What does this mean for families today? How do parents affirm and appreciate their children?

This time of year reminds me of the importance of celebration in our lives. We love to celebrate! Christmas parties, gift giving, decorating the tree, putting up lights, Las Posadas, caroling, Advent calendar, New Year’s parties --- we have many ways of celebrating the birth of Jesus, the new year, and new beginnings.

The stories of the Epiphany and the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple remind us of our own celebrations when a baby is born and later baptized. And, of course, birthday parties continue to celebrate a person’s birth and life.

All of this celebrating brings to mind an event in the life of Jesus that I believe deserves more attention and celebration. It is the story of the time that Jesus was “lost” and his parents found him teaching in the temple (Luke 2). It was thought to be important enough that it made the cut as one of the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary: The Finding of the Lord in the Temple.

Certainly finding a lost child is always cause for celebration, and Mary and Joseph must have been so relieved and grateful to God for finding Jesus. And what is His response? I must be about my father’s business. At this point you would probably be ready to ground that kid for life! But the Scripture says that his mother stored these things in her heart.

What does that mean? To me it means that Mary recognized and acknowledged who Jesus was, the gifts he had, and the mission He was to carry out. She celebrated him in her heart. He then went back home with them.

And his parents must have continued celebrating his identity and his uniqueness, because it was during his growing-up years in that home with His parents that Jesus discovered who He was in the world, and what His mission was to be. The “finding” in the temple was more than a physical finding; it was also a spiritual finding of His true identity and relationship to the Father.

This Christmas season and throughout the year, I challenge parents (and teachers!) to really celebrate their children. Every single child must “be about his/her Father’s business” — that means all children must discover how wonderfully God made them and what He wants them to do in this world.

All children need to “find” their true identity in relationship to their Father in heaven, their true calling. But this will happen only if a child is brought up to believe in him/herself and the great gifts that God has given him/her.

I know what you’re thinking — that was Jesus, after all, and the Blessed Mother. Of course He was supposed to be about His Father’s business — he was the Son of God!

And, yet, the Holy Family is our model. And we are all sons and daughters of God our Father. Every single one of God’s children (that’s all of us) has unique gifts bestowed by God and a unique mission here on earth.

If children are not celebrated and acknowledged for the wonderful ways that God made them and for their unique contributions, they will not be able to discern their mission here on earth during their growing-up years.

Too often, children are evaluated in terms of how they perform in school, and only those who do “well” receive acknowledgment. Children quickly lose heart when day after day they don’t do well on assignments, or fail a test, or are told they are not measuring up.

Or they become unmotivated and even depressed when urged to go in a direction that is counter to their talents and natural gifts. Too often, the adults in a child’s life force the child into a career or life of the adult’s choosing.

Like Mary and Joseph, parents and teachers need to be mentors, guides, coaches --- helping each child discover who he/she is and what God has in mind for him/her. We are to celebrate our children in our hearts as well as outwardly with support and encouragement.

If children are not celebrated and acknowledged for the wonderful ways that God made them and for their unique contributions, they will not be able to discern their mission here on earth during their growing-up years.

How can we celebrate all of our children and ensure that they see themselves as the marvelous individuals God made them to be? Here are a few ways:

1. Celebrate your children for who they are, not for the quality or quantity of their school work.

2. Get into the habit of pointing out what is right about your children.

3. Acknowledge their interests, talents, and the contributions they make to the family.

4. Encourage them to pay attention to their own positive characteristics and actions.

5. Teach them to recognize their accomplishments.

Compare this set of comments…

When are you going to get it right?” “Well, if there’s a way to mess it up you’ll find it.” “You’re so clumsy.” “I know you’ll lose it.” “You’ll probably forget like you always do.”

…with this set:

Wow, thanks for remembering to pick that up.” “I noticed you put your ring in a safe place.” “Thanks for helping your brother.” “That was tricky and you managed to get it done.” “I admire your willingness to do a few math problems even though you really dislike math.”

If children live with the first set of comments, it’s not a big surprise if they themselves say things like, “I’m so clumsy ... I’ll lose it for sure ... I can’t do it ... I never finish things … That’s just the way I am.”

Children who live with the second set of comments learn to be confident and to pay attention to what they do right. You are liable to hear them say things like, “Well, it’s hard but I can try it ... Next time I’m going to do it this way ... Maybe I can make a plan so that doesn’t happen again ... I know I can do it ... I did it!”

Remember that school is not life. In the end, in the real world, it won’t matter whether your child conquered dangling participles or still doesn’t get Algebra. What will matter is whether your child believes in him/herself, whether he/she is confident about her own abilities and what he/she can do.

It is our job as parents to bring out the star in our children and show them where they shine. It is our job, as parents and teachers, to help our children discover “my Father’s business.”

So now, how about you? How do you celebrate yourself? Do you acknowledge your many daily accomplishments? Do you focus on your strengths, talents, and gifts? As a grown-up you, also, are to be about your Father’s business?

If you didn’t discover it while growing up, get started now — it’s never too late!

Be a model for your children by celebrating yourself and them, in little ways and in big ways. Create celebrations that bring out the stars that are shining inside all of us. What a great way to begin the new year! Happy celebrating! 

©2011 by Mariaemma Pelullo-Willis, M.S.

Mariaemma Pelullo-Willis is a California credentialed teacher and holds a Master's Degree in Special Education. She is co-author, with Victoria Kindle Hodson, of "Discover Your Child's Learning Style" (Random House) and "Midlife Crisis Begins in Kindergarten." For many years a Master Catechist for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, she attends Mission San Buenaventura.

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