Helping Our Children Know Themselves

Helping Our Children Know Themselves

Nosce te ipsum! If you are thinking, “that’s all Greek to me,” you are close. It’s a Latin translation of a Greek aphorism that is attributed to no fewer than 11 old dead guys (no telling who actually said it.) I like old dead guys for a lot or reasons, but mostly because they thought bigger thoughts than we tend to think these days. This simple phrase is one of those big thoughts. I teach my Latin students this little phrase precisely because it drives them to think more deeply. It means: know thyself.

How do you know yourself?

When was the last time you heard young people engaged in a conversation of self examination? What school can you visit where students are given tools to know themselves, or what home for that matter. Most everywhere we turn we find the opposite of this pursuit. We have phony athletes on performance enhancing drugs, phony beauties hiding behind plastic surgery, phony intellectuals falsifying data. It is near impossible to get to the true self.

How about more common folks? Don’t we hide behind our monikers- democrat or republican, jock or geek, introvert or extrovert…Christian. These are all safe places where we can blend in with the crowd and keep others from really knowing the real us. And we don’t limit that to others. Our association with these groups can even be an attempt to convince ourselves that we are who we hang out with. We are good at avoiding self examination and honesty about who we really are.

We don’t really know who we are.

Here’s the contradiction: On the one hand, we know no one so well as we know ourselves. On the other, we resist knowing ourselves according to the One who uniquely created each one of. The Lord commanded that we love our neighbor as ourselves, no doubt, because we are really good at loving ourselves. We know what we want, what we like, what we hope for, and what we dream of. On the other hand, we struggle to submit to who we were created to be.

There is a side of us that refuses to know ourselves according to the divine standard. Honesty about who we really are in our hearts is that which a crowbar cannot pry from us. There is little value in trying to know ourselves as defined by interests, propensities, and community. Instead, we are in need knowing ourselves in the light of who Christ is and who he says we are. Knowing ourselves in this way prepares us to stand before our creator and give an account for the life he’s given us to live.

How to show our kids who they are.

A significant part of our job as parents is helping our children know themselves…who they really are! Giving them opportunities to discover their talents, interests, and unique personalities is the easy part. Training our children in godly self-examination takes great energy, but is an essential part of our children coming into their own selves…and coming to Christ. There is no salvation apart from rightly understanding the nature of our sin and our need for grace, and there is not grace apart from the love and mercy of our God upon his children. That is the most important thing our kids need to know about themselves.

Every season of parenting presents a new facet of the challenge in getting through to our children. They need to be exposed continually to truth. They need to learn how to examine the truth, and most importantly they need to let the truth examine them.

Servus Christi,


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  1. Helping our children know themselves is a little easier for Catholics because of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. They get to know their sins very well, because self-examination is built into it. And the words of Absolution let’s them know the love, mercy and grace of our Savior and Lord.

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