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If only there were a secret sauce or magic formula to raising perfect Catholic children! It’s tempting to consider it a complete mystery — what might work and flop when it comes to engaging teenagers. However, to paraphrase St. Mother Teresa: God doesn’t expect success, only faithfulness.  

Raising four daughters with busy schedules in the hope that our children will grow in and learn to cherish their faith (in a culture growing more hostile to Christianity) has required lots of prayer, God’s grace and intentionality. Here are some of the spiritual efforts we have imperfectly pursued.

1. “Come down for prayers”

This text is sent in our family group chat several times a week.  Praying together was much easier when we controlled our girls’ schedules. It’s now way harder as we’re competing with homework, sports and catching up with friends. Although we have never levitated as a family during evening prayer (yet!), we have come to accept that being in the same room together and turning our thoughts and hearts to God is sometimes enough. Rather than measuring success by how animated or extensive or deep this spiritual time is, we now consider it a win if we can pray together simply and honestly a couple of times a week.

2. “Chat” about the tough stuff

Although we’ve never labeled them “family faith chats,” we have found that monthly sit-down chats about important issues of faith or morals can help bring the Catholic faith perspective into our girls’ lives. The Catholic way of seeing the world is often at odds with how most of the world views things. The pull of the world on our young people is relentless! Smartphones can make life more convenient but can also mislead, confuse or downright contradict the Catholic Church’s teachings and our faith. For example, after Roe v. Wade was overturned, we invited our daughters to sit down for a half hour and asked them what they thought and what they were hearing about this decision. We then had a very informal conversation listening and helping to clarify why the Catholic Church teaches about the inviolable dignity of every human life from the beginning to natural death. We recently started watching The Rescue Project videos published by Actx XXIX and have short discussions afterward. We hope these chats help them to better understand the Catholic perspective.

3. Take holy trips

As a couple, we have tried to impart to our daughters that it is normal for people to pray together and talk about their faith, but also to laugh and have fun! For the last three consecutive summers, we have attended a Summer Catholic Family getaway for our family vacation. These trips involved typical vacation stuff like dancing, pool time, ice-cream trips, hiking, ice cream trips (not a typo) and biking. However, we also had the opportunity to celebrate Mass, pray a rosary daily, attend spiritual talks and have group dinners with other Catholic families who attended. These trips made for fantastic memories. Being Catholic and having fun were not mutually exclusive. 

4. The right peer pressure

Normalizing prayer and being public with our faith has led to our daughters’ willingness to be public with their faith. Our girls have all loved participating in the Catholic Pine Hills Camp, a charismatic, fun and music-filled summer camp experience. They have also attended the bi-annual National Catholic Youth Conference which brings together up to 25,000 youth from around the country for worship, adoration, Mass and fun. Although it involves missed school days, making up homework and sleep deprivation, these experiences have been invaluable in fostering their faith with people their age. 

5. The family who goes to Mass together…

Regardless of the busyness of schedules, our kids know attending Mass is non-negotiable. They may not always loudly and proudly participate or listen with 100% attentiveness to each word of the homily, but they are there. We lean heavily on God and trust that he can work in the hearts and minds of even the very sleep-deprived, bored, and sometimes grumpy teen who is at Mass maybe/mostly because this is expected of her. As our oldest daughters have left for college, we gently “incentivize” Mass attendance, by offering to treat them and any of their friends to a meal after Mass if they send us a selfie of them outside the Church. 

6. Open-door policy

Teens love their friends and love being with their friends — almost all the time. We are happy that over the years, we have often been “the house” for our girls and their friends to hang out at. Whether it’s snow-day fun, watching a favorite show together, gathering around the kitchen island for McDonald’s after a late game or sleepovers when one of the basketball coaches (Tom) allows it, we have come to love it when they decide to be here! Living out the faith many times relates to simply loving others well. Our kids have been “loved well” by so many other families, and we have tried to follow this example by trying to have an open-door policy for our home. These almost always impromptu gatherings can be hard on the ears at times and can quickly deplete our snack pantry and downstairs pop fridge, but they always leave us feeling blessed that our girls are loved and that we truly love their friends and they feel welcome and comfortable in our home. 

7. Give them the resources

Small groups are key to growing in the knowledge of our Catholic faith in a more personal setting. Getting teens to join and actively participate in Youth Groups or Bible studies seems to be a challenge for many Catholic families — ours too! After prayer and research, we found a wonderful program developed by Walking with Purpose — a Catholic women and girls Bible Study ministry. “Blaze” is a 20-week program tailored for middle schoolers that includes fun icebreakers, engaging with Scripture truths that counteract a lie in the world and praying with a Prayer Partner each week. We launched Blaze last fall out of our home for a group of six girls, including our youngest daughter. It’s been a tremendous gift for us, and hopefully, the girls have had fun while we read and talk about Scripture and then discuss applying it to our lives. Providing the opportunity for them to pray with the same friend each time for their intentions has helped them grow comfortable with spontaneous and personal prayer. Just as adults may feel more relaxed and more ready to share in a small group setting, teenagers too can benefit from these types of groups.