The kids were being naughty in church—very naughty. Our three-year-old daughter kept asking irrelevant questions loudly during silences, lying across the pews and resisting correction. Did she actually enjoy using her budding social awareness to embarrass us in public? We had to wonder.
Our energetic son, almost two, couldn’t stand being cooped up in the pew. Mass began with him trying to crumple the pages of every missalette and hymnal. He then moved on to waving the laminated Order of Mass cards violently (a much louder activity than you might think) and throwing his books on the ground. By the beginning of the homily, he would need to be taken out to the vestibule, as was no doubt his plan all along.
We tried everything to modify their behavior: lectures, bribes, threats. One of our more generous offers was to get them donuts after Mass, if only they would behave. Our entreaties were laughed at and brushed aside with little ceremony.
The Relief of Relatability. Stories like ours have, unfortunately, become less common. People our age are having fewer children and are attending church less frequently. It’s tempting to feel like we’re isolated when we confront the everyday challenges of raising our children in the Catholic faith.
That’s why the new book How To: Catholic Family—Nurturing Faith in the Messiness of Everyday Life is so relevant and timely. It closely echoes our own experience as young Catholic parents who are trying to create a holy home amidst the chaos of diapers and toddlers and teething.
The authors, husband and wife team Tommy and Karen Tighe, begin by saying, “Before we had children, we were the perfect parents. We had read all the books, knew all the answers, and had heaps of patience.” It’s obvious that Tommy and Karen have since learned what it’s really like to be in the thick of raising young children.
We laughed out loud at their story of a reluctant “potty trainee” who chose the very moment the family was headed out the door to Mass to declare that he didn’t need diapers anymore. What Catholic family hasn’t had a last-minute crisis that made them late for Mass? The book is filled with stories like this one: real and relatable anecdotes of family life. Tommy and Karen just get it. And because they do, we felt like listening to them.
Judgment-Free Advice. How To: Catholic Family is filled with Tommy and Karen’s practical, faith-based, and often humorous advice for parents. They cover a wide range of topics, all of which we found relevant for our own family. They suggest ways to remain close to God throughout the turbulent years; ways to incorporate saints and Bible stories into everyday life; simple ideas to help children live in step with the rhythms of the liturgical calendar; and, yes, help for getting the kids to behave at Mass. These strategies can help any parent—or even grandparents—to weave their faith into the lives of their children. The book is clear, concise, and broken into digestible sections that are perfect for parents who can only set aside a few minutes at a time to read between dishes and diaper changings. (Okay, fine, maybe we fall into this enviable category ourselves.)
We were particularly struck by Tommy and Karen’s ability to inject practical wisdom into spiritual matters. “If you want your kids to focus on the prayer of blessing before dinner,” they say helpfully, “don’t put the food on their plates until you’ve wrapped up the prayers.” Not a bad idea, huh?
We appreciated the fact that they are careful to balance their commonsense advice with the generous disclaimer that “what worked for us might not work for you!” Because of that, the book feels like a judgment-free zone. (Spoiler alert: Tommy and Karen recommend sitting toward the front of the church during Mass so that the kids can see what’s going on. We tried it—it wasn’t for us. We can laugh about it now, but in the moment, it was mortifying.)
Examples of Holiness. All in all, How To: Catholic Family is a wonderful reminder that when we become holier people, we become holier parents. Small intentional changes we make can deepen our faith lives, the book points out, and this affects our children. One chapter is appropriately titled, “Do as I say, and as I do,” driving this point home.
That chapter discusses how important it is for our children to be able to see us, their parents, visibly demonstrate our own personal connection to God through prayer. It then offers tips and tricks for finding ways to pray and reflect each day, despite chaos in the home and our own exhaustion. Throughout the book, Tommy and Karen emphasize that the Sacrament of Reconciliation is a powerful tool for making our lives, and thereby our homes, holier. No family is perfect, but with God’s help, we can do so much more.
The task of raising a Catholic family can feel lonely, even countercultural. Everyday challenges like getting our kids to behave in church and teaching them to pray sometimes require Herculean effort, but it’s much easier in the company of other faithful Catholics. We need people in our lives who desire to live their faith as we do—people who can help fuel us with encouragement as we work hard to live out our vocation as parents. We cannot do this alone, as Karen and Tommy conclude in the chapter titled, “It Takes a Village.”
Better Late than Never. Our solitary critique is that we wish this book had been published a few years earlier. We could have used much of Karen and Tommy’s advice when our daughter and son were three and two and behaving poorly in church. As it was, we had to resort to more draconian measures with the kids. Despite our standing offer of donuts, they kept getting out of hand. So one Sunday, after an especially naughty display, we decided to up the ante.
After Mass, we drove directly to Dunkin’ Donuts. We bought ourselves a donut each and ate them in front of the kids while they cried. With dramatic flair, we embellished the fact that they were delicious. We commented loudly to each other as we chewed about how “glad we were that we were good in Mass so that we could earn donuts” and how it was “just too bad the kids couldn’t have any.” That was the last day we ever had behavior trouble in church. See? We know what we’re doing.
Billy and Becca Brophy live in northern Virginia with their three kids, two of whom behave like angels in church.
How To: Catholic Family—Nurturing Faith in the Messiness of Everyday Life by Tommy and Karen Tighe (160 pp, softcover) is available from The Word Among Us at wau.org.