My daughter Anna and I used to share a peculiar fascination with a radio call-in show whose host hectored and scolded her callers for their failures as parents. Anna called it The I’m-a-Good-Mother-and-You’re-Not Show, thus summing up the problem with how-to books-or radio shows-for parents. Whether the subject is childhood fitness or childhood faith, the message is the many ways parents fail their kids.
The most reliable parenting manuals cover the early years, with a heavy emphasis on physical mechanics: how to treat diaper rash, when to start toilet training. The less predictable adolescent years, when parents could really use a reliable guide, get a section something like this: “Expect acne and acting out and hormonal storms. Goodbye. Good luck. Write when things settle down.”
Writing about keeping churched children in the church during the unpredictable years puts one on treacherous terrain, especially if the writer, myself, still has a teenager at home. The reader scans the article, wondering how long it will be before publishers announce news of her child’s likely tell-all, Novenas, Not Nurture: True Tales of a Catholic Childhood. Cautiously, I asked my seventeen-year-old son what has kept him in the church. I was hoping for one of those touching comments that would reveal my wisdom and his appreciation of it. He looked at me and asked, “You mean, besides coercion?”