• INTRODUCTION: The first institution which is of divine origin is marriage. God is the author of marriage. This institution is a covenant which has two vital inseparable equal ends, the “procreative” and the “personalist or unitive” purposes. The former (which is of Elohist tradition) is expressed in Gen. 1:27-28, “…be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth…;” while the latter (of Yahwist tradition) is evident in Gen. 2:18-24, “it is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner…Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cling to his wife and they become one flesh.”According to Can. 1055, the married state is, by its very nature, established for the wellbeing of the spouses and upbringing of children (cf. also CCC no. 2201). The procreative end is specifically necessarily connected to our discussion on the child’s upbringing. The family is a necessary consequence of marriage. We cannot talk on the family without necessarily talking about marriage, the first institution ordained by God Himself. Both concepts, marriage and family, go inseparably together; “marriage is the formation [foundation] of a family.”[1] It is the vital relationship that brings a man and a woman to form a community of life and love (cf. Familiaris Consortio, 17).

Indeed, central to our Catholic faith is the family; God reveals himself as a “family” – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – a communion of persons. Hence in His image and likeness, He created us, male and female,[2] to be in communion with one another.[3] So the family which is a consequence of the divine institution, marriage, as evident from the creation account, is the root bedrock for the nurturing of the emergent offspring of this union. But what intrinsically is the core role of the family in this issue of upbringing of the child? The possible answer(s) to this question will be revealed gradually in the course of this presentation. As such, the schema for our discourse shall proceed in the following sequence: explication of concepts, various descriptions of the family, the role of the family in the child’s upbringing, recommendation and conclusion.

  • Brief Explication of Concepts


  • Family:According to the Oxford Advances Learner’s Dictionary, the term family could mean “a group of one or two parents and their children” (nuclear sense); or “a group of one or two parents, their children and close relations” (extended sense); or “all the people who are related to each other, including those who are now dead.” Etymologically, the term “family” is derived from the Latin rootfamilia which points to concepts such as “servant” and “household.” This means that it is a household of servants who attend to the needs of one another and those of the society. From the Jewish background, the Hebrew word for family is bêt’āb, “father’s house,” indicating the patriarchal character of the Hebrew family. We have the nuclear and extended family types.


  • Role: The Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary explains this word as “the function or position that somebody has or is expected to have in an organization, in society or in a relationship;” or “an actor’s part in a play or film/movie, etc.” or “the degree to which somebody or something is involved in a situation or an activity and the effect they have on it.” So, the role of the family can be considered as the function, or position, or part, or degree involved, or effect pertaining to the child’s upbringing.


  • Upbringing: This means, according to the Dictionary “the way in which a child is cared for and taught how to behave while it is growing up.” The upbringing or, in other words, nurture could be religious, social, family, intellectual, cultural, psychological, economical, etc.


  • Child: This word, which has as its Latin and Greek equivalents līberī and τεκνον, or παις respectively, means “a young human being who is not yet an adult;” or “a son or daughter of any age;” or “a person who is strongly influenced by the ideas and attitudes of a particular time or person.” The Israelites highly valued the offspring as gracious gift of God (cf. Ps 119:9; 127:3; 128:5-6), and if many, as divine blessing (cf. Gen. 24:6; Ruth 4:11-12).


  • Some Various Descriptions or Understanding Of The Family within Catholicity

Today, the concept of the family has become an interesting phenomenon because it means different things to different people, hence the various diverse descriptions or understandings of the family. And these are articulated as follows. The 2014 Bible Week Programme booklet of the “Catholic Biblical Apostolate of Nigeria,” that treated on the theme of Christian Leadership and National Development, describes the family as “a group of people affiliated by birth or marriage.”[4] This brings to mind the connectivity between marriage and family as earlier mentioned.

