A little while ago, I received the following email from a reader:
Maybe it’s not a spot-on topic vis-a-vis your article, but I would like practical ideas as to what those of us who are parents of boys (I have 3) can do to ensure that they
(1) are encouraged to marry orthodox Catholic women and
(2) find orthodox Catholic women to marry!
While I don’t think I’m exactly qualified to answer these questions, I’ll give my two cents on the topic, seeing as I’ve been asked. I will specifically address these comments to fathers with sons, but the principles I outline can be applied more generally as well.
I truly believe that the best thing to help children, and especially sons, to grow up devout Christians and prepare them to be good spouses is being shown a good example by their fathers.
The research backs this up. Children are overwhelmingly more likely to continue attending church if their fathers are devout believers, compared with their mothers. In fact, the study cited above found children are even more likely to continue practising into their adulthood if the father is the only religious parent, compared with families where both parents practise. I don’t know why this is, but I suspect it is at least in part because in many families where both parents go to church, the mother is seen as the primary driver of religious observance.
There is something unique about the father-child relationship that has a marked effect on how much children value the religious faith they’ve been brought up in. I see this in families all the time. The boys and young men who did or do not have a good relationship with their fathers, or who didn’t have a father at all, clearly have a greater struggle on their hands, especially when it comes to self-love, self-respect and relationships with others. There are always exceptions, of course but this comes up too frequently to be pure coincidence.
In my own observation, the most balanced, well-rounded and desirable men all have fantastic relationships with their dads. They tend to have genuine respect for women, to be polite and gentlemanly.
I’ve recommended it before and I’ll recommend it again; I really believe Wild at Heart by John Eldredge is a book all men should read. It directly addresses this issue, including the problems facing masculinity in the modern world, the sorts of problems men face when they have been hurt by their fathers (or hurt by the absence thereof) and how to overcome issues resulting from what the book describes as the “father wound”. It also describes how to avoid hurting your own children in the same way. Every Christian man who is a father, or who intends to be, should read it!
This goes for women as well, but the whole fatherlessness crisis seems to affect men more. (I highly recommend women read the female counterpart book, Captivating.)
Rather than answer the two questions individually, as I believe they’re tied up together, I’ll provide some tips I think should help your sons become good men and thus, be more attractive to good brides.
- Teach your boys to respect women – this starts with respecting their own mother but boys should be taught how to treat members of the opposite sex from an early age – e.g. girls are physically weaker; they are not usually as rough and tumble as boys – especially as they age – and should be treated accordingly
- Lead by example – as a father, you are the world to your children, and your sons especially. You’re the leading authority figure in their lives and they will treat other people and learn how to behave on their own based on your example – how you treat and interact with your wife, how you deal with them when they misbehave, whether you play with them, etc. (No pressure.) Jordan Peterson has a lot of good and useful stuff to say on this point, so I would look him up
- Lead your family in prayer and church life – as the head of the household, fathers should ideally be the ones leading the faith in their homes. I understand that this can be very difficult when men have strong-willed wives, if they are converts, etc. However statistically, this will likely have a direct impact on whether your children continue going to Mass and practising their faith (see the study above). This is a role fathers should take very seriously. This can include leading the family in prayer (perhaps the rosary) every night, reading Scripture, making an effort to go to Mass during the week, going to other devotional events (e.g. Corpus Christi processions) or taking your older children to talks on spirituality and apologetics
- Don’t expect your children to learn about their faith at school – religious education starts at home. Catholic schools have an abysmal track record when it comes to their students keeping the faith, particularly in recent decades. Parents – if there aren’t catechism classes or a good Sunday school you can take them to, you will need to take that task on yourselves and make sure your children know their faith. I was fortunate enough to have a fantastic weekly catechism school nearby. As a child, I learned the Little Green Catechism off by heart, which provided the foundational formation of my Catholic faith
- Talk to your children about sex – it’s awkward I know, but there are a lot of good books and other resources out there to help parents with this. This is not a joke – if you don’t teach your kids about sexuality, love, morality and God’s law, they will get their schooling from the world, with all its depraved, twisted, deviant views on the matter
