by Becky Arganbright
I love the rosary. I could write a post all about why I love the rosary and why we should all pray it. But three years ago, I was determined to not teach my kids the rosary—not until they were older, at least. Four kids under the age of nine—all with an energetic temperament—seemed like quite the undertaking to bother with the rosary. I felt that teaching them this beautiful but long prayer was much like potty training: wait until they’re ready.
We did “personal prayers” with our kids, and it seemed like it was a good fit for us. The kids enjoyed telling Jesus about their day or worries that they might have. Personal prayer helped them develop a personal relationship with God, which is what I wanted. So since it worked, why bother changing it? As the saying goes, “Don’t fix what ain’t broken.”
But God thought differently, I guess. He went and upended my whole routine, which I wasn’t too happy about at first, I will admit.
“Can I pray the rosary, too?”
Despite the fact that I was wary about trying to start a family rosary routine with my kids, I still prayed it on my own. I became a little lonely, though, and wished to pray with someone as I did with my own family when I was growing up. So I asked Dennis, my husband, if he would pray a decade with me every night. We wanted to say the whole rosary, but it was difficult to find a time that worked for the both of us, so we decided to shorten it to one decade after supper while the kids played downstairs.
We were a few days into this new peaceful routine when Max, my nine-year-old, showed up. Seeing the sparkling beads in our hands, his eyes lit up.
“Can I pray the rosary, too?” he asked.
I’m sure you’re thinking that as a good mother who is always looking out for her kids spiritual good, that I naturally said yes. But being the flawed human being that I am, my thinking gets mixed up sometimes. I told him no. That’s right, I told my kid he couldn’t pray with us and sent him downstairs to play, so convinced was I that the rosary would be too much for him.
Yet, God is persistent, isn’t He? After probably shaking His head in exasperation, He sent Max back upstairs the very next day to ask if he could pray with us. I was about to say no again when Dennis intervened. “Of course you can pray with us!” he said, and made room by moving over.
The next day, the kids noticed that Max was missing. They went to investigate and found Max plopped right between Mom and Dad, getting what they assumed was personal attention. So they said they wanted to pray the rosary, too. Pretty soon, whether I liked it or not, we were praying the rosary together every night.
Whining, crying, tantrums, and time-outs
This is not the end of the story, however. Though we continued to pray the rosary every night, the prayers—or the pretty sparkly rosary beads—had lost their magic with the kids, and they wanted out. But I was now convinced that the Holy Spirit had directed me and Dennis to teach our children the rosary, even though they were resisting it. Well aware of how hard this would be, so we decided to start slow, with just one decade a day.
You would think we said three full rosaries with all the drama that ensued.
Every night (and I do mean every night), we dealt with one or more of the following: whining, crying, tantrums, silliness, interruptions, distractions, walk-outs, time-outs and pretty much everything you can come up with. I would look up to the heavens and silently be asking God if this really was worth it. I had heard from other families who went through similar situations that it eventually would get better. Weeks turned into months, and months turned into years, and it was not getting better.
There were days I wanted to give up, and Dennis had his fair share of complaints, too. The kids were not getting anything out of the rosary, and all it seemed to do was generate stress. I began to think I had been right from the beginning: the kids were too young for the rosary. I did consider going back to personal prayers. But I had the feeling that while personal prayer has its purpose and its place, God desired that we go on to something deeper.
So we plowed on, Dennis and I, coming up with strategies and ways to help our children learn the rosary. We used picture books and children’s meditations to help the kids understand the mystery we were praying. We used fake flowers to put our “Hail Marys” in a pile as a way of giving them to Mary. We had a child lead a decade every night. We tried everything. And still my kids hated the rosary.
I suppose some might argue that we started too early or took on “too much” for our kids. Initially, this was my thought too. But nine years old is not too young to learn a one-decade rosary. And my reasoning has always been that if a kid can sit in front of a TV for an hour, then they can sit and say a rosary for ten minutes.
I was mortified…but God wasn’t
Eventually, things did get better. I didn’t really notice right away since things improved so gradually, and I suppose my impatience about the situation didn’t help. But all during that time of sighs and frustrations, God was working in the hearts of my kids. He heard our prayers, He saw our efforts, He witnessed every fight. Though I was mortified by the behavior I saw, I don’t think God was shocked. I think He expected it. Forming a heart takes a lot of work.
My kids are now 11, 9, 8, 5 and 3 years old. (We were blessed with another baby to add to the fun.) It is still chaotic. The kids still groan when we call for the rosary, and it still takes a lot to calm them down. Once in a while, someone has to do a timeout for behavior. And of course, our three-year-old wanders around more than he sits.
But God has been allowing us to see some of the changes He’s been making. My children are now calm when they say the rosary. We share our rosary book to help the kids know what the mystery we’re praying is about, and the rhythm of the Hail Mary’s has a way of calming the soul.
Maturing in faith
I see my kids maturing in their spiritual faith. They tell me their insights about what they think Jesus went through in His Passion, or what it must have been like to be born in a stable. They recognize parts of the Gospel and attribute it to a mystery of the rosary: “Hey, that’s from the Wedding at Cana!” one of them will suddenly whisper (loudly) in my ear during Mass.
Most of all, the rosary forces them to take the focus off themselves. For just those ten minutes, they aren’t thinking about the TV show they want to watch, or the toy they want for their birthday. They are thinking of Him. For those ten minutes, they are either contemplating the joy of Jesus’s birth, or how Jesus healed the people, or His sorrows in the Garden. They are contemplating the craziness and joy of discovering an empty tomb. They are meditating, contemplating, going deep, in a way I never could have taught them.