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20 Habits You Can Cultivate NOW to Help Your Children Stay Catholic

20 Habits You Can Cultivate NOW to Help Your Children Stay Catholic

THE HARSH REALITY

Notice the title said Habits You Can Cultivate Now to Help Your Children Stay Catholic – focus on the word HelpSadly, there is no magic formula in assuring anyone will remain Catholic, let alone our young Catholic adults. Statistically speaking, they have the odds stacked so heavily against them – research shows that Catholics ages 18-22 are the most vulnerable and leave the Faith in droves by the age of 23, or 79% according to Pew Research. This is also the age range when most attend college. 

So, what’s a parent to do? Believe it or not, there are some strategies that can assist us in our role and prepare our kiddos to face the world as the Church Militant. 

THE HESITATION IN WRITING THIS POST

I have had some hesitation in writing on a topic such as this for some time. But when God places it on your heart, you comply and do what’s asked, even if you don’t feel qualified to speak on such matters. That’s when I reached out to personal friends, some of whom I know online and some of whom I see at church who have adult children who are practicing Catholics. I asked them to share what they did that helped create the spiritually fertile soil. I was looking for a convergence of experiences among these folks that would help offer encouragement to other parents because none of us parent perfectly.

BUT I GET IT

See, I am a cradle Catholic. 

I married a cradle Catholic.

I know what it’s like to grow up Catholic, and in that regard, I can relate to my children in a very specific way. Unfortunately, and fortunately, my husband and I also understand what happens when apathy takes root as a young Catholic adult.

Been there, done that, got the t-shirt.

But I also know what a rich tapestry we live as Catholics. Because of my kids, I am blessed to say they had a hand in elevating my faith game, making sure I put my pride on the shelf to say “I don’t know the answer to that, let’s look it up together,” and worked on learning together alongside my children. 

Humbling. Truly humbling. 

Getting down to the nitty gritty

When I look for advice, I find a typical pattern with myself – usually those who are older, but those with similar life circumstances. Why? Well, I find a sense of solidarity uniting my questions and concerns with those in the trenches or who have come out the other side somewhat unscathed or scarred for life. 😉 

So, if you’re like me, and respond similarly to writing that resonates with you for those same reasons, then my post is for you. If you’re not like me, then maybe something I write will jump out at you that connects dots. At the end of the day, as parents, none of us want to see our children leave the Faith, but are our fears real or perceived? Let’s explore that.

If you’ve read what I’ve written over the years,  you may have learned about me and my family – that I have seven children, and currently our oldest is 21, the next oldest is 16, 12 {almost 13}, 10, 7, 5, three in heaven, and one year old. I think the world of them. Even when they drive me nuts, there isn’t a day that goes by that I thank God for the gift of each of them; girl, boy, girl, boy, girl, boy, girl. God has a sense of humor, amiright? 🙂  

The Encouragement

Let’s be honest – this post is going to require a lot of change on the part of parents, and even then there’s still no guarantee that your children will continue living the Faith of an active Catholic. But…this post is meant to inspire you and challenge you as a parent – one takeaway might be that whatever we’re doing, we can always do more, and do better. 

And when we know better, we do better. Amen?

