So one thing I really don't understand about how Lenten penances are supposed to work out within a family.
Do your children (older ones -- say 8 year olds and up) take responsibility for their own Lenten devotion?
As far as I know, "giving up something" for Lent is an optional devotion. It's not optional that we have to observe Lent somehow, with prayer, fasting, penance, almsgiving. But, say, "giving up chocolate" for Lent, that kind of thing, that's traditional but not obligatory. Right?
So, as a mother, I feel like my role ought to be to encourage my kids to come up with a Lenten sacrifice and follow through with it. But I'm really uncomfortable with enforcing it in any way, or even with making gentle reminders.
(Yes, it's my role to enforce religious obligations, e.g., Sunday Mass attendance -- I'm talking about optional devotions.)
If they were much more mature, like 16 or older, it would definitely be inappropriate for me to butt into their private spiritual lives. Also, by that time, they should be able to take responsibility themselves for their own sacrifices -- they should be totally voluntary. I'm clear on the concept for older kids and adults.
So should they be voluntary from the beginning?
Let me give an example. When my oldest was eight, he announced he was going to give up ketchup for Lent. I thought that was a really great sacrifice for a kid -- doable, but noticeable. For the first couple of weeks he went without ketchup. Then one night he forgot and put it on his plate. Just as a reminder -- not at all in a punitive way, I swear -- I said, "Hey, did you forget that you gave up ketchup for Lent?" And he got this look on his face that said I know. Please don't remind me. A few more times that happened, and then by the end it was clear that he didn't want to give up ketchup anymore. I stopped reminding him. It felt wrong to "nag" about something that was technically optional and that, if he were fully grown, would be totally his own business. It definitely felt wrong to speak to him about it at the dinner table, in front of people.
I get even more nervous when my son announces that he's going to give up something that I just know is going to be really hard for him. Like, "I'll give up video games." Great, I think, it's really a good idea, but... do you expect me to be your policeman? Like, when you're at your friends' house and they're all playing video games, do you want me to come down the stairs and say, "Hey, 10-year-old, you told me you were giving up video games for Lent, so put down the controller?"
I don't have an example for how to do this. I was not a child growing up in a practicing-Catholic family. I literally do not know how to encourage a Lenten devotion without becoming Lent Cop Mom.
Seriously. Help me out here. And if you have a blog which gets more traffic than mine, how about asking your readers? Because I have a feeling I need a lot of ideas.
UPDATE: Oh, good, Jen at Conversion Diary has kindly linked to my question! That should help. So has the other Jennifer, Fitz at Riparians at the Gate.