Helping Our Children Discern Their Vocation

Also posted at Catholic Insight, catholicinsight.com

Also posted at The New Evangelist/Companions of the Cross

Journal entry by eight year-old Gregory. Used with Gregory's and his parents' permission.

Journal entry by eight year-old Gregory. Used with Gregory’s and his parents’ permission. Thank you!

“When I grow up, I’m going to be a priest and a policeman.”

“I want to be a nun who rides horses and sings. Can a nun have babies?”

“Mummy, when I grow up I’m going to marry you.”

I smile as I remember these statements made by some of my children when they were very young. As the mom of eight children, I have been listening to my children’s future plans for many years and it’s interesting to observe how their plans change and evolve as they become older.

Children begin to think about their future from a very early age. The photo, above, is of a journal entry made by eight year-old Gregory. In it, he writes that when he grows up, he wants to be a priest and eventually he would like to be the Pope. Gregory’s mom told me that ever since he’s been old enough to take part in the “what I want to be when I grow up” conversation, his response has been the same – priest and Pope. Gregory’s parents know that eventually his plans may change but they wisely understand that it is important to teach their children “that as long as they listen to God’s calling for their vocation, they will be truly happy.”

With ages ranging from their mid-twenties to pre-teens, my children have many thoughts about their future. Usually, their concerns and questions are about career choices, but for the older ones especially, the choice of vocation – holy orders or religious life, sacramental marriage, single life – is a serious consideration.

Usually, when the word “vocation” is mentioned in a practicing Catholic family, the word “priest” follows closely behind. With six sons, the question comes up fairly regularly: “which one is going to be the priest?” My standard answer is: “that’s between him and God.” As Catholic parents, of course my husband and I would be overjoyed if one or more of our sons enter the priesthood. We would be equally happy if one or both of our daughters enter religious life. But it’s not our place to tell them they should enter the seminary or the convent any more than we would tell them who to marry.

When it comes to our children’s futures, the most helpful and most wise action on parents’  part is to pray unceasingly for them and give them our constant support and unconditional love. A Christ-centered home gives our kids the strong foundation they need as they discern God’s plan for their lives.

That’s a very tall order for any parent and I know we can’t do it alone. We need to seek out help from trusted people whom we know have our children’s best interests at heart. With that in mind, I asked our family friend, Fr. Allan MacDonald, how Catholic parents can best support our children’s discernment. Fr. Allan is the Vocations and Admissions Director for the Companions of the Cross, a new Community of priests founded in Canada with active ministry and parishes in Toronto, Ottawa, Halifax, Houston and Detroit. He has a wealth of experience in vocations discernment. Here are his answers to my, and I’m sure, many parents’ questions:

How do we encourage our children to  properly discern their vocation without:

…….turning them away from the faith? Love them where they are at and encourage them in their uniqueness.  Support and encourage them when they do well and even when they make mistakes.

…..or scaring them? Ask them what they think God could be calling them to do with their lives.

…..or shutting them down?  It’s their vocation, not their parent’s.  Don’t tell them what to do … show them how to live a life of prayer and service.

How do we strengthen our children in their discernment? Remind them that God has a plan for their lives.  Talk about how you discovered that God’s plan for your life was in the vocation of marriage .. that you discerned this and didn’t just fall into it or accept it by default.

How do we build a climate in the home where vocations to the priesthood and religious life are encouraged? “Say only the good things men need to hear” (Ephesians 4:29) … invite priests and religious into your home or on your family outings so that young people see that they are “normal”.

As my children continue to discern their future, I am reminded that figuring it all out can be a confusing, sometimes frightening, perhaps disappointing and often challenging process. Plans change, doors close, unforeseen circumstances happen. Parents ought to continue to pray, sustain, and love them, encouraging them to seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the intercession of our Blessed Mother. We trust that our Providential God who placed them in our care will continue to move and act in their lives so that regardless of their vocation, the Will of God will triumph.

linking this to Catholic Bloggers Network Link-up blitz for July

Linking to New Evangelists Monthly July edition

Deo Gratias

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16 Responses to Helping Our Children Discern Their Vocation

  1. This is a very interesting post, Terry, and an important part of a mentoring parent.

  2. For my older kids, after the Jesuit tatic of a pro and con list, talking to teachers, praying..

    I tell them how i WANTED to go back to Calgary and join a household of young Christains in an Assembly of God church. To stay with my parents and go to University SEEMED to be choosing the secular world. BUT deep within I had I knowing that God wanted me at University.

