Raising Catholic kids and doing what you can to ensure they remain immersed in the divine faith of the Church is challenging in today’s world, to say the least. Over the years, I’ve found certain things to be really helpful for me and my children. Perhaps they’ll be of some help to you.
By Donna Caito
My own kids are Catholic and the prayer continues as they stay within the community. Try as I might, I can’t predict the future. One thing my kids taught me is not to speak for them. They have voices of their own which they use. Frequently. I did not raise pushovers. My girls have spunk. There’s fire inside of them. Which is great because we need more outspoken women within the Church.
I used to teach baptism classes with our local priest. Young parents almost always asked how they could keep their children Catholic when so many of their friends and family have left the Faith. My answer was often long, sometimes rambling, but I’ll do my best to write it down.
Do what’s best for your child
Maybe you want to home-school. Maybe you want to put your kids in a private Catholic school. Maybe you like public school. Honestly, I’ve tried all three and settled on public school for my kids. And even then, they go to two different public schools out of our school district. They are two different people with two different sets of needs and I wanted to find the best fit for both of them. If it wasn’t in our school district, so be it.
Point being, your kids are your kids. You know them better than I ever will. So you’ll have an idea of what will work and what won’t. Unless it’s your child’s medical practitioner, your child’s therapist or counselor, or your priest who knows your family like the back of his hand, listen to yourself first and take my advice with a grain of salt. I’m just here to give ideas.
Honestly, I’m winging this “mom” thing. It’s embarrassing sometimes how much I don’t know what I’m doing.
Raising Catholic kids means YOU need to fall in love with the Mass
When I was young, I hated Mass. It was so boring to me. I didn’t know any of the histories behind anything. People tried to teach me what was going on but I either didn’t get it, felt stupid asking questions, or mostly didn’t care. So I shut my mouth and went because I didn’t have a choice otherwise.
However, when I became a Catholic Revert and began studying the Mass it opened up a whole new world! I fell in love with the prayers, the Readings, and the Most Holy Eucharist. I closed my eyes during the Transubstantiation and I could just see all the angels, saints, everyone past, present, and future kneeling before God. I would choke up during prayers because what we as brothers and sisters are saying is not only radically different but in our human history it was oftentimes something that could get you killed. Talk about Faith!
As I studied our Mass, I talked about it with my kids. We shared our powerful moments and the things we needed to learn more about. When my daughters saw how unbelievably excited I was to go they felt it as well. I never complained about it. Rather it was our special time.
People always say, “I just don’t get anything out of the Mass.” My response is, “Well, one, we’re not there to worship you. And two, what are you putting into it?”
Raising Catholic kids means choosing a Mass time that makes sense for your family
In my own little area of the country, we have six Catholic churches within a twenty-mile radius. Even more, if I drive a half-hour. Within those six churches on Sundays alone we have Mass times at 7:30 am, 8:00 am, 8:15 am, 9:30 am, 10:00 am, 10:30 am, 11:00 am, 12:30 pm (Spanish), 1:00 pm (Spanish), and 6:00 pm. There’s Confession Sundays at 5:00 pm, Mondays at 8:45 am, Tuesdays at 7:00 pm, Wednesdays at 8:30 am, Fridays at 8:10 am, 8:30 am, and 8:45 am and Saturdays at 8:30 am, 3:00 pm, and 4:00 pm.
When we started going back to Mass, I made sure it was at a time we would be up, ready to go, not freaking out because we’re running late, no rushing, and it wouldn’t cause meltdowns because it was during snack time, lunch, or nap time. I remember being a kid and having to scramble out of bed and into the Econoline van so we could get to eight o’clock Mass. “Hurry up! We’re going to be late!” was something shouted from every corner of the house. In my parents’ defense, they had five kids under the age of seven to get up, get dressed, and out the door.
Instead, I made it easier on my kids and I. We woke up when we woke up on Sundays and went to whichever Mass made the most sense. When they were younger it was either the 9:30 am, 10:30 am, or 11:00 am Masses, all at different churches, depending on when they woke up. Now that they’re older the 9:30 am or 6:00 pm Masses make sense. Even though we have a parish, I’m not beholden to them for Mass. I want to go to Mass and celebrate. Not zoom down the back roads at eighty miles per hour while huffing and puffing to get into the pew on time simply because I’m technically registered at one particular church.