According to the 2016 Bible Week Programme booklet, “the family is a description of a community brought about by love;” “the basic unit around which most things in the society revolves;” “a living cell from which models of Church and experienced lived are formed; place of learning and witnessing cultural values, solidarity of support and fraternal welcome, where people live together, human problems holistically solved.” Again, it considers the family as “the premier abode that reveals and mediates divine compassion and love for the suffering humanity.”[5]

The Vat II document, Lumen Gentium, no. 11, identifies the Christian family as the “Domestic Church,” Ecclesia domestica (cf. also CCC nn. 1656 & 2204; Familaris Consortio, no. 21).In other words, the Catholic Church also strongly emphasizes that the family is a “Church in miniature.”[6] St. John Chrysostom spoke of the family as a “little Church.”All thesedesignations point to the ecclesial role of the family.Thus, the Christian family is, properly speaking, the domestic church and first school of faith. It is “the primary setting for socialization since it is where we first learn to relate to others, to listen and share, to be patient and show respect, to help one another and live as one,” “a place of support, guidance and direction.”[7]

Furthermore, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2206presents the family as a privileged community called to a “sharing of thought and common deliberation by the spouses as well as their eager cooperation as parents in the children’s upbringing” (cf. also Gaudium et Spes, no. 52 §1). According to Pope St. John Paul II, the family is “a community of persons; of husbands and wives, of parents and children, of relatives. Its first task is to live with fidelity the reality of communion of persons” (Familiaris Consortio, no. 18). And one of the ways of realizing this task is bringing up the progeny or offspring in the ideal way. Hence this launches / ushers us into looking at the role the family plays in the nurturing of the child.

  • The Role Of The Family In The Child’s Upbringing

It is together with their children that a man and a woman united in marriage form a family. (cf. CCC no. 2202). “Its members are persons equal in dignity. For the common good of its members and of the society, the family necessarily has manifold responsibilities, rights and duties.” (CCC no. 2203). One of such responsibilities or duties is the role it plays in the upbringing of the child, on which we shall specifically dwell in this section. Here emphasis will be placed more on the parents (fathers and mothers) because they are the key figures in the family as they are directly and strictly responsible for the child’s upbringing. But before treating the parental role, let’s in passing chip in some general roles of the family as regards the child’s upbringing.

  • Family Roles Generally in the Upbringing of the Child

Recall that we said the child’s upbringing could be religious, social, family, intellectual, cultural, psychological, economical, etc. As obtained from Encyclopaedia Britannica, generally, the family is expected to provide: (a) for emotional and psychological security, particularly through warmth, love, and companionship that living together generates between spouses and in turn between them and their children; (b) “socially beneficial function as the rearing of and socialization of children;” (c) economically, food, shelter, clothing, physical security for the children. In nurturing the child, the family should do the following together: pray, worship, study, work, play, counsel, eat together and join in recording family traditions and sacred experiences.

We shall proceed gradually to look at the roles of the parents in particular as they stand as the key figures in the family and directly and strictly responsible for the child’s upbringing.

  • The Role of the Parents in the Child’s upbringing

In the Catholic rite of marriage, the couples are often asked: “will you accept children lovingly from God, and bring them up according to the law of Christ and His Church?” They often respond in the positive affirmation. This acceptance and upbringing of children forms the basis of the role to be undertaken by the spouses if eventually God blesses them with children. The gift and joy of children go simultaneously with the corresponding responsibility of nurturing them in accordance with the mind and expectation of the Giver of the gift. “Train up a child the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it” (Prov. 22:16). Thus, the exalted mission the spouses promised before God to assume on the day they receive the sacrament of matrimony is to be willing instruments in God’s hands for His continuing work of creation, bringing into the world children who are images of God and will become coheirs with Christ through baptism, and as well children of God and members of the Church; who are destined for an eternity of bliss or happiness.[8]

Gaudium et Spes no. 52 states: “Married couples must practice …eager cooperation as parents in the child’s upbringing. The active presence of the father is very important for their training: the mother too, has a central role in the home for the children.” According to Pope St. John Paul II, in his Letter to Families, God’s command “Honour your father and your mother” indirectly says to parents on the other hand, “honour your sons and daughters” and this they deserve right from the moment of their conception.[9] Obviously, this requires of the parents the proper fulfillment of the many duties they owe their children. These duties, according to Arch Bishop P.E. Ekpu’s 1996 Lenten pastoral letter on The Family, can be categorized into two kinds namely corporal and spiritual. So majority of what will be articulated here with regard to the family role in the child’s upbringing will be obtained from this source.


