Ignatian Parenting

It is possible to bring an Ignatian perspective to parenting. My wife Sue and I don’t claim to be the best at this all the time, but the basic thrust of it goes like this.

Taking the First Principle and Foundation (FPF) seriously means seeking to discover what kind of person God has created our daughters to be. I paraphrase the FPF this way: God creates us to render praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and everything on earth ought to help us achieve this primary end.

Parenting—especially the adoptive variety, which we’re in the midst of—is about helping our daughters in the process of self-discovery. (In a way, adoption makes this discovery easy; we have no preconceptions about our girls having the same interests as we have.) It’s about cultivating time and places for reflection, always asking God for insight into how to render praise.

Another way of thinking about parenting in an Ignatian vein is by seeing the formation of character as a process similar to Ignatian discernment. We want to encourage practices that help form them—practices like prayer and liturgy, reading and exercising, friendship-making and so on. Ignatius’ spirituality borrowed heavily from Thomas Aquinas, who borrowed heavily from Aristotle—who said that all actions aim at some fundamental good. For Ignatius, that good was expressed in the FPF. As parents, then, our job is about helping our daughters to both praise God in the everydayness of their lives, but also keep an eye open for the larger question of who God is inviting them to become through their gifts.

We can’t impose that vision upon them; too many parents, it seems to me, drive their kids to some vision of excellence they’ve decided is necessary in a market-driven world. They must be outstanding students; they must excel at some sport; they must have all sorts of activities which help build their applications to the best colleges, and so on.

For us, the different challenge is to find the ways that their personalities unfold, but not to drive them always to succeed. Rather, we provide them opportunities for self-discovery, and rejoice or lament with them at respective successes or failures. And through the whole process we (hopefully) take time to simply marvel at their beauty, which is (as for all of us) a reflection of the God who has created us in his image.

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Tim Muldoon
Tim Muldoon is the author of a number of books, including The Ignatian Workout and Living Against the Grain, and teaches in the Department of Philosophy at Boston College.


  1. Thank you for a shared reflection on Ignatian parenting. I am a mother of two teen-aged ladies. I am a formator of a Jesuit school in the Phil. I am affirmed as a mother that what I am doing is actualy living the 1st principle. Prayers to all parents in the world!

  2. Thanks, Dr. Muldoon!
    This is a great perspective. My teen daughter is in a very intensive college-preparatory high school program. It is difficult, at times, to teach her to marvel in the “process” and look at herself as a child of God, first and foremost. I shall prayerful continue to help her do that though, instead of obsessing over grades. Grades are temporary, eternity is not.

  3. This makes me think of the meeting I had with the school psychologist, who was reporting on the tests my oldest son had been given. She hemmed and hawed, and I waited for bad news. Her worry? That I would be distressed that my son (both parents and all four grandparents are scientists) was better verbally than he was with math. To which I replied, “I know.” (He has a shirt that says, “I have a 160,000 word vocabulary and I’m not afraid to use it!”)
    It’s hard to resist making your kids over in your own image, but there is also great delight for both sides when they discover who they are that we are not. Thanks for reminding me to keep looking for it in my my sons!

  4. Tim,
    Thanks for these thoughts. It is so easy to fall into the tendency to push our kids in one direction or another, if only out of fear. It’s so important instead to reflect and respond, to celebrate and to trust. Your reflection has special resonance for me, as our son, too, is adopted.


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