So check Mass times around you and pick the best fit. You might end up driving a bit more than you normally would, but if an extra ten miles stops you from going to Mass see my first point.
Raising Catholic kids means making time for the Sacraments
I’m like my parents in which Mass attendance is every week. Just like my children will never have to ask me if they have to go to school or if we’re going to have dinner, they’ll never have to ask if we’re going to Mass. It’s a foregone conclusion. If it’s a weekend, we’re going to Mass. If you have a friend over, they’re coming with us. If the family is in town, they’re coming too. You’re at a friend’s house? No worries, I’ll come and pick you up and see if your friend wants to come along with us. Play practices can wait. Competitions can wait. Work can wait. I often take PTO on various Holy Days of Obligation to make sure I attend and the kids are late to school. Most places are more than happy (read: they are afraid of a big, fat lawsuit) if you need to take some time for religious reasons.
Admittedly, I used to slip up on this a lot and have to buckle down and check myself. Not that I wouldn’t go to Mass. But that my kids would be off doing whatever (work, school, trips with school, trips with friends), and I’d let it slide. I know how dangerous that slippery slope is of not going and started putting my Adidas-clad foot down real quick.
Side note: this really hasn’t been a problem with my kids at all. This was all on me. They actually enjoy going to Mass. As my oldest says, “I get really sad when I don’t go. Like I’m missing something.”
Mimic the behaviors you expect to see at Mass
I was reading a Reddit thread and was surprised one afternoon on r/Catholicism when someone made a post about how (s)he was amazed at their new church. No one during Mass was on their phones, IPad, or being generally disrespectful. This really shocked me as I don’t think I’ve ever been to a Mass where someone sat on their phone the entire time. The only thing I could think of was someone having to silence their phone during the Eucharistic Prayer because they forgot to turn it off.
Me. It was me. And of course, it happened during the Transubstantiation. That thing sounded like an air raid. My kids and I were mortified. Lesson learned to double check the ringer on the phone.
When the kids were younger and not paying attention, I didn’t get mad at them. My mind, even with the best intentions, can sometimes wander, too. Instead, I’d pat them on the leg and nod my head toward Father. Or if they were fidgeting with their hands when we knelt, I’d gently place my hand over theirs. If they asked me a question or said something to me, I’d put my finger to my lips and then point toward the altar. I didn’t whisper-yell or give them a what-for when we got home. I didn’t make them feel bad about getting antsy. An hour is a long time for a little kid to be still and quiet!
To all the young parents out there: no one cares if your kid cries during Mass. Neither do we care if they are a bit rowdy or if they have the wiggles. Take them outside for a bit if you think it’s getting too loud and come back inside when they calm down. No one is judging you and if they are? Be glad because they’re right where they need to be!
Seriously, though, we’re just happy you came to celebrate with us.
Raising Catholic kids means making Mass fun!
When the girls were young, like when they were a toddler and an infant through their teenage years, we’d always go out to eat right after Mass. Even when money was tight, which was almost always, we’d have that one meal as a treat during the week.
When they were toddlers, if they “sat nicely” during Mass they got dessert. When they were young kids and they could tell me what Father talked about during his homily, they got dessert. Then it was what the First, Second, and Gospel Readings were. After that, it was about everything and what they thought about the Mass in general.
I don’t have to do that anymore because the kids genuinely like going to the Mass. But when they were young it was always exciting for them to “sit nicely” and then listen closely to the Readings. They were so proud of themselves when they got all the answers right!
Teach your child about different religions.
It’s always interesting to me when people tell me they’ve never been to another church or they don’t know much about different religions. I always wonder how they personally came to the conclusion Catholicism was the right one. I’ve been to Lutheran, Baptist, Non-denominational, Methodist, and many other churches. I’ve talked to pastors from almost every Christian sect there is. When Mormons come knocking on my door, I get really excited. Jehovah’s Witness? Have a glass of water and stay awhile. Tell me your stories, your passions, and why you believe what you believe. A lot of time they give me food for thought and I end up researching the Catholic stance on a lot of different issues I never thought of before! Also, I love religion so when I hear personal experiences and the “why’s” behind why people worship the way they do I get really pumped for more information.
I also have some really good friends who are Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, atheist, agnostic, Wiccan, and so on. It’s always so fascinating to hear what their religion (or lack of it) entails. We can talk for hours and hours as I pick their brains for as much information as possible. In fact, one of my final presentations in graduate school was on Mohammad and his claim of his first visitation by angels, and my absolute favorite class was Hebrew Scriptures.
