Helping your child find the right spouse

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.

12 thoughts on “Helping your child find the right spouse

  1. My guess is that children associate the mother with home life and childhood, and the father with the outside world and adulthood; so the father’s beliefs and practices represent the “real world”. If the father is not practicing, the faith is just another childhood fantasy to dispense with upon reaching maturity.

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  2. As a divorcee, as someone that dated for twenty years before being married the first time, and as a father now, I just want to take gentle exception with something you said—”fatherless crisis…seems to affect men more.”
    This is a common perspective to hear amongst women in particular, and it demonstrates the natural human blindness toward one’s own strengths, weaknesses, and position in life.
    I can say with confidence that it absolutely affects women every bit as much as men. Give me five minutes chat with a woman and I can tell you whether or not she had a good relationship with her father. It really is that obvious.
    I had so many relationships with women that didn’t have a father in the home, that modern malady. I came to regret every single one of them, sadly. In every case, ultimately, the trouble that ended the relationships had little to do with me, and everything to do with just not understanding the first thing about men, how men think, how men express emotions, or frankly what men are even for.
    To be crass about it, men who grow up without fathers become lost, adrift, and either dangerous or pitiful. Women who grow up without fathers presume that men are precisely like women, only with differently placed body hair, and in each case that this turns out not to be true, then presume that the men in question are frightful human beings. Women who grow up without fathers also struggle mightily to act on principle and with moral backbone when the chips are down—instead, they become impulsive and ruthlessly expedient, whatever their actual beliefs.
    The only way to know how to be a man—is to be raised by one. The only way to know how to love and be loved by a man at all, much less to do so with fidelity and moral fibre—is to be raised by one.
    There’s no way around it, for boys or for girls.

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    1. Thanks for this contribution, Ausser. I probably should have clarified, men who grow up without fathers are more obviously affected than women; eg displaying more antisocial behaviour, criminal activity, drug and alcohol addiction, etc. I have no doubt women are deeply affected by lack of good fatherly example but in different, less obvious ways.

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  3. Yeah…I think that you focus a lot on the failings of men. I’m sure that men have many faults. But women do too. I think that fathers should teach their sons to look at women with a critical eye. There are many nasty women, Catholic, Protestant and whatever else, who should be avoided at all costs.

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  4. “Teach your boys to respect women”

    There actually seems to be rather too much respect afforded to women these days, so much so that it’s become a PewDiePie meme.

    Women should not be respected as women per se, but for the particular role they (should) play in the community. European society has always tended not to so much hold women in high regard, but rather the vital nurturing role they play as wives, mothers and carers.

    Unfortunately, modern Western society has devolved into a form of idolatrous female worship, that dictates we need to respect women simply due to their biology. This has led in turn to women now occupying completely unsuitable roles in society. It’s also led to a very dangerous delusion which a lot of women have, that they are somehow untouchable and can do stupid things like drink excessively and walk through deserted parks and alleyways late at night. Tragically it falls apart rather quickly when they come up against uncontrolled male strength and aggression.

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  5. This may be good child-rearing advice, but it’s no help at helping your child find a spouse. Why? Even good Catholic women want a man who is “worldly-wise” and “attractive”. All the piety in the world can’t help you find a spouse if you aren’t also “attractive”.

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    1. Actually Morgan, these are exactly the kinds of things I’m looking for in a spouse, which is why I mentioned them. All the men I’ve been most attracted to and had the best relationships with were men with these qualities – none of whom were what I would call conventionally attractive (physically) either.

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    2. Morgan I think there is something in what Anna has to say. I think what Anna is saying is that children need guidance to place them on the right(virtuous) path. This is altogether a good thing,because,a bloke who can grasp the nature of what is good(virtue)is capable of being a good father by delivering track guidance and tolerances to his children,and in doing so is fulfilling the expectations of his wife ,but even more importantly when it comes to raising children both husband and wife need to be on the same page or at least be singing from the same pray sheet.An attractive boyfriend may well be a different thing altogether to the attractiveness of fatherhood as viewed by the fairer sex. One feels when it comes to raising kids the physical focus is no longer on us as individuals. Morgan I would even go as far to say( and I don’t want to do Anna’s thinking for her) that quality of character is what really matters and physical attractiveness could be viewed as a nice adjunct. Furthermore children that are the product of a loving friendship and happy marriage have an appreciation of the value of love and are well setup for life.This by inference would have them seeking similar values in their spouses and rallying for the cause by living a loving life as adults. I have to break for now and walk the dog but I will try to muddle something out in regards to happiness and control and how this is relative to the character of virtue. Hope this helps.

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    3. Morgan your last sentence may well be true. Essentially this is the trick to life, acceptance of the idea that we don’t always get what we want. Fate and providence are indeed strange bedfellows. The first point to make is that an attractive woman is indeed something lovely to behold,but that is not the essence of love. The idea of a woman’s beauty being the panacea for long term decision making is completely misleading at best. Why you ask? Well put simply our physical attractiveness wanes as we age,this is the obvious. Attractiveness isn’t the best foundation stone to future.Mate this is the point where both wisdom and virtue come to play a larger role in our lives. Once we get our heads around this,the things of real worth start to make themselves known on the horizon ahead. As for women I am not an expert ,but at the risk of being chauvinistic they’re are two constants at play here. Firstly when men lose their freedom women lose their happiness,and the second constant that my mother told me is that women only marry men they can control. Sounds stark and foreboding I know,and it’s not. The trick to this is finding the right woman and this is not necessarily a given. So where from here you ask? Let’s take the case of the attractive woman who has no idea about the concept of virtue,she will have a hard time accepting you for the really good guy you are, and therefore by inference doesn’t understand, won’t be interested, and it is inconceivable that you will be happy,primarily because she has no insight. Put simply if she doesn’t understand the nature of virtue she doesn’t know what love is. Remember this,love is virtue and it is virtue that keeps love alive. Jesus prophetic wisdom comes to life again here,”My yoke is easy”. So harking back to the attractive woman if she doesn’t understand you,she won’t trust you,and therefore you will be given short reign and you will feel your life is hobbled,as I said earlier once your freedom is curtailed both parties lose the capacity for true happiness and that’s not good.Heavy control is a heavy yoke. The virtuous woman however understands that virtue is the key to not only your own happiness but hers as well. Essentially virtue is as Anna said, the inculcation of kindness, that will manifest itself in all virtuous behaviour ,be it forgiveness ,gentleness ect….. This kindness can be thought of as the selfless capacity to give ,which in itself is the total relinquishment of control to the acceptance of good will and happiness flows as a result. Jesus was the embodiment of virtue and as he said my yoke is lite, so it must follow that the virtuous wife is an asset that makes life worth living. However Morgan virtue doesn’t need to be serious all the time and can be fun,ie, the wife said to her husband on returning home “you didn’t tell me you were going out” ,to which the husband replied”I thought it was better to seek forgiveness than permission”.

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  6. This isn’t really about how to find a spouse, more of a list of the qualities you find attractive in a man. Now, I do understand that piety is attractive for some Christian focused women but the problem for a lot of Christian men is that piety is not enough. Even you admit that. It’s the extra stuff that’s important.

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