Habits You Can Cultivate NOW to Help Your Children Stay Catholic


STRATEGIES THAT CAN STRENGTHEN THE FOUNDATION

  1. PRAY, PRAY, PRAY. And then pray some more. There is no magic formula for keeping your kiddos Catholic. That’s why the grueling work during the formidable years is so critical! Pray unceasingly for protection of their hearts – against the world, against any of our misgivings as parents, and for openness to whatever vocation God is calling them.
  2. GOD’S CHILDREN. Our world teaches us that children are commodities, *things* to add to our list of “accomplishments”; however, when we look to the Church, we know that isn’t true. We are their guardians, and they are a gift from God to whom we are responsible for their souls. We are all children of God. So it goes they are not just our children, but our little brothers and sisters in Christ. 
  3. MODEL YOUR PRAYER LIFE. Family prayer is foundational and at the basic level should be before family meals and bedtime. Do you bless your children before bedtime? Keep some holy water on hand. Say “God bless and keep you” as you make the sign of the cross on their forehead. Now, let’s take it a step further. How many times have your kiddos caught you in prayer? Or do they know that you have a personal prayer life? Or know that you have a personal space and time dedicated to prayer? What about praying with your spouse?  
  4. TEACH THEM TO PRAY. You pray as a family, and they see you pray alone and with your spouse. But have you taught them the tools to pray on their own each day? Help them find a special place and time that they can devote to God first. Teach them the importance of placing God in their daily plans. Teach them that praying is one of the primary ways we report for duty and receive His orders for our life. 
  5. TALK ABOUT VOCATIONS. How often did you hear the word vocations growing up? I have nothing ingrained in my childhood memories of the word, but one of my fervent prayers for my children was always for them to have examples of holiness in their life. As it turns out, we have been immeasurably blessed by priests and religious in our everyday life who witness to the kids. It’s common in the secular world to talk about what kind of career path your child should consider. As Catholics, we should also teach them to be open to discerning God’s will for their life, whatever that may be – marriage, holy orders or religious orders. 
  6. MASS – EVERY SUNDAY AND HOLYDAY – WITHOUT APOLOGY. Make Mass and Holydays of Obligation top priority. Kids can sniff out hypocrisy. If they see you deliberately miss Mass, they too will not see the value in going to Mass each Sunday. Beyond that, you’re breaking a commandment and under most conditions, it’s a mortal sin {1. subject matter must be grave, 2. it must be committed with full knowledge (and awareness) of the sinful action and the gravity of the offense, 3. and it must be committed with deliberate and complete consent}. The bottom line? Don’t miss Mass. Toe the line if the kids balk about going to Mass. This is the hill to die on, friends.  Best practice: get to Mass early, dress up {yeah, I said it – if you dress up for an interview, you can wear something nice for God}, and don’t leave early without an extenuating circumstance. 
  7. RECONCILIATION. If not already, consider making a standing date to take the family on a regular basis, at a minimum, monthly; more frequently is even better. Even if you’re blessed with a parish that offers confession almost every day of the week and faith formation programs that offer you or your kids opportunities to go to confession, going together as a family allows you to model that routine for each other. 
  8. MODEL AUTHENTICITY. Not perfection. I don’t want you to read something I’m not saying. I’m saying be authentic. Be honest about any failings you have, when possible. There’s a difference between honest struggle and outright hypocrisy. And kids can sniff out the difference!  You lose your audience when you either don’t live up to the standard you put in place for them or you don’t share in some of that struggle. Be honest and real with them. That doesn’t mean you have to tell them every last detail – save that for your spouse or your confessor. 
  9. HUMILITY. Be a house that encourages Truthseekers. Don’t answer their questions with the ‘it’s tradition,’ ‘it’s just what we do,’ or ‘go ask your mother’ that many of us got as youngsters. It’s in our nature to be curious, especially when we’re learning who we are within the Catholic Faith. There are over 2000 years to cover! Some of the most rigorous studies were a result of a question my kids asked. It might be uncomfortable, but let them lead you to a deeper understanding of the Faith. This may come as a shock, but you didn’t “graduate” when you received the sacrament of Confirmation! Consider all learning that happens after that final sacrament of initiation as continuing education and necessary to living the life of discipleship.
  10. GOD THE FATHER AND THE BLESSED MOTHER. When I feel inadequate as a mom {which is often, believe you me!}, I share with my kiddos that although our relationship will be imperfect, try as we might, they will always have eternal parents in God the Father and the Blessed Mother. I encourage them to call on them in prayer to protect them and to nurture their relationship with us, their parents. 
