by Mary Reed Newland, How to Raise Good Catholic Children

The domestic virtues, exaggerated beyond their importance, can be the cause of deep emotional insecurity. Tidiness, cleanliness, routine — all are valuable and must be cultivated in the family; exaggerated, they can rob a home of all its warmth.

Children are not orderly by nature. They are experimenters and explorers, and the world is for them to investigate, with the result that, in their early years, they cannot and will not concentrate for very long on any one thing. This makes for great disorder.

But a normal amount of cluttering up is necessary if children are to learn and create and play with any satisfaction, and mothers who suppress it too determinedly for the sake of a tidy house can do great damage.

There are men who have never developed the “staying home” habit because their mothers kept their homes too clean to play in, because treasures were labeled trash, and unfinished projects messes, and constant nagging left them so ill at ease playing at home that they were more at home elsewhere.

Disorder can be very trying, especially when children who do surpassingly well at creating their own disorder bring in their talented friends to create even more.

Understanding mixed with reasonable requests to help clean up after play pays off in adolescence when the pattern of welcome is set. “Bring your friends home so that we can meet them” is futile advice to a teenager if, during all the years of being a little boy, he has been told to keep his messy friends out of the house.

Children like to be clean. They like the look of it and the feel of it. But they do not care particularly about staying clean. This has nothing to do with liking to be dirty. It has everything to do with how children play — and no normal child can play for very long without getting dirty.

Healthy play for small children involves playing on the floor, on the grass, in the dirt, and in the water; the inevitable end of it all is getting dirty. Scrubbing up afterward is a small price to pay for energy well spent and for hours of real joy.

Rules about not bringing dirt into the house (by the cupful, not on shoes) are fair and good, and rules about brushing dirt off on the porch before you come in are fair and good, but it is the height of frustration to be told to stop playing “because you’re getting dirty.”

The child who is scolded constantly on this score, dragged in to be washed, changed, and set to something “nice and clean,” is doomed to be a perpetual spectator, watching on the sidelines while the rest of men enjoy creative work and play.

Cleanliness for health’s sake is another matter. Very few children (none I know) seem to think it’s important to wash before eating; this simply has to be forced on them. I daresay few develop insecurities from a little brute strength applied here.

They must also learn to wash their hands after going to the bathroom, and it is best if mothers desist from using the clinical reasons and teach this simply as a social nicety.

Impressionable children are apt to develop terrible fears about bathroom functions if too much emphasis is put on germs (and this can cause real trouble later on when they learn about their reproductive organs).

Unable to understand about germs, learning about them first in the bathroom, then in connection with “dirt,” and things on the floor, cats and dogs and money and even the air, the world can soon lose all its loveliness for them and be reduced to nothing but a breeding place for germs.

If they should ask why God made germs, we can tell them that, like everything else He created, germs were good before Adam committed Original Sin. It was the sin that destroyed the harmony, and now some germs can do great harm.

God gave us heads to learn how to protect ourselves, however, and we can use them, put ourselves in God’s care, and refuse to waste time worrying about what might happen because of germs.

Brushing teeth, taking baths, washing hair — all the good health habits are an important part of a child’s sense of security (although I have seen our children as secure as barnacles, and with the grime so thick it had to be sanded off), not only because they keep him socially acceptable, but also because they are duties of stewardship over a body God has given him.

It is when we exaggerate these things out of proportion that they can hurt not only his self-confidence, but also his spiritual values. When impeccable personal habits begin to masquerade as personal purity, they can create great moral confusion.

Virtue is not synonymous with cleanliness, although it’s nice if the virtuous can be clean.

“Letting children play in the dirt, making roads, bridges, lakes, and buildings is creating the next generation of builders and makers.
Consider this: any project that they get involved in – whether it be music, painting, mud building, writing, storytelling, stacking, making tents, performing plays, making cameras, or whatever – that result in someone being able to say, ‘Wow, that is interesting, what are you going to do next?’ is creativity.” – NGJ

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