- Go to a good parish with an orthodox parish priest – this is SUPER important. Weak priests and watered-down sermons are poison to children and teens when it comes to holding onto their faith, and boys in particular. One option is to try to find a parish where altar boys (not girls) are used to serve during Mass. Parishes where the Traditional Latin Mass is said or sung are particularly good for this, as there are numerous roles for boys to take up and “advance” to. This gives boys a sense of purpose and usefulness while getting them involved in the liturgy
- Make sure your children have Christian same-sex friends – children grow developmentally best when they have married parents, a stable home and same-sex friends, especially when they are young. It is ideal for your children to have friends who share their faith, as one factor which I believe strongly contributes to a loss of faith amongst youth is the isolation of having no Christian friends. It often leads to a notion that being Christian and holding onto Christian ideals is abnormal, while good Christian friends can help and encourage each other in this post-Christian, secular world
- Put your children in a regular activity – Christian children do best when they have other Christian friends, but they should also have some activity to engage in, and they should associate with other kids as well. Put your boys in some sort of sport or martial arts and your girls in dance or gymnastics classes, for example. They should be out somewhere expending that excess energy and learning the social skills of interacting with other kids their age
- Don’t shelter your children from the world – well-meaning Christian parents often make the mistake of keeping their children sheltered – cutting them off from most or all popular culture, not letting them interact with anyone who is not also a Christian and even restricting conversation to Christianity and/or the state of the evil world out there. Don’t forget that Christ called us to live in the world, though not of it – and that means engaging with the world. This is no easy task. However, the best thing parents can do is arm their children with the knowledge and behavioural skills (as above) to deal with the world from a place of conviction in their faith and beliefs. That means letting go a little and not keeping them tied to Mother’s apron strings.
I could go on but this is enough for now. There is also an enormous amount to unpack in each of these suggestions, so just consider these brief summaries.
Christian parents have an enormously tough task these days and my sympathy is really with them, but I firmly believe that trying to enact the above points will put your children in the best place to not only keep the faith, but raise them to be good, well-rounded, mature, capable people and good spouses.
Men like this are very, very, veeeeery rare and are generally snapped up fast.
Disclaimer: I am no expert on any of this – all the advice I’ve given here is the accumulation of knowledge gained from books, talks and conversations with men and women, fathers and mothers, as well as my own observations. If you have your own suggestions, I would love to hear them.
Update: From a reader:
The question asked was “I would like practical ideas as to what those of us who are parents of boys (I have 3) ensure that they (1) are encouraged to marry orthodox Catholic women and (2) find orthodox Catholic women to marry!”
And this was not addressed at all!
Some advice in this area would seem to be obvious:
– Have frequent discussions through the childhood and teen years about the importance of Catholic marriage, its sacramental nature, the expectation of openness to life, etc. Not just to beat “the rules” into them (rules which they are free to ignore in society today) but to demonstrate “why” they are important values.
– Discuss the importance of marrying someone who shares your core values. Let them see for themselves that the easiest way to meet this goal, is to at least marry someone who is already Catholic!
– It can’t hurt to mention the difficulties of strategies like “he/she isn’t Christian but I’ll convert him/her,” “we’ll live together before marriage but that’s OK,” or “we’ll start going to church again when the kids are born”. If you and your spouse followed one of these common paths, be open and honest about the issues you faced.
– Avoid the natural temptation to rate other Catholics based on purely subjective factors such as a perceived level of devoutness, which parish they attend, how many extra masses they attend, etc. Our Church is shrinking at an alarming rate and we simply can’t afford the disunity that comes with that attitude. It reduces an already tiny pool of potential spouses, to virtually no one.
And the most obvious point of all: Make sure your sons know HOW to find Catholic women! Make sure your parish has social events! Give your teens the opportunity to work out their natural social awkwardness in a supervised Catholic setting. Give other single adults a way to become part of the parish community and to potentially meet other singles. And hope that when your children grow up and move away, they end up in parishes that accept and involve them in a similar way.