After the table is cleared, at least partially, our family gathers in the living room for family prayer time. We can manage three decades of a rosary, a litany of saints, and maybe even a short reading on a feast day or Sunday. On any given evening, between my five kids, there is still rosary throwing, arguing, tears, or a contest to see who can lead a decade the loudest, but, without hesitation, I would recommend starting a dedicated family prayer time.
Growing up, the only time my family prayed together was at meal times. I viewed with suspicion friends whose families did “church things” on any other day besides Sunday. However, as my husband and I started our own family and considered what kind of Catholics we wanted our children to become, we quickly realized that instituting a set time every day to pray together would help our children learn their prayers and instill the importance of living their faith on a daily basis. As our parish family prays together on Sundays, it only makes sense that our domestic church should keep the momentum going during the week. Now my children can’t remember a time before we said prayers as a family.
It was a gradual process that first included prayers at their bedside while they were still very young. Then about seven years ago, I discovered a children’s devotional book and immediately declared we were going to spend time every night before bed reading from it and praying.
It was a disaster.
My children were so little, and I was expecting them to reflect upon scripture and religious stories when all they wanted to do was go to sleep. My husband and I both look back and cringe at our overzealousness. We almost scrapped the idea of an evening prayer time all together when, after talking with another family, we shared in a light bulb moment; the rosary! Yes, why not the rosary? And we started with just one decade and haven’t stopped since.
Through the years we’ve added a couple decades (though I know many families say the entire rosary) along with our family’s litany of saints, which is always the favorite part for whomever is the youngest. Even at two years old, a child will gladly call our their favorite saint and “Pray for us!” Every night we ask for the intercession of at least two dozen saints. The kids have come to understand their patrons, their parents’ patrons, the saints who look after our home and school, the saint whose feast day it is, the titles of Our Lady, plus develop their own devotions.
Although sometimes, they grow to like a saint just because of his or her unusual name. Sometimes I wonder how devoted Edie really is to the early martyr St. Apollinaris. And even though he’s been invoking St. Ubaldus for months, I doubt Teddy understands anything about the great bishop and confessor.
During Advent we say our prayers around the Advent wreath, and during Fridays in Lent, we read the Stations of the Cross. It’s easy to substitute other prayers during other seasons because we always have the time set aside.
Recently, we moved our prayer time from just before bed to right after supper. We’re all more awake which equals less fussing from the younger ones and a more reverent attitude from the older ones. Maybe mornings, or mid-afternoon, would work for you. Find what works for your family, then stick with it. The kids will help remind you once you’re in the habit.
I remember when the older children started leading the decades; it’s wasn’t too long before the younger ones wanted to lead too. My fourth child was leading prayers at age four, something my oldest had no interest in doing at the same age. So even if it seems hard at first, persevere because before long, there’s less child wrangling and more actual prayer going on.
The only aid I would recommend would be a large chunky rosary and maybe a small booklet that illustrates the mysteries. Any time we gave the kids pictures to color during prayers or larger books, images, etc. we found it to be more of a distraction, or weapon, than an aid.
Trying to start with little children is hard because doing anything for more than ten minutes with little children is hard; just be realistic in your goals and try not to get frustrated. If you’re trying to start with older children, you might need to work around sports or other activities and a child’s natural tendency to hate anything new. Be firm but proceed gently. Let the child help choose the intention for the evening. Allow them time to ask questions about a saint or liturgical season. Although I don’t always enjoy going off on tangents, our family has some of the best discussions at prayer time. Do they need to learn prayers for CCD or a sacramental year? Incorporate them. My youngest daughter will be making her First Holy Communion this year and we’ve started saying the Act of Contrition every night to help prepare her.
Although it may sometimes feel like a battle getting everyone to cooperate, a dedicated family prayer time is perfect weapon against our culture’s war on families. Pray for the graces to keep going, even through the tantrums, and you’ll see the benefits it brings.
This post was written in 2014. As of 2023, I can say we still pray together as a family almost every night. Shortly after I wrote this post, we moved our prayer time back to right before bed and that is where it remains to this day. We say the entire rosary, with everyone taking turns leading a decade, and we still say our family’s litany of saints. We still go off on tangents, there is still yelling and arguing some nights, plus the occasional use of a rosary as a weapon; some things never change.
If families give Our Lady fifteen minutes a day by reciting the Rosary, I assure them that their homes will become, by God’s grace, peaceful places.Father Patrick Peyton