    6 months later, As a result of being part of a Catholic Charismatic Ptayer group ( NO spirit filled Protestant Churches near by) I attended my first mass and BANG, the call came to become Catholic.

    I ask them to close thie intellect and listen for a deep knowing, where you just know in your spirit,deeper than emotions or logic or ego- He always points us in the right direction.
    thanks Terry, might do a post on this

  3. As I’ve told you, I’m one of 16, 8 boys and 8 girls. Although one of my brothers’ wanted desperately to be a priest and an alligator trainer and a worker at DisneyLand, none of us entered the religious life or took up Holy Orders. For as thrilled as my parents would have been had any of us chosen that life, they never made us feel that they were disappointed in our choices of either married or single life. Clearly, God’s plan for our family as a whole was to try to refill the pews with our 52 children (so far). Perhaps one (or more) of my own sons or nephews will enter the priesthood. Whenever we talk about what to be when they grow up, we always casually add in the religious life and Holy Orders along with everything else they can think of, so that they see it as normal to be called to that.
    Our main goal in talking to our kids about it all though is that, as you say, they need to know that we each have a vocation and only in trying our best to fulfill that vocation will we be happy.
    Great post!

  4. Thanks, Bridget, for sharing how you help your large, young family of 6 children discern God’s plan for them.

  5. lilyboat says:

    Again.. I think your children are so blessed to have you to guide them.. God bless you Terry! May you continue to shed light on those who are confused and under the influence of the darkness.

  6. I love that you included not to DIScourage young children either! I’m often blessed to meet a number of young girls and boys in the Catholic bookstore I run who are pretty vocal about feeling called to a religious vocation. While most of their parents are great examples for the rest of us and handle it beautifully by encouraging but not pushing them (while acknowledging that an 8 year old is likely to change his intended vocation dozens of times before he’s old enough to pursue it), every once in a while we see parents that make it a little too obvious to their child that they doubt their vocation. Sometimes I just want to rush out from behind the counter, hug the little one, and tell them to keep praying about it! We often pray that God will make the vocations of our children clear to them. Thanks for a great post. 🙂

  7. Hi 8 Kids… I have not been around in awhile, but it is good to see that you seem to still be doing well (and avidly blogging!).

    It is so beautiful to see a mother who actually respects and values vocations – even if they are given to her own children. How sad it is that so few do, and truth be told, I think the ones who do not show a true lack of pure love for their children. It is love alone that would be willing to give up a child to the religious life, and all the sacrifices that it entails, for the joy of that child’s soul.

    God bless you 8 kids!

    • Oh my goodness!! It’s been way too long! How are you, CNG? May I still call you that? I just went exploring on your new site and have started following you again. Post as much or as little as you want, but keep in touch. It’s great to hear from you. I wondered how you were getting on. Thanks for your lovely comment. It means a lot to me.

      • You are welcome 🙂 I am good, thank you for asking! Trying to get myself blogging again… Yes, you can call me whatever you like. 🙂 It is so good to hear from you again too! I will definitely stay in touch. God bless you!

  8. Quite the insight here! YOu are so correct in all of the words herein. I’ve never seen a tree the exact same as another tree. I have periodically noticed what my children do naturally and prod them in that area of development as I think God prods, pushes and prompts… or maybe its me pushing prodding and prompting?. Either way, here is my thought: Children show early what they need to be doing in life. A kid who plays with dirt, and dirt only, shouldn’t be scolded but rather given projects geared towards that. A child who wants a guitar early should not be prevented from having at least a plastic one and so on. Great post. Much to ponder. Blessings

  9. Thanks! So true what you say about encouraging a child to develop his/her strengths and talents.

  10. Anabelle @Written By The Finger of God says:

    The kids ambitions had me chuckling. So adorable! We need holy priests and also holy parents.

  11. Catherine says:

    🙂 Inviting your extended family to be around priests at church functions, nice. Catherine, Obl. Candidate S.B.

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