  • The Parental Role of Meeting the Corporal Needs of the Child

This aspect consists of the following temporal welfare of the child:

  • To Guard and preserve the life of the child:This role actually begins from the very moment of conception whereby the embryo should be protected from any kind of harm. After birth, the parents are to provide the child with adequate health care, proper food, clothing, shelter and other basic amenities of life. It consequently entails avoiding anything that might be detrimental to the body and soul welfare of the child at any of the stages of life. Mothers specifically ought to feed their baby with the natural breast milk.[10]
  • Providing Support for the Child:In order to have this done, parents are to avoid, by all means,the attitude of squandering, idleness, luxury and extravagancy. Mothers specifically are to avoid being indolent, avoid the worldly crave to satisfy their vanity of catching up with the latest in the world of fashion. Fathers too are to avoid or give up squandering their earnings on drinking and gambling, debauchery, etc.[11] They ought to sacrifice these for the sake of the child.
  • Establishing the Child in Life:After availing the child formal education, parents are to lend their aid to their grown-up children in the proper choice of occupation in life, assisting them with the means at their disposal to start an earnest and decent livelihood, to live honourably.[12]
  • The Role of Meeting the Spiritual Needs of the Child

For the fact that parents hold the place of God in their families,they are trustees of God in bringing up their children. “Under God they hold the destiny of their children in their hands [such that] what they make them is what the children remain invariably in time and in eternity.”[13] In the parental role of attending to the spiritual welfare of the child, it is important to note that the all-encompassing is to love the child with true Christian love, for on this other roles hinge. Parents are to pass on to their children their bond of mutual love and respect. Deriving from this prime role pertaining to the spiritual are the following:

  • Nurturing the Child for God and for heaven: In showing the love for the child, parents must strive to preserve them in the faith, i.e., bringing them up in the knowledge, love and fear of God. Thus, they should endeavor to get the child baptized as soon as possible in order to make way for the reception of other sacraments. In the same vein, it is the duty of the parents to teach the child how to pray and make God the center of his/her life especially through constant daily/regular family prayer.
  • Formation in the Faith: “As for the spouses, when they are given the dignity and role of fatherhood and motherhood [i.e. blessed with children], they will eagerly carry out their duties of education, especially religious education which primarily devolves on them” (Gaudium et Spes, 48).Similarly, in the nuptial blessing of the matrimonial rite, the Church implores God to give the couple “children to be formed by the Gospel and to have a place in [God’s] family.” Thus, children are to be groomed or formed by the Gospel, the Christian rule of life, which will guarantee them a place in the universal family of God’s people, the Church. This is where we talk of the parental role to undertakefamily catechesis which is the education of children in the faith of the Church (cf. Deut. 6:4-7). Parents indeed are the principal and first educators of their children, the first heralds of faith who “receive the responsibility of evangelizing their children” (CCC no. 2225; cf. also Lumen Gentium, no. 11). They are to teach their children at their earliest years of discretion the rudiments of the doctrine of the Christian faith namely, the existence of God, the soul, the purpose for which God had created them (to know, love and serve Him here on earth and thereby attain to eternal glory of heaven), heaven for the good and hell for the bad after death, etc.they should also be taught to get familiar with the traditional prayers of the Church.

By means of family catechesis, which enhances the Christian maturity of the child, members of the family help each other to grow in faith through witnessing to the Christian values within the family. So nurturing the child in this way, serve as the basis of a sort of induction from the particular (domestic Church) into the general (universal Church) Koinonia. Hence the parents meet up the responsibility of enriching God’s Church with their children.In this regard, it is the duty of the parents also to send their children to catechism classes.

However, if this conscious education in the faith within the family is inadequate or lacking or completely absent the consequences[14] on the child are obviously : (i) Disobedience and waywardness – a situation where the child becomes difficult to control and has acquired negative moral habits that society frowns at e.g. lewdness, drinking, smoking, gambling, etc. (ii) Violence in the family. (iii) Lack of proper conduct like wearing immodest dresses, using words that are popular among street kids, etc. (iv) Irreligious tendencies such as making fun of religious articles and persons as pettiness. The Pope, priests, religious, pastoral agents, issues of human and moral failures should not be items for petty discussions. (v) Lack of appreciation of the sacraments. All these consequences can erode the joy of the family life and peaceful existence and growth of any given society.

