Praying the family Rosary is a challenge, especially if you have young children. Distractions are the rule, not the exception. I remember one afternoon praying together when a UPS truck parked across the street, and as we recited Hail Marys, all eyes surreptitiously watched the windows to see if a package would be coming to our house. And when the baby’s on the floor, it’s often a recipe for disaster, as the baby is fascinated by the colorful soles of her siblings’ sneakers, which are all turned up as we kneel, and we have to stop her from chewing on them.
But having toddlers in the room can present even more obstacles to meditation. Just last week we were praying the Rosary, and our 4-year-old was swinging rambunctiously on the rocking chair arm when he fell off, bumped his head on the radiator, and began to sob. As I opened my arms for him, I told my 11-year-old to get an ice pack. She promptly put down her rosary and ran to the kitchen, only to find, on returning, that the 2-year-old had broken her rosary in her absence. I meted out swift punishment, and then the 2-year-old started to howl. Only one minute later, the baby picked up a scrap of paper off the floor and started to cry when I took it away. So there we were — with three children wailing, still reciting our prayers, but with little concentration.
Days like that can cause me to wonder whether a daily family Rosary is worth the effort.
So I re-evaluated my reasons for wanting to pray the Rosary with all the children. Why do I feel so strongly about saying the Rosary together as a family? First of all, the Rosary is a combination of vocal and mental prayer, and, thus, it’s an easy, natural way to teach the children the art of meditation that is so essential to our spiritual life. Secondly, Our Lady has appeared on earth several times to ask us to say the Rosary; the Rosary seems to be the instrument she desires us to use to bring about the conversion of sinners and peace in the world. Therefore, the Rosary is a devotion we should try to make a priority in our own lives and to pass on to our children.
But how can we teach our children that the Rosary is a priority if we don’t show them that it is by saying it every day with them? Praying the Rosary every day as a family imparts an enormously powerful lesson: that the Rosary is so important that we gather everyone together, every day, and persevere through a myriad of distractions and other obstacles to say this specific prayer. Furthermore, praying the family Rosary every day builds the habit in our children that — we hope — they may continue even when they have left home. Moreover, if we make the Rosary a daily habit in our lives, then when a crisis strikes, the Rosary will be like a dear and trusted friend, comforting us and sustaining us, whether we’re passing time anxiously in a hospital waiting room or we’re sitting fearfully in a basement while a tornado whirls overhead. Lastly, how can meditating on the lives of Our Lord and Our Lady for 15 or 20 minutes be anything but beneficial to our lives?
This is not to minimize the difficulties involved in saying a family Rosary every day. For many families, it is a real struggle. But we mustn’t grow discouraged or give up if we can’t establish the habit right away. Sometimes it’s better to ease our way into it by reciting the Rosary once a week or whenever we’re in the car for more than 15 minutes or by saying just one decade every day. Instead of demanding instant perfection, we can gradually build the habit together. Even after we’ve developed the habit, a change in schedule or sickness or pregnancy or moving can cause us to abandon the habit we’ve worked so hard to cultivate. Once again, we can just try saying the Rosary as often as we can and pray to Our Lady to help us get back to a more regular recitation. She will surely not refuse such a request.
In our family, we try to keep the children involved by having them take turns naming and leading the decades. We also like to read short, simple meditations before each decade, which helps us all remember what we’re supposed to be thinking about, and we’ve laminated large pictures of each mystery. We prop them up on the sofa to help all of us keep focused. At the end of the Rosary, we let each child name one saint, and the rest of us will answer, “Pray for us.” The children really look forward to having a chance to choose a saint and getting a moment in the spotlight.
Still, meditating amidst the chaos of little children’s shenanigans can be difficult. My older daughters told me recently, “Mom, we can meditate on the Rosary so much better when we say it by ourselves!” I replied, “Yes, but why do you ever say it alone? When did you learn to say it, and how did you learn that saying it is important? It was when we used to say the Rosary together when you were the little ones and you used to distract us!”
Agnes M. Penny is a home-schooling mother of eight children and
the author of Your Labor of Love for expectant mothers
and Your Vocation of Love for all mothers.