No family comes fully formed, bright, shiny, and perfect right out of the box. In fact, as moms, it is our job to help form our family into the individuals and family God has created them to be.
But, at times, it can seem exhausting and fruitless, especially when we reduce our efforts to
lecturing, nagging, or yelling, as they bring little lasting change, leaving us feeling ineffective.
But when we change our focus to being the change we seek in our family, it bears great fruit for our own souls and life, as well as discipling our children in deed and word toward the change we
seek and the virtues needed to make that change. St. John Bosco (who, after receiving a holy vision, worked wonders with the challenging children in his care) advised the teachers under his leadership that “Self-control (in the adult caregiver) must rule our whole being - our mind, our heart, our lips.” With this in mind, parenting becomes a deep spiritual beginning with our own growth in virtue to help us facilitate change in our family members. When we invite the Holy Spirit to help us master our behaviors and to help us parent our children, we can make real progress in making the positive change we are longing to see.
Let’s look at some steps we can take to begin this process of discipling our children and creating
1) Identify the changes you want to see.
Too often, we just react strongly to an irritating behavior, and we just want
it to stop. “It” is too noisy, too messy, too aggravating, too whatever! We feel frustrated. We
react in some way that is supposed to convey our frustration. Usually, nothing changes, at least
not in a lasting way.
Instead of just reacting, take time to identify positively, in your own mind, the change you want,
such as, “I want my family to stop yelling at each other.” or “I want my child to succeed in
2) Be as specific as you can be.
Once you have identified the broad positive change you want, move to the more specific. For
example, your broad statement may be, “I want my family to stop yelling at each other.” By
identifying specific, measurable behaviors, you give your family something understandable to
work toward, such as “I want my family members to speak respectfully to each other and in soft
tones.” Or, a broad statement such as, “I want my children to succeed in school.” can more
specifically become, “I want my children to get their homework done without argument and work
for a half hour a day with a parent on skill-building to help improve grades in identified areas.”
Stating specific goals gives you a target to aim for, rather than just a broad wish that
disintegrates into complaining, nagging, and dissatisfaction.
3) Identify the virtues that you, and your family members, need to achieve the goal.
It is difficult to change a behavior pattern. We need God’s grace to do it. All virtue, or progress
toward it, is a grace from God. In trying to achieve any good and worthwhile goal, it is beneficial
to identify the virtues we need to achieve it and ask for God’s help.
In the speaking respectfully example, a family may need to focus on the virtues of kindness and
self-control. In the school work example, the virtue needed may be diligence. Focusing on this
virtue when doing school work or any job carefully and persistently will help our children develop
habits and skills that will make them more successful not only in the assignment of the day but
in a lifetime of education and work.
4) Develop a plan with small actionable steps.
Once we have identified what virtues we need to help us work toward the changes we want, we
need a plan to go about it. Developing any virtue or good habit takes practice and repetition, just
like building muscle. We don’t get anywhere by just identifying that we want strong bi-ceps. We
must do specific, repetitive, targeted exercises to achieve them. The same applies to building
virtue and the better behaviors we want to achieve.
For instance, we don’t get very far in changing disrespectful speech by saying, “ Don’t talk to
your brother like that!” But we will make real progress if we first discuss the new goal and its
attached virtue together as a family. Then, together, generate ideas to practice as a family, such
We will state our needs politely instead of complaining.
We will work together to meet those needs in a way that respects each person’s needs.
We will ask for help if we are having difficulty figuring out a plan.
Let’s look at possible action steps for the school success situation.
We will create a study schedule together that factors in needs such as time to relax, keeping up friendships, other commitments in family life, etc.
Parent and child will schedule short times (15-30 minutes?) to review areas of study that need to be strengthened.
We will get help from a teacher, tutor, or online resource if we have depleted our own reserves on the topic.
Of course, these are examples. Each family can use these guidelines to help them formulate a
plan that is unique to them.
When we identify the specific changes we want to see in our family, tap into the virtues required
to make those changes, and create a plan with actionable steps to work on together, we are
becoming the change we want to see in our family by discipling them while actively participating
in the change. In doing so, we can make real and lasting progress toward rewarding and
beneficial family changes.