Have you ever thought of your family/household as a community? As adults, we have learned how to be our Catholic "selves" within a variety of communities including extended family, school, work, and etc. As parents we are faced with the challenge of creating a community for our children, the Catholic Church does a great job of guiding us in weekly spiritual routines and biblical problem resolution, yet as "home-makers" our efforts to cultivate a Christian environment can be more difficult.
Restorative Practices provides the opportunity to adapt preventative techniques to be used within your community or family; they might feel natural to some Catholic parents but are only implicit not explicit? After reading the new resources from the International Institute for Restorative Practices, I learned that this term is linked directly with “community health.” Learning more about restorative practices might be a great way for expecting parents and parents with children of all ages to explicitly look at their family health and reflect on how our Catholic faith might help us create a better community within our own households.
I can share some ways that incorporating restorative practice helped strengthen the bonds in our family. The best example in my family relates to teaching the virtues. Restorative practices allow us to teach virtues through storytelling. Recently, we have been talking about spending money with temperance and patience. During COVID, however, we started having circle conversations every two weeks when we received paychecks. As a family we were not comfortable speaking about money until that time. Now, however, either my husband or I will run a circle talking about the particular concern we are facing related to finances and how a virtue could help the situation. After the circle, our conversation around what we need became very different, even for my five year old.
Although many people may have heard of restorative practices in the context of delinquency or judicial or even school arenas, there are many ways they can be practiced in a family that really express and confirm the dignity of each person. For example, in restorative practices, it is always said not to do things TO a child but WITH them. When a child is struggling to take a break from something and beginning to get upset, see if it is possible for you to take a break WITH them. When it comes to screen time, this is a challenge for parents also.
The example of circle sharing in a family or extended family can even impact a toddler playing alongside the group. One influence in teaching virtue and respect to a child under 3 or one that cannot understand some virtue terms as adults know them, is to have circle discussions with caregivers- not just mom and dad, but grandparents or babysitters where the child is present. The child can be playing in the same room, and the child can still hear and see the family praying together and taking turns speaking gently to one another.
Sharing a talking piece, even rotating who leads a circle talk, can not only teach respect but really start to build a team spirit and help people share the load. Often there are duties and even pressures that fall on one person in the family. Having a space to discuss concerns that people have or family problems, can help family members show respect to a particular individual. Although we are still working on it, our family created a fitness challenge after the Library Summer Reading Program this year. The last prize was for us to go on a family vacation overnight somewhere. Although I want to reach the goal set by my family, my youngest and I are not yet to the final minutes of 'extra' fitness for the challenge. It has been a struggle to understand that sometimes we have to practice patience to help people out, a parent or a sibling, so that we can all achieve a goal together.
Our family has been working to incorporate these restorative, virtue practices for several years. We have found that this regular practice (that becomes a family ritual) has helped us more deeply establish mutual respect and to share the love of Christ’s heart in our family.
More information about using the circle and other restorative practices can be found at https://www.iirp.edu/resources/community-health-restorative-practices
or specifically for family practice, check out my SAVE Foundation website: www.mysavefoundation.org