  11. SAINTS AS FAMILY MEMBERS. This one I love! When my kiddos hit a rough spot that neither my husband or I experienced, there is always some saint we can point them to read about and identify with. It’s the beauty of our faith that there is always someone to whom we can turn to who walked before us! 
  12. GET INVOLVED.  In middle school, high school youth ministry, adult faith formation. You know why? Because while your kids are transitioning out of listening to you, or flat out ignoring you, you can rest assured it’s happening to other people’s kids, too! Be a role model for other kiddos and a source of encouragement to other parents! Plenty of children come from broken homes or are experiencing hardships of their own. Your witness and love of the Faith will assist and bless the program at your parish. 
  13. TALK ABOUT THE HARD TIMES BY BEING HONEST AND VULNERABLE. Especially when they’re in those high school years! You know your child best, and protecting their innocence is paramount. A young adult who stayed with the Faith has this to say to parents: be open and honest about the struggles of living a Catholic life in the world. You don’t have to air all your dirty laundry to your kids, but tell them about your experiences and times you found it hard to do the moral thing, how you wish you had done x, y, and z differently in college. Being a little vulnerable with your kids, even if they don’t seem receptive to it at first, can really make an impression on them. Even if they then go on to make the same mistakes, it’s still in the back of their mind that you eventually regretted those decisions. 
  14. COMMUNICATE. Don’t let your online activities and mindless scrolling trump one-on-one conversations with your children. Put your phone down. Make sure to set aside dedicated time to connect with each of your kiddos. Those of you with larger families, I know how impossible this may sound, but it is worth it and necessary! Kiddos need to know you are their soft landing spot. Put your phone down. 🙂
  15. FRIENDS AND EXPERIENCES. Once your kiddos hit high school, your influence as a parent has mostly fizzled, you uncool person, you! Surround your kiddos with Catholic friends and consider sending them on Catholic camps and retreats when possible. Those bonds and experiences will carry them long after they’ve stopped listening to you. I’ve always referred to the high school years as the time when the Catholic training wheels come off. You’ve formed them through their childhood and now it’s time for them to learn to steer their own faith. Solid friendships with those in similar boats will go a long way as the years pass.
  16. CREATE THE RED THREAD. A priest who struggled with the Faith as a young adult had this to say: warm, positive memories as children are so important. He talks to many fallen away people. Even if they have bad things to say about Catholicism now, almost all of them have some really great memory. Either of going to midnight Mass with their Grandma or some other distinctly Catholic tradition as a child. Even coffee and donuts. Build that database of memories. It can be really helpful in keeping a child feel connected to the Faith in some small way. It may be the thread that guides them back.
  17. PARISH COMMUNITY. Involve yourself in parish life and meet people! Going to Mass each week is where it all starts. Nothing can be better than receiving Jesus in the Eucharist, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. After that, getting to know those in your parish community becomes an important means of fortifying you and your family. 
  18. THE DANGER OF “BEING NICE” AND BEING “TOLERANT.”  Compare and contrast how the Church uses these words vs. the secular world. There is a big difference. Being nice and tolerant in the eyes of the world means that a Catholic should compromise their belief system to fit the mold of the world’s definition. Nice means not speaking up when you need to or should, and being tolerant is often the same thing. The Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy point us more authentically how to be nice and tolerant in a way that is ordered toward the path of heaven. 
  19. MODEL A LIFE IN SERVICE. First, you – YOU need to model the behavior you want to see. See a theme here? Our example matters. No matter how you serve-local soup kitchen, make care bags for the homeless to distribute or volunteer in parish ministries, Vacation Bible School, catechist, pastoral council, etc.-your example sends a strong message to your children. Serve others and then the next point will make sense. 
  20. TEACH YOUR KIDS TO SERVE OTHERS. Especially in those teenage years! Have you ever met a teenager or young adult? While they are typically not the crowd often associated with selfless behavior, their capacity to influence younger children is astounding. It’s time to harness that beautiful gift into something positive that gives them purpose, reinforces what they’ve learned about the Faith to this point in their life, and gives them the inspiration to go outside themselves at an age that is naturally inclined to be selfish and self-seeking. Consider finding ways they can minister to or assist with your parish youth programs. You will help give them the skills and life experience that will help solidify their walk with Christ and equip them to face the world when they leave home. I have personally witnessed the power of this gift. After Confirmation-high school years in particular-as the sweet spot for keeping them connected. 