So when my kids are interested in a different religion, I don’t say anything negative about how they’re “strange” or “weird” or “wrong.” It’s more; “this is what they believe and this is how it’s similar/different than what we believe.” We have a lot of fun together learning and growing and trying to understand why people worship the way they do. Most of the time we’re surprised about how alike we are in so many beautiful ways!
When they’re of age, talk about the “tough stuff” with your kids and let them make decisions for themselves
I want my daughters to think. I don’t want them to believe something simply because I told them to. As young adults they have a right to decide certain things for themselves. And that includes Catholicism.
When my kids were young, I made most of their decisions for them, including religion. It was my job as their parent to make sure they were raised in the Faith. As they got older while Confirmation got closer it became 100% their decision if they wanted to stay. When it comes down to it, if you want your child to be Catholic you’re going to have to explain our beliefs.
You must accept your child has most likely already been told a bunch of stuff about Catholicism not even remotely true. Even if they are home-schooled, go to a Catholic school, or like my kids, go to a public school, you can’t block everything from them. Moreover, I wholeheartedly don’t think you should. I want my kids to get to know people of all classes, religions, backgrounds, races, and histories. I don’t want them going into a big, wide world as adults and not knowing how to have a differing conversation with someone who isn’t of their own culture/race/religion/sexual orientation/beliefs/political stance, etc.
My eldest daughter was hesitant about becoming a Confirmed Catholic. The kid knew this was a huge step. She had issues with (what she thought) our beliefs on the LGBTQIA+ community. And she had a lot of friends, very good ones, who were in that community. Really good, smart, kind, compassionate friends. When she heard things like, “Catholics hate gay people,” it bothered her. Especially when it was “Catholic” people spreading the rhetoric.
So when it was time to be Confirmed, she was on the fence. She still went to Mass but she was being told one thing from her family and another from society. Being a teenager is tough enough. Throwing in a bunch of societal and familial pressure is overkill.
Does that mean I locked my child in her room and forbade her to talk to her friends? Absolutely not. Did I take away all electronic devices? Not a chance. Does that mean I harassed her, begged her, pleaded with her, and gave her a ton of incentives to become Confirmed? Nope. Does that mean I began giving her empty platitudes and told her heretical stances simply because I really, really wanted her to be Confirmed? Never in a million years.
Instead, I gave her a Catholic Bible, a Catechism of the Catholic Church, and a Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church and told her the answers to whatever question she had was in those books. It was her job to find them.
I explained, “You’re becoming an adult now. It’s up to you to educate yourself. I’m always here. But you are going to have to make this choice on your own.”
And as much as I wanted to preach, I bit my tongue so hard it bled at times. She talked to me, my brothers, my sister-in-law, our priest, her grandparents. One year of Religious Education passed and she didn’t go even though most of the kids in her grade were Confirmed. I waited, sometimes impatiently, answered her questions, and kept praying every night.
I couldn’t make this choice for her even though every fiber of my being wanted to.
Finally, one day in the spring she came to me and said she wanted to become Catholic because “it doesn’t feel right not to be.” She explained she understood our teachings and while she still has some residual concerns, she knows where to find the answers.
She also has a lot more education on various issues she feels are important. Things I never even thought about before. But give a curious child good information and free-reign to find answers and you’ll be amazed at the outcome.
She also knows that no matter what, if she’s Catholic or not, we’ll always love her and be waiting for her to come home.
Teach your children it’s perfectly normal to have doubts.
My youngest daughter had been bullied in public school so in a Hail Mary pass (get it?) I enrolled her in a Catholic school in a nearby town. We didn’t think anything of it since our own Catholic community is lovely.
Unfortunately, “mean girls” are everywhere. To say she was an outcast is an understatement. The priest at her school was…not nice. I was so outraged at one of his “speeches,” I wrote an email to the HR director of our Diocese. The next day I received a telephone call informing he was no longer allowed to speak to the classes anymore. That’s how bad his “speech” was.
My kid was miserable and it showed. The principal explained to my daughter the kids in her class “needed time to get used to her because she is new to them” when they were mean to her, even though she’d been at the school for months by that point. There wasn’t a, “Hey, this is the new kid and you need to be kind.” It was, “Hey, new kid, it doesn’t matter the kids are mean to you. Even though you invited all of them to your house for a Christmas party and they threw away your invitations in front of you. You need to get over that. But you better be nice!”
