Questions That Catholic Parents Should Answer

Family
By Diane Meads

I love podcasts. If you show up at my house during a time that my (very active!) toddler is napping, you’ll likely find me in the middle of laundry-folding, bathroom-cleaning, or some other chore with earbuds in. A podcast I listen to often is called Every Knee Shall Bow. From Ascension and hosted by Mike Gormley and Dave Van Vickle, it’s a show devoted to helping lay Catholics be evangelists -- how can we better share our Catholic faith in our daily lives? This week’s episode was especially thought-provoking, and I’m sharing a “cliffs-notes” version of it in today’s post. 

Entitled “Five Questions Catholic Parents Must Answer,” host Mike explained that the episode stemmed from a talk he had just given to the parents of students in religious education programs at his parish. He incorporated conclusions from the new book Handing Down Your Faith, by University of Notre Dame researchers Christian Smith and Amy Adamczyk, as well. These authors took a huge survey of parents practicing faith in the US (including Catholics, Protestants, Buddhists, Orthodox Jews, and Hindus), and then followed up with in-depth interviews, all with the intention of discovering how parents went about successfully handing on their faith to their children. Since so many of us here are/will be parents one day (physical OR spiritual!), I thought the conclusions of the podcast would be really helpful to share.

So what are these five questions that all Catholic parents should ask themselves? I’m including three of the five in today’s post -- check out the podcast itself for the remaining two!

#1: Is your goal to raise a strong, holy, Catholic adult?

“Too often,” Mike explains, “we try to have a successful school year. If our goal is ‘this year,’ then the decisions that we make can tend to be more on the ‘fun’ side than the ‘formation’ side.” But everything we do when raising children needs to truly be focused on the “long game.”

We modern Western adults typically struggle with “busyness”:  we allow our calendars to be full to the max, and we simply don’t have enough energy to do anything beyond making it through this day, or this week, or this sports season. But if we’re not living intentionally, basing our schedules on our core priorities, our families suffer greatly -- we’re simply not able to impart clear values to our kids. Thinking long-term in parenting, however, makes you focus differently -- namely, on long-term habit and virtue formation, not merely today’s outcome. For example, in terms of faith, Mike brings up the difference between a parent asking a child, “Have you memorized your prayers for First Communion?” and a parent being interested in a child developing his/her prayer life as a whole. 

Mike also brings up a quote from author, pastor, and speaker Andy Stanley that I found particularly helpful: “We raise our kids in such a way that we want to be friends with them when they’re adults.” In other words, we discipline/teach/talk to them in such a way today that they become people of character... exactly the people we’d like to hang out with when they’re older. We parent so we are not “friends” with our kids NOW, but LATER. Again, this focus on the “long game” and on building an intentional family culture is essential.

#2: Do you personally model the type of Catholic you want your child to be?

The natural extension of Question #1: if you’d like to raise a strong, holy Catholic adult, are YOU one (or striving to be)? The classic adage “More is caught than taught” definitely applies here. Do we ourselves approach the Mass, prayer, and all the practices of our faith with the regularity and reverence that we’d like our children to? If not, why not? 

Maybe we personally have some hang-ups or questions about the Church that we need resolved. Maybe we’ve never been taught to pray and so we’ve never really even experienced Jesus and His love in our own lives. If this is you, don’t be afraid! Let this be the moment where you get guidance from someone who does know the answers and can help. Being a seeker of truth yourself and then changing your own life accordingly isn’t weakness; rather, it’s one of the best witnesses of virtue you can possibly give to your family.

Mike emphasizes two additional points here. One, if we fall into “outsourcing” this modeling of the practice of our Catholic faith to others (for example, to religious education teachers, who see our children only once a week), and meanwhile, we don’t personally practice the faith ourselves at home, we are being counterproductive to the extreme. What we effectively communicate via that behavior is, “What you learn in class isn’t the real world. That’s just something we make kids do, but adults don’t have to.” Definitely a gut-check!

Two, modeling prayer in the home is of key importance. Let’s take an honest look at how we’re doing right now with prayer 1) individually, 2) with our spouse, and 3) with our family as a whole. I absolutely need a strong relationship with God myself, first and foremost, and then I must also place Him as the foundation of my marriage and my family. Again, how are we actually DOING this in our everyday lives, as “more is caught than taught”? Telling our children that prayer is important has exactly zero impact if we ourselves are not praying.

#3 - Do you have frequent, unscripted, relaxed conversations with your children about the faith?

Such a big one! Mike comments that this is “directly from the research,” and that, soberingly, “almost no parents do this.” This might seem intimidating, as it’s also true that very few parents have received good catechesis themselves and might feel that this is “out of their league.” However, parents don’t need to be experts -- they are disciples of Christ, right alongside their children! So take the pressure off of yourself. If a question comes up that you don’t know the answer to, just be honest. “Hmm, I’m not sure. Let’s look that up in the Catechism/on the Catholic Answers website (www.catholic.com -- a great resource!)/ask Father after Mass tomorrow.” And then follow through! This is another example of modeling that can’t be beat: you’re showing authentic curiosity and openness in response to your child’s authentic questions. Additionally, you’re modeling the process of finding answers that reflect true Church teaching (i.e., consulting trusted sources, not just whatever random blog or social media post comes up when you Google the question).

How to even begin these conversations about faith that are truly relaxed and frequent (where both you and your child are freely asking questions and expressing and exploring what you believe -- as opposed to lectures)? It’s generally easier with younger children, who bring up questions more naturally. For all ages, though, talking about the saints can be a natural segue, as well as talking about your everyday activities. (Example ideas: Make a French-themed meal on the feast of St. Thérèse of Lisieux and talk about her life over dinner. Ask what your children thought about what Pope Francis posted on social media today. Or, when your child shares that she’s scared of taking her geometry test tomorrow, you bring faith into your response -- for example, tell her that you like to pray the Rosary when you’re nervous, and offer to pray with her.) 

For the remaining questions that Catholic parents should answer, as well as the full discussion, please check out the podcast! You can find all episodes here or by searching “Every Knee Shall Bow” wherever you like to listen to podcasts.

May these questions be helpful food for our thoughts and prayers as we head into another school year. Lord, please grant us the grace and wisdom to be good parents and role models, forming our children in the faith and grounding them on the unshakeable rock that is You and Your love. Mary, St. Joseph, and Jesus, members of the Holy Family, pray for us!

September 26, 2021 - 6:56pm
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