You could sense the panic in the email. The parent wanted to know if their child could still receive their first communion even though they had not had their first reconciliation. I picked up the phone, called the parent, and reassured her that with a few months before the First Communion Mass, there was plenty of time to get their child ready. She had relief in her voice and told me, “It’s just been so hard to get everything right.”
I can empathize with her. As a parent, I don’t feel like I’m doing my best to navigate my kids through life. Whether forgetting to pack their lunch or receiving a home note from the teacher, I constantly feel like I’m messing them up. I know I’m not alone, and it makes me wonder how the Church can help parents deal with the shame and guilt they experience regularly.
And I know a lot of parishes want to support parents and get them engaged; however, sometimes, our efforts end up creating more damage. We either ask too much or too little and send our parents confusing signals about what we want them to do. When it comes to our ministry for the young church, you must wonder, “Are we making ministry difficult for our parents?”
If you want your children, youth, or family ministry to be an ally for parents, then you have to:
STOP THINKING PROGRAMMATICALLY
There are some great resources for parents that have produced fruit; however, if a ministry thinks that all parents need is a book, workshop, or to include them in faith formation, they are missing the essence of partnering with parents. Parents need people who will accompany them through life’s ups and downs.
I’m not saying you should never host a workshop or recommend a resource to parents. Instead, get creative with ways that you can accompany them. Instead of expecting them to come on campus, look at going to them. I know a Director of Faith Formation who swings by school bus stops with coffee to share with the parents. Make sure you sit with the parents if you go to a game of high school soccer or basketball game.
Offering an event or even an informational meeting makes it experiential. Give parents time to socialize and mingle. Incorporate some fun into your night and spoil them with good coffee or food. If parents see that you are willing to go the extra mile for them, they’ll be more likely to respond to your invitation in the future.
REACH OUT WITH ENCOURAGEMENT
I know that my kids have teachers and coaches who care about them. But, if I’m going to be honest, I have to go digging for anything positive. I feel like the only time I hear from teachers is because my kid did something wrong. It’s rare when a coach picks my kid up after messing up a play—the message I receive as a parent is YOU’VE FAILED.
Fortunately, there are bright spots. One night my middle school son’s small group leader said, “I don’t know what you do, but your kid is awesome.”
It was a small comment, but it had a powerful impact. Not only was this small group leader complementing my kid, but giving me some credit. The small group leader didn’t have to say anything, but he did, which meant a lot to me.
We have to make sure we are taking the time to reach out to parents to tell them that they are doing a great job. And if you don’t feel like you can do that for every parent, then equip your catechists, small group leaders, and volunteers to do it on your behalf. Let parents know, even when they are messing up, that the Church loves them and cares about their well-being. They’ll see you as a support and not just another negative voice.
SHOW THEM HOW TO GROW IN FAITH
Ultimately we want parents to grow in their faith to continue to form their children at home. And while there is a lot of value to family catechesis, we have to be sure to allow parents to grow independently. To make that possible, parishes should be looking at how they do adult faith formation.
Parishes should not assume that parents know how to pray or have a relationship with God. By providing retreat and small group opportunities, churches can help parents grow in their faith to share that with their kids. When holding a parent meeting or gathering, don’t assume people know how to pray the rosary, Lectio Divina, or novena. Guide them through the exercise and explain how they can continue to do this independently.
While parents are the primary influence in the life of their kids, they still need help. Your parish can truly partner with parents by listening to their stories and walking through the hardships. Don’t hold back on the encouragement and let them know that they are loved. The more parents know that you care, the more they’ll care about what you are doing for their family.
How do you make it easier for parents to raise their kids in faith?