Each year, I have high hopes for Lent with my kids. Screen time? Dead to us. Sweets? Never heard of them. Just me and my family, living like the desert fathers. Except, you know, minus having food and not being in a cave and stuff. But every year, the season comes and goes, and I often feel disappointed in myself for my own Lenten shortcomings, not to mention my failings as the primary formator of my children who didn’t encourage them enough to sacrifice well, too.

In my yearly effort to “Lent” better, I have looked to women who (seem to) have it all together when it comes to liturgical living. (I really enjoy Kendra Tierney’s ideas, most especially those delineated in The Catholic All Year Compendium.) I am certainly no expert, but I thought I’d share some ways I am trying to better embrace Lent for my family this year. 

  1. Put on my oxygen mask first. I frequently worry that I am not doing enough in forming my kids in the faith. I worry we don’t pray enough as a family, that I over – or under -enforce the rules at Mass, that I don’t celebrate Saint feast days enough. But some wise friends reminded me that the best way to teach our children about the Faith is to live it ourselves. Our children are watching us carefully, learning how to be faithful adults through our examples. If I accept the suffering of fasting and my Lenten practices with the joy of growing closer to God, my kids will notice in some small way. And the love I have for God and the ways I tend to my faith will inevitably radiate through the greater love and sacrifice I show to my family.
  2. Be accountable to each other, but not too much. One way Kendra Tierney encourages familial accountability is by hanging up everyone’s Lenten promises. Their family uses this format: I will strive each day to do less ____, to do more _____, to never _____, and to always _____. I like this idea because there is room for nuance with room for inevitable imperfection, both for ourselves and our kids. To say they will never fight with their siblings is ambitious but likely impossible. To strive to fight less? That’s a manageable goal. Lent is not meant to be a season for guilt about our (or their) shortcomings, and I don’t want my children to view Lent as a time of misery but as a time of growth.
  3. Embrace simplicity. Rather than feeling like we need to reinvent the wheel in our family’s routine and practices, we can just strive to live more simply. For example, we can try to eat through our freezer and pantry rather than buying more groceries. We can pare down the toys we have out or take down artwork and decorative items to make our homes more “desert-like.” We can cut back on our activities and just hang at home, enjoying time together. This season doesn’t have to be fraught with a litany of change to be effective.

Essentially, I am trying to say that for both us and our families, Lent does not require upheaval of our family life. We need to first address our goals for ourselves and our own relationship with God and try to encourage our kids to do the same. If nothing else, just the muscle memory of prioritizing the season of Lent will encourage our children to continue the practice when they are old enough to truly make such decisions for themselves.

If you are trying to think of other ideas of kid-appropriate Lenten sacrifices or promises, a simple Google search will prove there are so many good ideas from people way holier than I am. But maybe one of these is a good starting point if you don’t feel like doing the research yourself:

  1. Purge toys, clothes, or games. Maybe set a goal of donating forty things for the forty days of Lent.
  2. Instead of secular music, embrace silence or a kid-friendly Christian podcast.
  3. Set out some Holy Water, and have the kids bless themselves at set points in the day. This can also be an opportunity for teaching about our renewal of Baptismal promises at Easter.
  4. Have older kids write affirmations or thank you notes to family, friends, or neighbors, maybe one per week. 
  5. Even if you don’t fast from screen time totally, pare down how much you watch, and use that time for purposeful family time or family prayer.
  6. Pray one family prayer kneeling down instead of sitting or lying in bed.

I know we often enter into Lent with high expectations for how our spiritual lives and those of our families will be changed during this season, but Lent is really meant to call us to a greater holiness throughout the year. Small steps, especially in our family life, will yield fruit. We can’t demand perfection or the impossible from ourselves; God certainly doesn’t. Instead, we can pray for His guidance on how we can better love and serve Him, embrace those small changes in our family life, and look at Lent as a small step in a long journey toward the sacrificial heart of Christ.