When the pagans looked at the early Christians, they marveled, “See how they love one another.” During His time among men, Our Blessed Lord taught us to love God and love our neighbor. He admonished us to “Love one another as I have loved you.” St. Paul declared that love is the greatest of virtues, and claimed that no matter how much faith we have, or how great the works we perform, if we do not have love, then we have nothing. Pope John Paul II wrote that the family is the “school of love,” so it would seem that the virtue of love should be the hallmark of our home schools, and our families should be examples of Christian charity to those around us.
With this in mind, from time to time, it is a good practice for us to examine our day-to-day family life and make sure that those who know us will marvel at the tremendous charity each family member shows, not only to other family members, but also to all with whom we come in contact. We must ask ourselves if our home life is marked by cheerfulness and courtesy. Does kindness show through in every interaction among each other, extended family members, fellow homeschoolers, and those with whom we come in contact within our community? Blessed Mother Teresa felt that everything she did must be done with “a big smile.” Can the same be said of us?
In our rush to accept all things casual, Americans have forgotten manners that were common and expected just a few decades ago and clearly demonstrated our regard for one another. All family members should greet each other when they enter a room. It would be lovely if you trained your children to stand when an adult enters the room, but at the very least, they should greet every adult and child they see—by name—and inquire after their well-being. If a friend stops by for a visit, and a child answers the door, teach the child to offer a seat and some refreshment for the time before Mom and Dad are available.
Telephone manners are important. Children should answer politely and inquire who is calling. Instead of saying, “Hold on, I’ll get her,” it sounds so much nicer to say, “If you please hold on, Mrs. Smith, I’ll see if my Mom can come to the phone.” My pet peeve is when I hear my children calling another house and saying, “Is Julia there?” The correct phrase of course is, “May I please speak with Julia?”
How we phrase our requests and comments is very important indeed. Every request should be accompanied by a “please” and “thank-you” at the very least; even better would be, “If it is not too much trouble?” or “Would you mind?” How many times has Mom heard, “Billy knocked into me”? When Mom tells Billy to apologize, she hears, “I didn’t do it on purpose.” Real Christians apologize anytime we injure another, even by accident. We should apologize if we say something insensitive. “I was just kidding,” does not cut it. Kidding is supposed to be funny, not hurtful.
Some of this may seem a bit old-fashioned and downright nitpicking, but that is not the case at all. Being especially courteous is simple recognition that all we meet are children of God, made in His image and likeness. Courtesy shows our love for the people He created and loves.
There are days when absolutely everything goes wrong. The baby was up half the night. Dad was late for work and could not find clean socks. Junior took 30 minutes to find his history book, and Janey dawdled over her math. The house looks like it would be condemned by the Board of Health if inspectors showed up. The cupboard is bare, and the car won’t start.
Guess what? No matter how aggravated Mom gets, and no matter how loudly she yells, the house will still be dirty, the pantry will still be empty, and the kids will still dawdle over their schoolwork. Mom will feel cranky, out of control, exhausted, and the kids will be tripping over one another to stay out of her way. To paraphrase St. Paul, let me show you a better way.
When Dad can’t find clean socks, refrain from reminding him that he forgets to put them in the hamper. Just smile and tell him you will buy him another package of socks when you go shopping. Tell Junior cheerfully, but firmly, that he will need to double up on history tomorrow, and he needs to spend his free time after school today arranging all his educational materials in one spot, so that he can find his books when he needs them. Tell Janey that it is a shame that she did not finish her math in the allotted time, because now she will need to finish it after dinner during TV time. Announce that between 3 and 4 PM today, each person either must clean the house or watch the babies. Get pizzas for supper, and go food shopping after dinner with your husband’s car.
On tough days, Mom might feel justified in her crankiness and frustration, but charity requires her to set a controlled, cultured tone in her home. I remember my greatgrandmother who lived to be 99 years old. “Mamita” famously never raised her voice when her children were young; nevertheless they obeyed her instantly. That was still true when the children were not children anymore. I can remember her saying something like, “A cup of tea would be lovely,” and her daughters, who were all elderly ladies themselves by that time, would hop to their feet and say, “Yes, mother, right away.”
When Mom and Dad are in control of their emotions, and show their sincere affection for their children, there is a cheerful courteous atmosphere in the home that actually reinforces good behavior.
Many homeschooling families maintain high standards of dress, language, and behavior in a culture that is too often immodest and vulgar in both speech and conduct. When others do not live up to high values, parents must be careful to set a good example in Christian charity. Apply the old adage, “If you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all.” It is always inappropriate for a child to correct an adult, even if the adult is using vulgar language. Instruct them to excuse themselves and leave. When I was a child, we were taught that if we heard an adult taking the Lord’s name in vain, we should offer the silent aspiration, “Blessed be His Holy Name,” in charity making reparation for the offense.
When my children point out the faults of others, I often tell them that getting myself to heaven is a fulltime job that occupies me constantly. I have no time to discuss the faults of others.
Our Lord reminded us that it is easy to be kind to those who treat us well, even the pagans do that. He called His followers to love their enemies. In our daily lives, “enemies” can be defined as unending diapers and schoolwork, anxiety about paying the bills, and misbehavior of children. The list might include attitudes of extended family who are critical of the Catholic lifestyle, and members of the homeschool support group who are less-than-supportive. Our Lord asks us to exhibit charity to a heroic degree in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but I believe that those who truly love their neighbor will also receive a reward here on earth. If, as Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta said, “Man was made to love and to be loved,” we will be happy only when we live in harmony with our God-given nature.