I am the father of a rather large family and, while I go by many titles, my favorite one is “Dad.” It is usually shouted at ear-piercing levels when I come through the door at night, so I think I must be doing something right. I take the job pretty seriously and I do my best to help around the house, and help with home schooling the kids. But beyond all of that, the one job I take most seriously is the head of household. This means more than just being the bread winner or king of the castle.
It means that I am the one that shows the family the religion we practice. More than going to church on the weekends, more than just making sure we say grace before meals, I want our kids to see the love I feel for God, and understand why.
During this time of year, it can very easy to get caught up in the hype that passes for Christmas, or on the other side of things in the ”you’re doing it all wrong” crowd. We get so distracted by jingles and bells that sometimes we forget that before the Christmas season there is another season and it is equally important.
Like Lent, Advent is a season of preparedness, about getting our hearts ready for that great gift. So, as a father, how do I help my kids understand that?
First, I can’t take all the credit for this. My wife is a wonderful woman, and she usually comes up with 99% of the good ideas, things that we can do with the kids, things that should teach them. What do I do? Other than just being there, I try my best to be supportive, and I get involved in as much of it as I can.
Real dads are not afraid of candle wax, glue and scissors, though papers cuts can be pretty nasty. In my book the number one teaching tool for kids is finding some way to make it fun. This can be difficult, but there are ways to make it fun.
This year we are using a Jesse tree during Advent. We have done this it the past and it is always a lot of fun and I always end up learning right along with the kids. I am a cradle Catholic, and, if you were like me you like me when we were going up, you were afraid of reading the Bible. The basic idea of the Jesse Tree is to give you a brief overview of the Bible from creation to the birth of Christ, with a focus on Jesus’ family tree starting with King David. You can find some great ideas at Illuminated Ink and Holy Heroes. (Christine Johnson also did a fabulous guest post on the Jesse Tree right here!) Projects from either or both of the resources have the kids doing a nightly project to understand and prepare for the birth of Christ and decorate the tree. The one we are using this year has a story to read every night, a short video to watch (about 5 minutes.) and, of course, arts and crafts, the really fun part.
Learning about the saints is always a big thing in our house. We try to pick saints that the kids can relate to. An easy saint to include this time of year is St Nicholas. He is not the jolly old elf that comes on December 25. His feast day comes at the beginning of the month, December 6, and he is a great saint to learn about. He is, after all, he the patron saint of children. If you celebrate his feast day the way they do in his home country there is chocolate involved. My “Dad’s job” here, beyond helping with the teaching, is to buy the candy and hide it in my car until the night of the fifth. A traditional St. Nicholas celebration, beyond learning about his life and struggles, has the children leaving their shoes out on the night of December 5. On the morning of the sixth, St. Nicholas has left them chocolate or switches, or a combination of the two, depending on what they deserve.
The Advent wreath is another great way to get the kids involved. This year we made our own candles. We bought an inexpensive bees wax kit and rolled them with the kids (no hot wax, and very little mess involved). The kit we used also came with prayers for each night or week when lighting the candles, but you can find Advent blessings pretty much anywhere on the Internet. We usually do this at dinner time, just before saying grace. Our kids can often be heard to say, “Yours is melting faster than mine,” as they gently critique each other’s candle-rolling technique. This is a very simple project that they get to see being used through out the month, that helps the kids feel a sense of “look what I did.”
As this is a preparation season, we also do some things that are sometimes harder to do, but that we still find worth it. We try to find time to pray the rosary, or at least a few decades a few times a week. Believe it or not, this is not hard to do with kids, especially if you get them involved. Divide it up, give the kids a decade or part of the decade. As they get older, ask
them to tell you what each of the decades is about. We try to make it to reconciliation at least once. And if we can fit it in, we try to make it to at least one Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. This one can be hard to do with little kids, and hard to explain why you are doing it. But don’t give up!
As a dad I really enjoy this time of year. Watching my kids get excited with the anticipation for what is to come and helping them to understand this season on preparation makes the whole thing that much more enjoyable for me.