by Ray Martin
There’s that mom whose Instagram feed shows the decorated cake she made that’s all tricked out with intricately detailed fondant cut-outs of dinosaurs and palm trees or a Barbie dream castle…we often think, “wow she seems to have it all together, what a super-mom!” Good news! You don’t have to be a cake boss to have celebrity status at home because parents truly are superheroes…to their kids.
Most Influential Pastors
If you missed our last article, we were talking about Micro-Churches and how our homes are the domestic church where our identities about a lot of things in our culture are formed including our faith. (You can go back and watch or read it here.) This week we are diving deeper into that National Study of Youth and Religion that I mentioned specifically more of their overall findings. The first important thing to note is that parents were found to be the “most influential pastors” of their children. More than priests, youth ministers, faith formation teachers, etc. Parents:
- Define the role faith ought to play in life
- Set a glass ceiling of religious commitment which children rarely rise above
All other formation only matters if it is important to mom and dad, but we as parents don’t realize the incredible power of influence that we have. Why? Because cultural scripts say the opposite. We hear all the time that teenagers never talk to their parents or that kids learn about things like sex at school or from friends, but that’s not true and when it comes to religion if parents model that faith is important, then their kids stay involved.
Here are some sobering facts about the current transmission of faith among youth in the U.S. Overall, Catholics, Jewish, and Mainline Protestants are less likely ten years later to be more religious or to have grown in their faith. The NSY&R found that among their study:
- 29% of youth stayed plugged in to their religion
- 25% had a shallow decline
- 13% had a steep decline and were not very involved anymore
- 25% never were religious in their home and probably won’t be
At first glance this can sound grim, but if you look at the homes that were successful in having their kids continue to be active in their religion, the secret ingredient was that parents showed that faith is important and they were involved which indirectly gave them the opportunity to talk about religion at home. No other influence comes close to matching the influence of parents on religious faith practices of youth.
What’s My Super-Power?
Recently, one of my kids was with me after 5pm Mass and there was a visitation in the gathering space going on as we were leaving. As we walked through the crowd, he noticed a display table that had photos of the deceased, an old coca-cola can, a ball cap from his favorite team, and a small metal train. My son asked me why there was a train on the table and I explained that the man who passed away must have been into trains, so his family brought one for people to remember that about him because it symbolized something that he liked. As we walked out to the car, I asked my son if this were my funeral, what kinds of things would he want to set out on a table to symbolize me? “Coke Zero!” he shouted. (I drink bourbon or rum and coke zero at home…apparently a lot…) Thankfully he didn’t answer Captain Morgan. “Anything else?” I hesitantly asked. “A camera because you like to take pictures…and…your phone. You’re always on your phone.”
Ok, I was hoping at minimum for a guitar since I love to lead worship and maybe, oh I don’t know, a crucifix or rosary or something faith based! Nope. Drinking, taking pictures, and ignoring my children by looking at my phone is apparently what I’m known for!
The thing is, we don’t even realize that our kids are watching. They are observing. They are forming their identity off of the things that we think are valuable. If we want our children to grow up and believe that being a devoted disciple of Jesus as a Catholic is meaningful and even necessary to living a life of joy and fulfillment then we have to show them that by genuinely witnessing that in our own daily life and then talking to them about it. That’s our super-power! That’s the tremendous call that we have as stewards of God’s children that He has entrusted to us. We read in Luke 12:48 “much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.”
The key question that children answer when they are forming their personal identity is “Does this matter to my parents?” Show them the value of our religion by your participation in the life of The Church. Talk to them about it. You don’t have to have all of the answers or be a theology expert. Faith isn’t about that, it’s about being a witness and following the will of God for your life.
Studying this research and listening to what my kids have to say about me lately has been eye opening and scary, but we can begin to work together on how we can make a difference and start to change those statistics of children who remain Catholic. Plug in to the parish. Get more active in our community and start talking to your kids about it. There are tons of amazing families who I see doing this at Ascension, but I know there could be more.
Next time, we’re going to unpack what successful Catholic households look like and offer practical ways that we can be more intentional in forming the faith of our micro-church at home.
Sources: National Study of Youth and Religion by Christian Smith and Justin Bartkus (YouTube)