The staff was actually confused as to why she didn’t go on a weekend away with a bunch of people who made it clear they didn’t like her. It was bizarre.
We were in the car one morning and she blurted out, “Mom, I get why people hate Catholics. I don’t like them, either.”
She didn’t want to go to school. She didn’t want to go to Mass. She didn’t want to acknowledge she was Catholic. She was angry at the world, at the kids in school who were brutally mean to her, at her teachers and principal who sat back and did nothing, at that awful priest, at me for making her go, and at God. I got her into therapy pronto.
But she kept going to Mass even if she didn’t “feel anything.” She felt her faith slipping away. She explained the other day, “The farther I went the worse things got. And the worse things got the farther I went. And the farther I went, the more doubts I had. I kept praying and praying for things to get better but it never seemed like they did.”
As a mother, my heart broke. I wanted her to love the Catholicism I had discovered. Instead, she’d been thrown into a pit of vipers.
I wasn’t angry she was having doubts or brushing off her concerns, I explained everyone has doubts, especially in times of a spiritual dry spell. I told her to pray, “Lord, I believe. Please help my unbelief” and informed her that little prayer is actually in the Bible where a man is talking to Jesus. This guy is literally talking to the Son of God and still has to explain he has a bit of doubt in his heart.
I mean, Jesus had to sigh at Saint Peter’s lack of faith. Even his second in command was a bit weary at times. I even pointed out, “Honey, one of the Apostles is nicknamed ‘Doubting Thomas’!”
When your child comes to you with disbelief, don’t phoo-phoo them away. Don’t stamp your foot and say something like, “In this house, we believe in God!” Ask them why they’re doubting. Look at what’s going on around them and try to decipher if this is something spiritual, emotional, physical, environmental, and so on. My daughter was put into counseling. She has a great therapist. She worked through the trauma. She loves her high school and looks back on 8th grade as a learning experience. And now she knows God never left her. The night is always darkest before dawn.
Know this isn’t about you. This is about your child’s walk with Christ.
If you would’ve told me twenty years ago I’d have a Master’s in theology and would be an outspoken practicing Catholic, I’d have told you you’re insane. And if you would’ve said, “No. Really. You’ll be writing Catholic articles in your spare time,” I’d have asked what drug you were on and if I could have some, too.
My point is, it was a long and winding road that led me back to the Faith. After I became of the age of reason, it stopped being about how my parents raised me and became about my own personal journey. It didn’t happen overnight or even in one decade. I’m still on that long and winding road towards God. And I wouldn’t change it; the twists, the turns, the bumps, the mountains, the rock bottoms for anything.
I know it was hard for my parents not to take it personally when I walked away from Catholicism. That had to be really tough for them to digest. But they did the right thing in their continual love, support, and prayers. They knew if they pushed me, I’d push back even harder. It was just the type of person I was.
If my kids aren’t Catholic in their adult years, it would be heartbreaking. But I can’t do this for them. I did everything in my power to continue their love for our religion. If they walk away, it’s because they walked away. And while that’s a terrifying thought, I take comfort in the fact the Prodigal Son returned home eventually.
As a parent, there comes a point where I have to let my kids go. Just like I did when they were riding a bicycle or now that we’re in the middle of driving lessons- both kids at the same time- (pray for me; this is harder than I thought), there will be a time when they leave home. I won’t be there every day to guide their spiritual journey. I can’t be.
God doesn’t want a bunch of people worshiping Him because we are forced to. He wants us to worship Him because we want to. God doesn’t want us baptizing our kids and then forcing Confirmation because “it would make grandma and grandpa so happy!” He doesn’t want a bunch of empty platitudes and broken promises. He wants us to love, honor, and serve Him happily of our own free will. He hopes we come back to Him but wants us to make that decision on our own. That’s what I have to do with my kids. I have to let them go and hope they come home.
Donna Caito has a B.S. in Management and a M.A. in Theology. She’s a Catholic revert who didn’t want to be a Catholic but couldn’t come up with a good argument otherwise. She lives in the middle of nowhere with her children, her black cat named Midnight, and her white dog named Jack Frost. In her spare time, she enjoys writing about her unique place in the Catholic Church as a single mother and giving good reviews on Google.