Faith & Life



Last year in this space, I wrote about how I’ve struggled with finding balance in Lent when I’m not fasting because of pregnancy or breastfeeding. This year, I’m feeling a similar struggle for balance with my kids.

Young children are, of course, not required to fast, but as I raise them in the Catholic faith, I’m striving to teach them about sacrifice and prepare them for when they are old enough to join fully in the Lenten spirit.

According to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), children are not required to abstain from meat on Fridays until they are 14 years old and are exempt from fasting until the age of 18.

The rules regarding what constitutes a fast are also very reasonable. However, I believe Lenten observance should be about more than the letter of the law. I’m aiming for a gradual transition into Lenten observances for my children, converting their hearts one step at a time.

The three pillars of Lenten practice are prayer, fasting and almsgiving, and all three can be adapted to children according to their age and maturity. It’s not too late to add a few of these ideas to the remainder of this year’s Lent.

If your family doesn’t pray together as much as you’d like, then Lent is the perfect time to form a new habit.
■ Say a family rosary
■ Read Bible stories together
■ Take your children with you to adoration
■ Consider adding one more daily Mass per week to your schedule.

In our family, we’ve added a family decade of the rosary to our evening routine, and we’ve seen beautiful fruits so far.

Growing young children should probably not be skipping meals, but there are still plenty of things they can fast from, and practice offering up their sufferings to Jesus on the cross.
■ Give up a particular toy for the season of Lent
■ Fast from screen time
■ Give up snacks or sweets

Our family fasts from desserts on Fridays together. Focusing on that one day of the week is helping to
ease our young children into the idea of giving things up, and also highlights the importance of Fridays and observing the passion of Christ.

Those children who are old enough to understand the value of money and how to earn and spend it can be encouraged to make a donation of their allowance to the church or a charity.

For the rest:
■ Lent is a good time to declutter toys and clothes that are no longer used and donate them to those in need.
■ We could give our kids opportunities to earn money by doing extra chores, then donate it to a charity of their choice.

I know that my children have some toys they could bear to give away, which I will explain to them is a way to help those less fortunate, as Jesus taught us. The important thing (for us adults as well) is to add these Lenten practices as small, attainable additions to a robust life of family prayer and faith. We need to establish a foundation of faithfulness in our homes, where the extra practices of Lent are not some arbitrary rules imposed out of the blue, but are building blocks that fit into an already established domestic church edifice.

If we encourage our children to give a little more of themselves to God each Lent, as we strive and model to give of ourselves, then by the time they’re old enough to be bound by the Church’s laws of fasting, that gift of self will be a joyful one, and Lent and Easter all the more fruitful.