  • Preventing the Child from dangerous occasions of sin and of eternal ruin:Here parents are to ensure that their children avoid bad company for “bad company ruins good morals” (1Cor. 15:33). As aids, Parents should inculcate in them the habit of attending Masses, parochial activities and other spiritual exercises; to be precise, engaging them in things of God pertaining to their eternal salvation. Moreover, they should avail their children the opportunity to receive religious instructions, buy them prayer books and Christian literatures, rosaries, medals, scapulars and other relevant religious articles. These would keep them abreast with prayer.
  • Instilling moral values in the child: The child must be brought up to hate sin and vice, and love virtue. It is the parents’ duty to endeavour to inculcate in the child the right values, the disposition of true communion of love, the Christian moral principles like fear of God, respect for authority, obedience, modesty, kindness, chastity, common sense of justice, nobility of character, integrity, the right attitude towards work (for there is dignity in labour) as one’s work expresses one’s faith.
  • Fostering the vocation proper to each child:According to Lumen Gentium 11, parents are to foster the vocation which is proper to each child and fostering with special care any religious vocation. Gaudium et Spes no. 52 states in this regard: “the education of children should be such that when they grow up they will be able to follow their vocation, including a religious vocation, choose their state of life in full consciousness of responsibility; and if they marry they should be capable of setting up a family in favourable moral, social and economic circumstances.”
  • Correction and Discipline: “And, Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). This should be done not with anger or hatred but with kindness and with firmness, even if done at times with the rod. Prov. 13:24 says: “whoever spares the rod hates his child, but whoever loves him/her is diligent to discipline him/her” (cf. also Prov. 22:15).
  • Living by Example: Good examples by parents is the most powerful and effective instrument of discipline at the disposal of the parents. “Verba dicent, exempla trahunt,” meaning, “words will always merely teach, but example draws or moves to action.” In other words, “action speaks louder than words.” “Good example on the part of parents makes parental authority sacrosanct and inviolable in eyes of children.”[15] For children, therefore, the parents’ exemplary Christian conduct is the best of all instructions and the most efficacious of all teaching and moralizing. This is because “naturally children look up to their parents as their own ideal of Christian conduct. Children find it difficult if not impossible to resist the force of good example with prayer.”[16]
  • Praying and Invoking Blessings on the Child:There is power in the spoken word. With this very fact, it is the role of the parents to pray for and invoke God’s blessings upon their children rather than raining curses on them. The utterances of parents directed to their children often follow them through life. I personally consider the blessing of the child to be one of the most important of the roles discussed so far. Doing this is somehow to the good of the parents for according to 1Pet.3:9, bless so that you inherit a blessing yourself. The blessed child becomes later a blessing to the parents.
  • Recommendation and Conclusion: Since the “future of humanity passes by the way of the family” (Familiaris Consortio, 86), it is very crucial that all already existing families and the would-be (the couples intending to get married), get acquainted to the ways of proper upbringing of the child.Child labour must be condemned. Finally, required on the part of the child is humble cooperation with the goodwill of the parents for his/her betterment in life. The Holy Family of Nazareth is the recommended model and the school for family life as regards the child’s upbringing. The parents of Jesus are perfect examples for parents to emulate.








[1] 2016 Bible Week Programme Booklet, p, 9.

[2] Cf. Gen. 1:26-27, CCC no. 2205.

[3]  2016 Catechetical Week Programme Booklet, p, 3.

[4] Cf. page 22 of the progrmme.

[5] Cf. pages 9, 13 and 20 of the booklet.

[6] Cf. Familiaris Consortio, no. 49.

[7] Cf. Pope Francis Post Synodal Exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, nn. 260 & 276.

[8] Cf. 1996 Lenten Pastoral Letter of Arch Bishop P.E. Ekpu (Emeritus of Benin Archdiocese) on The Family p. 22.

[9] Cf ibid., p. 20.

[10] Cf ibid., p. 24.

[11] Cf ibid., p. 25.

[12] Cf ibid.

[13] Ibid,. p. 23.

[14] The consequences were adopted from the 2016 Catechetical Week Programme, pp. 27-29.

[15] Cf. 1996 Lenten Pastoral Letter of Arch Bishop P.E. Ekpu (Emeritus of Benin Archdiocese) on The Family p. 32.

[16] Ibid.