by Heidi Indahl
40 Days for Life has been a powerful addition to our family’s Lenten devotions. My children learned more about praying the rosary, and we were all blessed by the focused time in prayer as a family. 40 Days for Life was an amazing opportunity to share our pro-life values with our children. We have even been blessed with many new friendships through participation in this ministry.
What is 40 Days for Life? Here is a brief introduction from the website:
40 Days for Life is a community-based campaign that . . . draws attention to the evil of abortion through the use of a three-point program:
- Prayer and fasting
- Constant vigil
- Community outreach
. . . The visible, public centerpiece of 40 Days for Life is a focused, 40-day, non-stop, round-the-clock prayer vigil outside a single Planned Parenthood center or other abortion facility in your community.
For the full, page-long description, visit 40daysforlife.com.
Often I hear people who are surprised that we participate in this event with our children. As in many things I do, I didn’t think it through much the first time and just jumped in. Thankfully it turned out OK. That being said, it could have turned out better. Here are a few things that can help.
Tips for Successfully Including Children in the 40 Days for Life
Scout Location & Plan Ahead
The location in Salt Lake City, Utah where we participated in our first campaign was a very safe neighborhood with wide boulevards, shade, and a non busy street. There was room for a blanket on the grass and there was enough of a buffer that my alert eyes could redirect any wandering small ones before they faced any real danger. By contrast, the location near our current home is on a much busier street. The sidewalk butts directly up to a large parking lot for a moderately sized strip mall. Any child under four probably needs to be somewhat contained in a stroller or sling for their physical safety.
I have heard that some sites are near churches that will allow children to play on their playground during the vigil. The same goes for parking. Find out if this is available at your location and be prepared.
Some sites are more active than others and have many faithful participants during each time slot; at other sites you may be one of just a few.
Have a Plan to Keep Them Engaged
Most 40 Days for Life shifts are assigned in one hour increments. This can be a long time for younger children. Ideas for keeping them contained so mom and older children can actively participate include bringing books, having a method such as an iPod available for audio guiding the rosary if needed (this helps a lot if mom needs to step away for child training and redirection), having a snack, and bringing them a small collection of quiet toys to play with on a blanket. One year, on the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, we made popcorn and candy corn crucifixes and then delivered them to the staff at our parish on the way home.
Talk About What You Are Doing In An Age Appropriate Way
Our first year participating with children, we weren’t very brave and stuck to only bringing our oldest two. Even then, we really struggled with just how much information we should give them. The second year, we participated with younger children and I was even more confused! I found that the best explanation for young children is that we are praying for moms and babies, because that is exactly at the core what we are doing. With older children we talked a little more about abortion and what it was in simple terms, but kept the focus on praying for moms and babies.
(See more about Talking With Your Children About Abortion)
When in Doubt, Buddy Up
If you are concerned about the safety or behavior of your children, you can still participate. Ask another adult from your parish to join you as an extra set of eyes or find a teenager in need of service hours. Worst case scenario you can also split a shift with another family and take turns watching the kids at someone’s home while mom and/or dad participates in the prayer vigil. Your children can help make signs for the moms and babies before you go and you can pray a family rosary for the moms and babies from the safety of your living room!
You can find out much more about 40 Days for Life, including locations near you, at the 40 Days for Life website.