“A family that prays together stays together”, or so the saying goes. Now I don’t know if that is true but I do know that families who pray together are more likely to have a richer and more abundant family life.
Praying as a family is not without its challenges. Nevertheless, it is an important aspect of parenting that should not be overlooked. Prayer is very simply allowing a conversation with God. Something we can do anywhere with anyone and in whatever way we want. This does not have to be formulaic – although routines and rhythms can be important. It is just learning to talk to God throughout the day while we go about our daily life. God wants to be in the minute details of our lives, nothing is too large or too small for our loving Father to bend his ear to.
Teaching children to pray can help them to develop a very personal relationship with God and this is what he wants. Starting early is the key to a lifetime of prayer. If children have been prayed with from the earliest moments of their lives they are more likely to continue the habit into their adult life.
Parents can bless their child while he or she is still in the womb, praying for their child: a simple sign of the cross made on the mum’s tummy morning and night is a good habit to start. Then when the child is born praying for that little one becomes easy. Though I am a great believer that faith must also be taught and not just caught, praying is one of those aspects that if children see their parents praying they are more likely to develop a prayer life.
Praying with young children must be age and ‘stage’ appropriate. Expecting them to kneel quietly while we say a full rosary is not likely to happen and often leads to frustration on the side of both parties. Sometimes all you need is saying an Our Father, a Hail Mary, and asking God for any specific intention you may have, ending with a prayer for protection (maybe an ‘Angel of God my guardian dear’ type of prayer).
As children grow bible stories can become part of the prayer routine.
When our children were older, on the advice of some wise nuns, we started to pray a shortened version of the rosary, saying only three Hail Marys in honour of the Trinity; this worked well for our family.
I know families who pray a decade of the rosary every night Monday to Friday so that by the end of the week they have completed a whole mystery. Others pray freely for whatever is current in the news at that time. I think the way in which you pray is not quite so important as the fact that you do pray.
Praying in thanksgiving before each mealtime is another simple way in which we can introduce prayer into our families. This teaches children that we do not rely solely on our own capabilities to provide for ourselves but that we believe that God in his abundance has provided for our needs and we thank him for that. We also follow his example, throughout Scripture: when Jesus is about to feed the multitudes he stops and gives thanks to God.