You see them at your parish every Sunday: young parents struggling to teach the faith to their children. They’re in the front row, desperately bribing their toddlers into silence with crackers and sippy cups of juice, as Father finishes the (seemingly) longest homily in the history of homilies. They’re in the back of church, swaying to the Gloria with their newborn, while the three-year-old tugs at their legs. They’re in the quiet room (which is anything but quiet), realizing too late that Father got his mic switch mixed up, and now no one in the room can hear the homily through the speakers.
They’re here. They’re trying, but they need our help.
As parents, there are days when it feels like there’s a big “F for Failure” smack dab in the middle of their foreheads. Not only are they physically exhausted, they’re mentally exhausted as well as they struggle to teach the faith to small children. But, according to Catholic social teaching, it is the duty of every Catholic to support parents trying to raise faith-filled children. As a church, we need to be intentional about getting to know families in our parish and helping them foster their faith and relationship with God.
Start Small, Start Early
The best time to encounter families is when they first begin. When new parents first come for baptismal preparation for their child, they may have a ton of questions. Answer any questions they may have about the faith and help them become as comfortable as possible. Help them understand that the best role models for a child are the parents. And to grow their child’s spiritual life, they need to cultivate their own.
Encourage them to become more active in your faith community. Invite them to sit up front, attend an upcoming Bible study, volunteer on the weekends for usher duty or Sunday Breakfast, and give them the family playgroup schedule. They should be reminded that not only are they wanted in the parish but that they’re needed.
Encourage Them to Stay – No, Like Really, Stay
One attainable goal as a congregation when it comes to supporting families with young children can be simply encouraging them to stay. Stay in their seats when one of their children starts to fuss, stay during the final song, stay during that extra-long homily. These nods of encouragement can be as simple as a whispered “You’re doing great!” to a frazzled parent, all the way to a ready-made “busy kit” complete with crayons and Bible-themed coloring pages for those little hands. Even just a smile can go a long way to someone who needs it.
Keep the Momentum Going
What opportunities does your parish use to connect to families during those first few years? How can the parish help a young family foster a Catholic identity? What might a model of faith formation look like to young families? How about a place that’s non-judgmental, encourages authentic conversation, and is fun for all who participate — all with a deep spiritual base.
Think family-friendly Eucharistic adoration hours, Sunday Mass with an attentive pastor who engages the children, Hospitality Sunday events where everyone gets to know one another. Every opportunity is a new way to be the face of Christ to others.
More than 2,000 years ago, Jesus said, “Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14).
Let’s all keep in mind that our Sunday worship belongs just as much to that fussy toddler as it does to the rest of us!