WHAT STRATEGIES WOULD YOU ADD?

I’ve written so much and yet there is so much more that could be written here. I may end up writing a follow up piece to this, and would love your thoughts! 

Name some strategies have you seen work in your own family growing up?

What strategies have seemingly worked with your children?

Have you witnessed something good in another family? Share with us in the comments!

About Martina Kreitzer

Martina is a cradle Catholic, wife to Neil, and mother to seven kiddos here {and three in heaven}– 4/96-1/17. She decided to homeschool the kiddos in 2010 after many years in public schools and is currently transitioning out of homeschooling. She is the creator of Catholic Sistas which focuses on a feminine perspective of the Catholic Faith. The website was the result of an existing camaraderie by the contributors in a Catholic women’s group she created. She is also a Seal of Approval evaluator for the Catholic Writers Guild. Lest you think she spends all her time online, Martina has enjoyed getting out into the community by serving on the Pastoral Council from 2010-2013. She is constantly on the lookout to make her parish as welcoming as the small town she grew up in East Texas. This task is not easy given that St. William is the largest parish in the Austin diocese, serving well over twenty thousand parishioners. She loves Jesus, coffee, bacon, chocolate, photography, more bacon, evangelizing, and the company of those unafraid to use their sense of humor.

  • Maurisa Mayerle - Wonderful post! One thing I’d add, is that our children need to see the joy in being Catholic. Too often, we focus on doing all the right things and it can make being Catholic look like a chore. I’m not quite sure how to go about this, We are still in the trenches trying to figure it all out ourselves, but I think joy is a key element.February 13, 2018 – 8:55 amReplyCancel

  • Pia - I would add – children are concrete so make sure you have on display specific “decorations” not just for Christmas but also for Lent (no flowers but just dried branches, a crown of thorns, use figurines if you can afford them showing entrance to Jerusalem and for Easter (figurines showing the resurrection or a cross with no body but a white cloth wrapped around it … and not just cute bunnies …) – get them a children’s Nativity set to play with and let them add items to it (one of my grandkids built a palace for Herod nearby …), be careful how to prepare for Christmas so it is not all about gifts and Santa Claus (do a Jesse tree, celebrate Saint Nicholas in early December so they learn the true story, have a figurine of Saint Nicholas kneeling in front of baby Jesus, emphasize Advenf activities) , have images or statues of saints, the Virgin Mary, a crucifix in display in the house … consider consecrating your home to the Sacred Heart and have a big party when you do this – read bible stories with them – get chikdren’s movies about saints and also Old and New Testament – consider a home bible study with them that puts into perspective all of the Bible as a journey to salvation and build a family altar with a box in where you and the children can place personal prayers – celebrate special liturgy and saints days like Kings’ Day, Candlemass, the Assumption of Mary, Saint Joseph’s Day and so on (it is more than just green for Saint Patrick’s Day … as a matter of fact, rent or buy a movie about Saint Patrick for that day … discuss his life and sacrifice with the children besides wearing green but by all means celebrate with the traditional food) … pray out loud every time you get in the car with them, send them to school with a prayer out loud … show charity at all times – pray out loud when you hear an ambulance or police siren, pray out loud in the car with them when somebody is not very nice to you while driving, keep food like crackers or breakfast bars in the car and give to homeless people begging at corners, pick up garbage from the street although you did not cause it to fly around, smile and show kindness at all times – in front of your children – to people but mostly to people who seem invisible like an old lonely person at church, a person who seems to have less means, is different and so on …February 20, 2018 – 7:32 amReplyCancel

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