"Do the best you can, with what you have, where you are" —Theodore Roosevelt.
This is a motto that naturally keeps following me throughout my adult life.
I’ve been the spiritual leader for our family since my husband and I were married, and at this point in time, it’s up to me to raise our children in the Faith.
Do I wish this wasn’t the case? Absolutely! It’s an exhausting and lonely place to be. I’ve had to make peace with the reality that my husband has not had an encounter with the Lord and does not have a desire to explore the Faith at the moment, and I need to respect that. After all, had it not been for me falling in love with him and being encouraged by both of our parents to get married in the Catholic Church with a Sacramental marriage, I myself would have never returned to the Faith. I don’t know where I would be without my mother’s constant nudging (ahem, nagging) me to go to Confession, or the firm and gentle guidance of a solid Shepherd who could see past my pagan exterior.
Focusing on the ultimate big picture, our salvation certainly helps. In some way or another, my prayers and sacrifices will not go unseen or unheard by God, and He works with our messiness. Just because I don’t see immediate results, doesn’t mean I should give up and stop praying for my husband’s conversion. I want an Ephesians 5 marriage and God knows that too. His relationship with Christ is top of mind for me, and I trust and know that the Lord has big plans in store. As much as I hate surprises, I am sure that whatever God has up His sleeve is going to be epic!
As much as I hate surprises, I am sure that whatever God has up His sleeve is going to be epic!
For those of you who are in a similar boat—that is, who are raising children alone in the Faith—I wanted to offer solidarity and share some lessons I have learned (mostly the hard way).
1. Prioritize a daily prayer life and regularly use the Sacraments—especially Confession and the Eucharist.
God wants to pour out so many graces to you and your family and give you the strength you need to get through each day. When we make excuses to not spend some time with the Lord in prayer, brush off sins that need to be confessed, or justify why we can't go to Mass, we are only hurting ourselves from receiving the healing, love, mercy, and wisdom God wants to reveal to us to transform ourselves, our marriages, and our children.
Over the past several months, the Lord has pressed on my heart to go to daily Mass and weekly Adoration: “Center your day around Me in the Eucharist and everything else will fall into place.” Jesus certainly has set my priorities straight and given me the graces I need for each moment of the day. Whether it’s holding my tongue when I want to make a sassy or sarcastic remark to my husband, taking a breath and pausing to collect myself instead of yelling at my daughter because she is driving me nuts, or being prompted to reach out to a friend that needs some support and encouragement—these are all the little things that have a big ripple effect. As I recently told my Spiritual Director, “I would be a much nastier person if I didn’t have prayer and the Sacraments.”
2. Stop comparing yourself (to other Catholic moms/dads/marriages/families)
God has chosen you with a particular personality, skillset, and heart to be the mother or father of these children and raise them towards sainthood, and not anyone else who may appear to be more pious or otherwise qualified. Be confident in God’s choice. He handpicked you to lead your child(ren) to know, love, and serve Him. How incredible is that?!
One morning during prayer I was feeling so defeated when yet another invitation to my husband to attend Mass as a family had been turned down, and I cried out to the Lord, “I am sick of trying.” To which I interiorly heard Our Lord say, “I love you my child. Do you know that? Why do you doubt My love? Do you not know that I will give you all the graces you need to lead you and your family to holiness? Trust in Me.”
I trust you Lord, help me to trust You more.
3. Keep the conversation going with your spouse
If you are married, it is so important to discuss with your spouse what (if any) role they want to play in your children’s faith formation and what that will look like throughout the week. If your spouse doesn’t want any role whatsoever, you need to respect that decision, but at the same time, don’t acquiesce and give children the impression that our faith is only for Sundays at Mass.
Your domestic Church may look different depending on your season of life. If you are solo, perhaps it is saying bedtime prayers with your children while your spouse is in another room, praying the rosary in the car, listening to a great Catholic podcast when doing chores and your spouse is at work, or reading the Sunday Gospel with your children and doing a monthly liturgical craft. Do whatever is reasonable and what works for your family.
Faith formation FOMO (fear of missing out) can be a real thing. Do not beat yourself up if you can’t do all the things you want to do all of the time. You aren’t a bad parent if you don’t enroll your children in all the catechesis programs out there. When you’re living a life of prayer, the Holy Spirit will inspire you with what devotions, ministries, events, etc. you need at the time.
4. Respond with simplicity, truth, and charity to your children’s questions
Another challenge of being the spiritual leader for your household is knowing how to respond when your children ask (and they will) why members of the family don’t practice the Faith. There are a couple ways to approach the question, “Why doesn’t daddy/mommy go to Mass with us/ join us for bedtime prayers/go to Confession, etc.” and how you answer them will depend on their maturity level and other contextual factors. My response is usually simple and straightforward: “Your father is an adult and he makes his own decision whether or not he wants to practice the Faith. God wants us to choose Him freely and He respects our freedom. When you are an adult, you can choose to practice the Faith, but until then, I am responsible for helping you to know, love, and serve Jesus and His Church, and that includes going to Mass and having a daily prayer life."
5. Created for community: Find and nurture your village
Creating a village of other faithful practicing Catholic families is one of the best things you can do to continue raising saints, to find encouragement, to be held accountable, and to use your gifts to serve. As St Maximilian Kolbe said, “God sends us friends to be our firm support in the whirlpool of struggle. In the company of friends, we will find strength to attain our sublime ideal.” You are not alone. The unfortunate reality of living in a broken world is that there are so many families where only one parent practices the Faith. God knows what you need when you need it and that includes bringing people into your life that will keep you on the straight and narrow path. Choose your friends wisely as they will influence whether you continue to choose Him everyday.
I will leave you with the words of Servant of God, Dorothy Day, a single mother who had a dramatic conversion to the Faith. “The older I get, the more I meet people, the more I am convinced that we must only work on ourselves, to grow in grace. The only thing we can do about people is to love them.”
God knows your struggles. He knows how much you deeply desire for your spouse to grow in a personal relationship with Him. Model the faith, trust in God, and the rest will follow.
In Corde Immaculatae Mariae,
Andrea is a community building, coffee loving, revert Catholic mom who realizes she needs Jesus to take her wheel every day! She has been married for 12 years, and has been blessed with two children and one above. She realizes she's not all that and a bag of chips and depends on prayer, Confession, and the Eucharist to guide her in her vocation. Her favourite pastimes include having heart to heart conversations and bustin' a gut over the latest memes and internet sensations (tortilla slap challenge, amiright?), going for a weekly lunch date with her husband so they can catch their sanity from the busyness of family life, and dabbling in graphic design and writing.