We want our children to love, to be generous and kind, to put God at the center of their family life. We want them to appreciate the transcendent, to delight in the beauty of art, nature and all creation, to be educated and family-oriented and God-oriented.
But for many parents today, that basic parental instinct for God and family has been redirected, replaced with a greater emphasis on career and financial success. A recent Pew Forum study, “Parenting in America Today,” reported that while 88% prioritize financial security and list it as one of the most important goals for their children — to be financially independent and have jobs or careers they enjoy — only 21% of respondents ranked “getting married” as important and only 20% listed “having children” as a high priority.
And nearly half of parents (48% of mothers and 47% of fathers) say they are trying to raise their children differently than the way they were raised.
So what changed?
The Pew Study on Fatherhood reflects this societal shift brought about by the cultural acceptance of sexual liberation and abortion on demand. But despite survey respondents’ overwhelming emphasis on success in the workplace, are jobs and financial success really the greatest source of happiness for people? Or is there greater joy in marriage and parenthood?
The happiness found in marriage and family life
The Register discussed the study with Gregory Popcak, director of CatholicCounselors.com, former chair of the marriage and family studies program at Holy Apostles College and Seminary and former adjunct professor of psychology and theology at Franciscan University.
Popcak said, “I think the prevailing culture has convinced most adults – men and women – that the most likely path to fulfillment and freedom is work. Of course, studies show that once a family has enough money to meet its needs, money is less important for happiness. Unfortunately, it’s a treadmill that’s hard to escape! Even so, both Catholic teaching and research on the psychology of happiness show that the more time we invest in creating strong relationships, especially marriage and strong family relationships, the happier and healthier we will be and the longer we will live.”
So what are the most important lessons parents can pass on to their children? Once again, Popcak pointed as much to our Catholic faith as to psychological research on happiness. Both, he explained, show us that emotional intelligence (or what Jesus called “picking the better part” in the story of Martha and Mary) is the most significant predictor of happiness. “The more parents invest in building strong, intimate, joyful marriages and family lives,” Popcak reported, the better. “Children need the closeness, stability and warmth that a strong marriage and family life provides if they are to be healthy, happy children who grow up to be happy, healthy adults.”
Popcak is also the developer of the new Catholic family formation app, CatholicHOM (Households on Mission), which is available in the Apple and Google Play stores and at CatholicHOM.com.
The Pew study showed that parents are concerned about their children’s mental health: How can parents keep their children safe in a world gone wrong? “Activities and work contribute to happiness only to the extent that they support our ability to connect with our families. Anything beyond that, mental health and happiness start to suffer dramatically,” Popcak said.
“That said, it’s hard for families to resist the prevailing culture. That’s why we created the CatholicHOM (Families in Mission) app, to give families the online community, expert support and dynamic resources they need to discover how to create a strong, faithful, loving and connected family life – even in the face of a world that is trying everything in its power to get in the way.
Andrea Picciotti-Bayer, director of The Conscience Project and a media fellow at the Institute of Human Ecology at the Catholic University of America, is a mother of 10 children (ranging from 6 to 25 years old) and has a personal interest in the subject of parental expectations.
Responding to the Pew study, Picciotti-Bayer, who is also a legal analyst for EWTN and a contributor to the Register, told the Register, “Parents’ hopes for their children are often more about immediate concerns than long-term planning. At first glance, these findings are quite alarming – mainly because here in the West we are not having enough children to support our population and there is a general lack of enthusiasm for getting married. But the biggest factor in these responses is a severe and quite justified anxiety about financial and professional stability in an age when careers are neither predictable nor secure. Parents know that their children will enter a volatile and fragile market and that a large number of jobs will continue to be eliminated by technology. That doesn’t mean they don’t care about marriage or grandchildren, but that job security is first on their minds.”
What can Catholics do to help reshape American attitudes?
Picciotti-Bayer’s colleague, Joseph Capizzi, commented on how Catholicism provides a necessary answer to the research results.
Capizzi is professor of moral theology and executive director of the Institute of Human Ecology at the Catholic University of America. Capizzi offered two solutions, suggested by Church teaching and its history.
“First,” he told the Register, “invigorate parish life; and, second, to renew the commitment to Catholic education at all levels, especially for children. Families are created at home in smaller communities. The principle of subsidiarity leads us to recognize that these communities are where young people learn about the rewards and difficulties of parenthood, where they will learn that having children is an expression of our hope and faith. We have to commit to parish life and Catholic education.”
Monica and Renzo Ortega are Catholic ministry leaders, authors and speakers, founders of the TwoBecomeFamily.com website, and hosts of the popular podcast Pre-Cana with the Pope. They are also the parents of five children, aged between 2 and 9 years old.
They said of the Pew study: “We would say that because of our Catholic faith, our aspiration for our children differs from what the Pew study captured. Our worldview, in light of responsible parenthood, comes from seeing the meaning and purpose of our lives through the lens of Jesus Christ and his Church. Our main aspiration is not listed in the survey. Our aspiration for our children is that they grow up to live lives of authentic virtue that depend on the grace of Jesus Christ.”
“From there, we pray that their vocations will be revealed to them in time,” they added. “From our point of view, the five research options all depend on following God’s will. Our role as parents is to shepherd our children: to guide and edify them from an early age so that they are able to hear and respond to God’s call on their lives.”
“From a Christian perspective, a dedicated married life, responsible parenthood, college education, focused careers, and Christian financial stewardship require excellence in virtue. As parents, we build that aspiration now by building their good habits, modeling and joining them in a disciplined prayer life and attending the sacraments as a family,” they continued. “What their lives have in store for them is in God’s hands, and rather than pressuring them to excel in a specific area in the future, we are focusing on teaching them to excel in virtue now so that God can use them. them as you see fit. .”
For his part, Bobby Angel, who, with his wife, Jackie, is a Catholic speaker, vlogger and author, is not surprised by the survey results. The father (the Angels are expecting their fifth child) said: “The feedback is sad but not surprising. Sociologist Christian Smith has described the common religion of young Americans as ‘Moral Therapeutic Deism’ – if we happen to believe that God exists, he is just a distant uncle in heaven who doesn’t really intervene in our lives; he just wants us to ‘be nice’. This religious mentality does not convince anyone and is certainly not worth passing on to our children. And as far as we’re just sacramentalizing our young people and do not evangelize them, presenting them with living testimonies, the consequences will continue”. “We are also seeing the fruits of our radically individualistic structure,” he continued.
“It even goes back to Stoic thought, which articulated a self-reliance that shouldn’t depend on anyone else for happiness (this includes the joy of a child’s gift). Aristotle and Aquinas asserted that we are relational beings, and therefore our happiness can never be found outside of community with others – most notably the family, which is the foundation of a society. Children are demanding, of course, but as Wordsworth said, ‘The child is the father of the man’. Especially for men, being responsible for a child (something we are never really prepared for) is what calls our maturity and helps us to ‘get over’ ourselves. We will only see more ‘late adolescence’ as this ‘childless’ phenomenon continues”. He added: “The BBC recently published an article looking at the ‘child-free’ lifestyle of young people and emerging adults who are purposefully opting for intentional living without any desire to raise children. The multiplication of online ‘supportive’ communities and influencers indicate that this turn to the self as our source of fulfillment is not going away anytime soon. Our role in the future will be the same as it is today: to joyfully evangelize the life-giving Gospel of Christ”.