Jacqueline Kennedy said, “If you bungle raising your children, I don’t think whatever
else you do matters very much.” Her words always resonated with me as insight into the
primacy of the calling of parenthood. Since children don’t come with a “how-to” manual
we all bungle things as parents from time to time. Thank goodness they are usually
resilient as we learn to become moms and dads! I know you love your children more
than anyone in the world and you are the conduit of God’s love in their lives.
I am in awe of how beautifully you parents function and love your children even through
months of sleepless nights, juggling jobs, school and childcare schedules, endless
carpooling, shopping, making, and cleaning up meals and a thousand other unselfish
acts of service to your families. No wonder often we have no better analogy of God’s
love than that of a parent!!
You are so busy, that I suspect you didn’t have time to read the most current and
comprehensive research on a topic vital to your vocation, Handing Down the Faith: How
Parents Pass on their Religion to the Next Generation by Dr. Christian Smith, University
of Notre Dame.
Can I share some research with you that might affirm your parenting choices and
encourage you on the long days and tough nights in one of the most important things in
life, your child’s faith?
This new national study shows that as parents, you, are the most important influence
on the religious and spiritual lives of your children and teens! This research, as well as a
myriad of other studies, confirms that you play the leading role in shaping your child’s
deepest values and the character of their religious and spiritual life, now and well after
they leave home.
In fact, some parents may be surprised to know “the single most powerful causal
influence on the religious lives of American teenagers and young adults is the religious
lives of their parents. Not their peers, not the media, not their youth group leaders or
clergy, and not their religious schoolteachers.” If you are a parent of a teen, you might
be saying, “Oh I know I lost most of my influence when they became teens” (and they
may act as if that were true). But, in most cases, these cultural illusions are not
supported by the facts. Your influence as parents on their religious beliefs, practices
and values lasts for decades and in many cases a lifetime.
“…a large body of accumulated research consistently shows that… the influence of
parents in religiousness trumps every other influence, however much parents and
children assume otherwise.”
I wish this column was ten pages long so I could share more of this fascinating study
that explains why this is true. But let me share one insight- how important it is for
parents to talk to their children about matters of faith during the week. When parents do
this, children integrate the meaning of faith into the lived experience of life. “When parents talk naturally and substantially about religion and its place in life, throughout the
week it effectively indicates to children that, in the mix of life’s many priorities and
values, this stuff matters a lot. And that raises the stakes for children’s decisions about
their own future religious commitments.”
As a grandparent, I look at this from a view on the balcony of the dancefloor of life. For
you parents, who are dancing, I hope this gives you encouragement to know how
important you are. If I could offer you two things you might consider in your parenting
choices, they would be to remember you are the role model of faith and talking with your
children about your faith has tremendous value.
Know that we- your Church, school, faith formation, catechists, teachers, pastor- are
cheering you on and supporting you in any way we can. You are shining stars of love
and faith to your children in the most important job you will ever have!