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Families Worth Imitating

Updated: Sep 18, 2021

As we sat in the pew waiting for Mass to begin, my five year old suddenly became ecstatic.

But glancing at the altar and its surroundings gave me no clue as to what could have made him so excited. After all, things were as they had always been except maybe, for the moment at least, the priest was not present.

Pointing frantically at the sanctuary with one hand and tugging on my clothing with the other, he whispered loudly, “Dad, they’re copying us!”

Leaning down so that I could reach the ear of my little boy I whispered back, “What do you mean?”

“The statues, dad. We have a statue just like that in our Mary garden!”

We did.

Well, sort of ...

The statue here at our parish was huge, almost life-like, while our statue of Mary at home was shorter than my five year old. The statue here was also beautifully adorned and painted with the simplest colours so as to create an overall calming and pleasing effect. And while we did adorn the statue in our garden with flowers, our Mary was more so surrounded by garden flowers already growing nearby. I am almost certain that compared to the statue our parish forefathers had acquired for us many, many years ago, our simple Mary statue would be unlikely to win a contest.

Regardless, none of these distinctions were seen by my child. Or else, he thought them inconsequential.

While a five year old still has a long way to go and many psychological traps to navigate in the years to come, we can rejoice in the fact that right now at least, he sees himself and his family in a positive light.

What mattered to him was that he was convinced that others (especially here in God’s house) were taking the time to do things like we do at home. They were copying us. And that made him proud.

You might think that the important thing would have been to correct this gross misinterpretation. As his dad, to step in and say something like, “Ummm, not quite son.” But really, the important thing here is actually to acknowledge that his comment is a sign of good mental health.

Why do I say that?

Because there is a mental health crisis unfolding in our world. Because therapists and counsellors are backlogged with appointments. Because there are many people seeking help to abandon an ultimately destructive self-image in favour of a healthy one—people who see their own work, appearance, or genuine effort in a negative way, as something to hide or be ashamed of. And while a five year old still has a long way to go and many psychological traps to navigate in the years to come, we can rejoice in the fact that right now at least, he sees himself and his family in a positive light.

So what? Big deal ...

Yes, that is a big deal! In a day of multimedia overload, we are constantly inundated with images of the family, of children, and their parents. And one of the prominent messages we receive— whether it’s in the movies, in television series, or even in an instagram feed—is that our family (though unique) is broken and ultimately a source of embarrassment.

What’s happened?

Well, one of the contributing factors is the way that specialists have discussed child-adult development in the past. Well meaning advice like, “you are not your family” or, “your past does not define who you are” provides a fresh start, to be sure; it provides a freedom to strike out on one’s own even and especially when the families we come from are seriously wounded or wounding.

But statements like these did something else.

They encouraged growing individuals to disconnect from one of the best and richest societies that we could possibly belong to: the human family.

This is why any parenting advice we give must ultimately be rooted in and supportive of the family culture.

The result?

A thriving family!

Thriving families are those that have thriving parents, and parents thrive when they are intentional about their family culture. This is when they can say to each other and especially to their children, we do this and we don’t do that because of who we are.

Not surprisingly, the benefits of doing so are almost immediate:

1. A family culture provides clear and consistent rules.

A clear and communicated family culture helps us to create rules that are consistent and make sense.

For example, we get to bed on time “because we’re a healthy family” makes a lot more sense, even to children than “because it’s getting late.”

Or we read books more often than we watch shows “because we are a reading family” is hard to argue with no matter your age.

2. A family culture unifies the family members.

In a family, it is easy to feel like it is every man for himself. With mom and dad out and about their work, children in different grades at school and even in separate extra curricular activities, sometimes it can feel like family members live on different planets.

But when mom and dad consistently bring the family culture to the forefront in conversation, children and adults quickly begin to realize that they are in this together. And in this crazy world of disappointments and challenges, sometimes knowing that you are not alone is more than enough to get you through a really tough day.

3. A family culture creates a sense of belonging.

Far too many people have made serious mistakes in their early years simply to fit in with one crowd or another. But when one’s family has an unmistakable culture that builds each member up through its conversations and activities, its common rules and unifying mission, groups with little or no substance lose their appeal.

And it should be obvious why.

Families are naturally attractive. And to those who embrace the uniqueness as well as the individual culture of their family, it really can seem as though the rest of the world is missing out.

Should others imitate what we’re doing in our home? No, of course not, but who could blame them for wanting to copy us anyway!

in Christ,



Patrick Sullivan is a Catholic Speaker and the President of Evango, a Catholic Media Organization that seeks to build a culture of Catholic evangelization and missionary discipleship. Patrick travels internationally to speak at Catholic events, parenting conferences, and to lead retreats and parish renewal missions. He is the creator and host of Me & My House, the Catholic parenting program that is transforming how we minister to parents in our dioceses, parishes, and communities. Patrick lives in beautiful Barry’s Bay, Ontario with his loving wife, Kyla, and their nine children.

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