bishop during the communist regime. He risked his life on a daily basis to bring the faith to others. And once he had the world stage, he made the boldest statement of all. He could have stayed safely in the Vatican, out of controversy and out of harms way. But he went to Poland – almost forced himself there against the wishes of the communists. And he took them to task on their own turf. He gave the people of Poland – and the people of all Eastern Europe – a voice, and he was one of the great catalysts for the miraculous changes that seemed to take place overnight.

He was a Saint, no doubt about it. He met with and forgave the man who tried, and almost succeeded, to kill him. He suffered at the end of his life, in a very public way, showing the world that old age, that the slow decay of disease cannot and does not take away an ounce of a person’s humanity or value, and he stayed at his post until the most painful end.

I am so lucky to have lived during the lifetime of such a man. If only some fraction of his holiness might rub off on me I would be assured of finding my way to the feet of our Lord when my time comes.

Blessed John Paul II, pray for us!



I’m Writing a Novel ?!?
September 4, 2013, 9:35 pm
Filed under: Culture, Daily Life | Tags: , ,

Yes, I’m writing a novel, and that effort is telling me a lot about my faith and family life.

I wrote a novel once before. It took me 6 years to write, spans about 450 pages, and still sits in a file on my computer, untouched now for more years than I’d like to acknowledge. I’ve been told that it’s good, and I am finally doing the hard work to clean it up for publication, but my point is this: my novel is like the light under the bushel basket. Regardless of its merits, the book is no good to anyone sitting on the hard drive of my computer. For anything to be of value, it has to be shared.

Here’s the other thing: I wrote that book the way I cared for my spiritual life at the time, in fits and starts. I would set aside a Saturday and work feverishly for four or five hours and make tons of progress. Then I would let it sit for weeks, revisit it, and decided I needed to rewrite what I had done. As a result, progress was achingly slow. In the same way, I would pray. Sometimes. Some days I would forget to pray. Some days I would put it off. I would start a spiritual book, but never finish it. I would read scripture, and then I would put it down and not pick it back up again.

Now? I am writing every day in short bursts, two to four pages per day. It’s not a huge amount, but it is daily progress that adds up quickly. Shockingly quickly.

Another difference between then and now is that then, I fit the writing time around my otherwise worldly schedule. I couldn’t miss my TV time. After all, Xena Warrior Princess, or Star Trek might be on. I couldn’t sacrifice my football viewing or my other hobbies. I couldn’t sacrifice anything. I fit it in during weekends where I didn’t have much else to do, and so it dragged on, and I thought I would never finish.

With four kids, I no longer have time where there is not much else to do. My days are packed from waking to sleeping. And so I sacrifice. Each night, after the kids and my loving wife are sound asleep, I sit up for a half an hour or an hour, getting my time in. And I make progress.

That’s how a spiritual life should be too, making sacrifices to grow spiritually. We have to spend the time every day in prayer and in scripture and in spiritual reading. We have to sacrifice our other activities to make that happen every day. We have to take time at mealtime to say grace. We have to take time before we start a task to pray and offer it to God. We have to take time to start and end our day in prayer, especially in union with our family.

And then we have to take the fruits of our spiritual life, the graces we receive, and we have to share those with the world around us. We have to get that light out from under the bushel basket, just as I have to get that book off my hard drive.



Superhero Movies
August 25, 2013, 8:08 pm
Filed under: Children, Culture, Family Time, Sin | Tags: , , , , ,

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With the announcement of Ben Affleck as the new Batman came a hubbub of debate in a Yammer group at my work over the pros and cons, along with much angst and passion. As Batman was my childhood favorite superhero (I still remember when in college I eagerly awaited the first Batman movie starring Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson), I of course had my opinions. My biggest regret, however, was not the choice of the new Batman. My biggest regret was that there was a very strong likelihood I would not be able to share this upcoming movie with my children. In that case, I won’t see it at all.

We went through similar issues when the Amazing Spiderman movie came out awhile back. My youngest son, a big Spiderman fan, saw the commercials (no matter how little TV you let them watch, it seems like the commercials always filter in), and he badly wanted to see it. Dutifully, his mother and I looked the movie up on Parent Previews and quickly found that the movie was deemed even more violent than the previous incarnations of Spiderman, and included a man’s arm being ripped from his body. We decided to pass.

It doesn’t make me feel good to say “no” to allowing my children to see these movies. I want them to be entertained, and I very much enjoy being able to share the characters who I enoyed as a youth with them. I’ll even go further and say that the “simplistic” story of Good vs. Evil as portrayed in the comics has, historically, been a good and enriching thing for kids, just as those kinds of heroic tales have often been a good thing.

Two things have happened to spoil that. First, in attempting to aspire to a higher level of art, the comics have become morally ambiguous. Second, and maybe this is the same underlying problem, the comics have geared themselves to adults, and to that end have incorporated violence, sexuality, and immorality to such an extent that they are no longer appropriate viewing for kids. That is a big problem and irresponsible behavior by the movie-makers.

I believe in the free market. In this case, however, we have people who are marketing movies that children want to see, but making them for adults. Remember, these are comic book characters. Kids have every reason to believe that they should be able to see a movie about a comic book hero. “Adultifying” (I love making up words) a kids movie to such a degree that kids really shouldn’t be watching it is irresponsible. It corrupts children. You can’t just say that parents are responsible for what their kids watch, so I can do what I want. Sure, parents are responsible, but some parents won’t be. Parents are responsible for keeping their kids from playing in the street, but that doesn’t give you the right ot drive down a residential street at 100mph.

I’ll let my kids watch some of these movies, as long as I am right there to cover their eyes at the scary parts. Some, like the recent Avengers movie, are basic stories of good vs evil. The bad guys are scary but caricatured, and the good guys are flawed but unambiguous. The Dark Knight, however, (the one with Heath Ledger as the Joker) was pathological. The bad guy was a scary man who revelled in doing horrible things and was only defeated by a Batman who was willing to do bad things himself. This is the kind of movie that could scar a kid. I’ll let them watch Lord of the Rings, because the bad guys, while scary, are eventually defeated by purity, by self-sacrifice, and destroyed by their own evil. These are good messages.

Why can’t we have movies like the Michael Keaton Batman, or the Christopher Reeves Superman? Movies that are intelligent enough for adults but still watchable by children? I’m tired of seeing movies that I would have longed to see as a child only to find out that there is no way my kids should see them. It’s cruel of movie studios to put out movies like that, lures to children but inappropriate for those same children. The question of why they do it is an interesting one, but that’s a different post.