Written by Ellen Moran

Self control, or Temperance, may be the strength most undervalued in our culture today. In fact, it’s positively abhorrent to some of our 21st-century sensibilities. But a lack of temperance is obviously a problem in American culture, as evidenced by excessive materialism, consumerism, gluttony, and immodesty, rising addiction, shortening attention spans, and the need for instant gratification all around us.

But there is a silver lining, parents out there! We know that character is forged with repetition and effort—lots of it, in the fire of trial and error. The daily grind of family life offers both us and our kids hundreds of opportunities to foster and strengthen self-discipline, delayed gratification, self-control, and the ability to moderate pleasures… in a word, temperance! Homework before playtime, dinner before dessert, monitored computer access, limits on TV and video games, curfews, and conserving resources (e.g. not wasting food, taking short showers, wearing hand-me-downs)—each of these fortify our children’s temperance. They offer practice in regulating their impulses and pave the way for an appreciation of silence, listening, decorum, generosity, forgiveness, chastity, and greatness of soul.

Being part of a large family (six children) meant that our kids were presented with temperance-cultivating opportunities daily. Especially during lean financial times, there were significant limits on new clothing, gadgets, treats, and amusements. With five siblings, my kids couldn’t always play with the toy they wanted, eat the last slice of pizza, sit “Shotgun,” or choose the movie we watched. Soda, dessert, and eating out were reserved for special occasions. And for those of you who observe Lent, it’s a natural and wonderful time to focus on temperance as a family.

You may, like I sometimes did, feel guilt, frustration, or even sadness when you can’t provide for your children’s wishes, cater to their tastes, or respond to many of their requests. But just think: perhaps not having exactly what they want, when they want it, is helping secure a vital hinge in their character that will open the door to a life of balance and moderation. And don’t we all need more of that?

On the whole, my (now adult) children are admirably temperate in their “appetites” today. I am often heard saying, “I want to be like my children when I grow up.” We certainly were not perfect.  I do regret the times when my restrictions were stifling and joyless. In hindsight, my husband and I could have practiced greater discernment (prudence) and splurged more often to give them certain things that they were well within their right to desire (justice), all for the sake of balance.  Complimenting them on their little victories of self-denial would have eased the sting of hearing “no” yet again.  Though it was tough to strike a balance, I’m grateful that we did try to cultivate temperance in them for the sake of sacrifice, self-mastery, love of God and others.

So, my advice: Don’t let this underrated hinge rust in the corner through neglect, blindness, or guilt. Sure, your children may not always love it in the moment, but children who hear “no” from time-to-time will learn to say it to themselves, when the situation requires it. And both you and they will enjoy witnessing the inner freedom, balance, and joy that temperance will bring to their lives.

Dust this pivotal hinge off and help your kids mount it securely on the door of their character!

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