Catholic families with school-aged children come in all shapes and sizes, but all have the same basic goal – to form loving, caring relationships and provide a solid foundation for children so they can reach their full human potential. “The family instructs children and gives guidance about personal values and social behavior. It instills discipline and helps them learn and internalize codes of conduct that will serve them for the rest of their lives. It also helps them develop positive interpersonal relationships, and it provides an environment that encourages learning both in the home and at school.” (Source: Communication and Discipline, HealthyChildren.org)
The Catholic Church describes family as an “intimate community of life and love…what you do in your family to create a community of love, to help each other to grow, and to serve those in need is critical, not only for your own sanctification but for the strength of society and our Church. It is a participation in the work of the Lord, a sharing in the mission of the Church. It is holy.” (Source: Follow the Way of Love )
Holiness in family life is not about the perfect family – it’s about inviting God into the messiness of daily family life. It’s about forgiveness and reconciliation, about learning and growing from our mistakes; it’s about trying our hardest despite our human failings to love others the way Jesus loves us.
Catholic families are just like others when it comes to the tasks necessary for healthy family life. Parents must teach their children a sense of responsibility when it comes to academics, peer relationships, and age-appropriate household chores.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “during the middle childhood years, parents have two tasks that are espe¬cially important. The first is learning to allow and encourage your child to en¬ter the new world of school and friends alone. The second is learning to be parents at a distance. Once children enter school, parents spend less than half as much time with them as they did before.” (Parenting School-Aged Children).
Parents need to be aware of what’s happening in school with regard to three main areas: the classroom environment, relationships with peers, and extra-curricular activities (sports, scouting, etc.). Among the most common issues that families of school-aged children face are bullying, over-commitment, encountering diversity, passing on the faith, and the first experience of loss (friends or family members who move away; separation or divorce; perhaps even the death of a family member).
Various studies have shown that marital satisfaction often declines as parents are faced with the myriad demands of raising children.
"Families centered on children create anxious, exhausted parents and demanding, entitled children…We parents are too quick to sacrifice our lives and our marriages for our kids. A good marriage sets a great example for your children's future relationships and that's a win-win for the whole family… Indeed, we are so terrified of being selfish adults that we have forgotten that simply setting a good example is what creates a rounded, successful, happy human being.” (To Raise Happy Kids, Put Your Marriage First, by David Code)
Couples who are able to manage decision making with cooperation and respect are equipped to parent well while keeping the marriage in-tact. Couples with children often experience conflict around the division of labor – who does what – and about money and spending time together.
It all boils down to making the marriage the priority. Human Development experts Philip and Carolyn Cowan, who conducted extensive studies on school children and their families, say that parents need to “make time for the relationship. You may not be able to afford a sitter or be ready to leave your baby, but you can check in with each other for at least 10 minutes every day. That can be done after you put the kids to bed or even on the phone while you're both at work, as long as you're sharing what happened to you that day and how it's affecting you emotionally. The pace of life today is so frenetic that few couples do this. But marriages are capable of change, and small changes can make big differences.”
As part of their research, the Cowan’s studied families who joined parent support groups which included couples with vast parenting experience and a strong interest in marriage. Those couples who took the opportunity to be mentored by experienced parents with strong marriages received three-fold benefits: their marriages were stronger and more satisfying, they were more responsive to their children, and their children “were doing better academically and having fewer behavioral and emotional difficulties than children whose parents received no support.”
While becoming parents and raising pre-teen kids can reveal weaknesses in the marital relationship, couples who work on their marriage “can feel better about themselves, they’re more productive and able to meet challenges, and the children thrive.” (Staying Lovers While Raising Kids, Parents Magazine)
Catholic families that become actively involved in their parish community reap the rewards of the parish as support system. With intentional marriage ministry in every parish as a goal of the diocesan marriage-strengthening initiative, all couples will have the opportunity to participate in this peer-to-peer ministry. Mentoring is a key aspect of ministering to married couples and families through every stage of family life. As studies indicate, families can navigate each new stage with assistance of other families who’ve successfully accomplished the tasks of family life, including the most difficult situations.
“[It is] the vocation of families to educate their children, to raise them in the profound human values which are the backbone of a healthy society…Our children need sure guidance in the process of growing in responsibility for themselves and others.”