VATICAN CITY — In his general audience, Pope Francis spoke of the essential role parents play in educating their children, a role he said has been usurped by so-called experts who have taken the place of parents and rendered them fearful of disciplining their children.
“If family education regains its prominence, many things will change for the better. It’s time for fathers and mothers to return from their exile — they have exiled themselves from educating their children — and slowly reassume their educative role,” the Pope said May 20.
He gave harsh criticism to the “intellectual critics” that he said have “silenced” parents in order to defend younger generations from real or imagined harm, and he lamented how schools now are often more influential than families in shaping the thinking and values of children.
“In our days, the educational partnership is in crisis. It's broken,” he said, and he named various reasons for this.
“On the one part, there are tensions and distrust between parents and educators; on the other part, there are more and more ‘experts’ who pretend to occupy the role of parents, who are relegated to second place,” he said.
The Pope spoke to pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square. His focus on the vocation of families to educate their children is part of his ongoing series on the family.
He stressed that educating and raising children in the human values that form the “backbone” of a healthy society is a responsibility that each family has.
However, many difficulties often impede parents’ ability to properly educate their children. Today parents are spending less and less time with their children, and meeting their needs after a long day of work can be exhausting, he noted.
In off-the-cuff remarks, Francis also highlighted the struggle faced by the increasing number of divorced or separated families. Many times children in these families are “taken as a ‘hostage,’” while their mother and father speak badly about each other.
To do this “does so much bad” to children, the Pope noted, and he stressed the importance for parents in these situations to “never, never, never take your child hostage.”
“You are separated because of many difficulties and reasons, life gave you this trial, but may the children not be the ones who bear the weight of this separation! May children not be used as hostages against the other (parent),” he said.
Although this important task can be very difficult for parents who are separated, the Pope said that it’s not impossible, and “you can do it.”
Francis also observed how frequently parents are “paralyzed” by the fear of making mistakes and hesitate to correct their children.
He recalled an episode from his own life when he had said a bad word to a teacher. The next day his mother came to the school and made him apologize, and then she corrected him at home.
Nowadays, this wouldn’t happen, because, too often, a teacher who tries to discipline a child is criticized by the parents, he said.
“Parents shouldn't exclude themselves from the education of their children. … The relationship between family and school ought to be harmonious.”
Pope Francis also cautioned parents against commanding or discouraging their children by asking them to do what they aren’t able to.
When a parent tells his small child to run up the stairs without taking him by the hand and helping them step by step, the parent is “exasperating” the child.
The relationship between parents and their children should be balanced and founded on wisdom, he said. Children should be “obedient to parents, which pleases God, and you parents, don’t exasperate your children by asking them to do what they aren’t able to. Understood?”
Francis said that the Church and all Christian communities are called to accompany and support parents in their educative role. He noted that this is done by living according with God’s word and cultivating the virtues of faith, love and patience.
Jesus himself was raised in a family, he said, explaining, “When he tells us that all who hear the word of God and obey are his brothers and sisters, he reminds us that for all their failings, our families can count on his inspiration and grace in the difficult but rewarding vocation of educating their children.”
Pope Francis closed his audience by praying that all parents would have the confidence, freedom and courage needed to fulfill their educative mission of their children.
He then went on to greet pilgrims present from various countries around the world, including Great Britain, Finland, Norway, South Africa, China, India, Korea, Canada, the United States of America, Spain, Mexico, Argentina, Panama and Chile.