Book review: ‘The Catholic Parent’s Survival Guide’
“The Catholic Parent’s Survival Guide: Straight Answers to Your Kid’s Toughest Questions.” By Julianne Stanz. Chicago: Loyola Press, 2023. 128 pages. Paperback: $16.99; Kindle: $11.49.
“Keeping our children Catholic is a continual talking point among all Catholics today, especially because the research is sobering and grim,” begins Julianne Stanz in her most recent book, “The Catholic Parents Survival Guide.” And the statistics she quotes really are startling: A survey conducted in 2017 showed that not only are many young people leaving the Catholic Church, but they “indicated that they stopped identifying as Catholic between the ages of 10 and 20, with a median age of 13.”
What Stanz has discovered is not that parents don’t want to pass on the faith, but many of them are simply at a loss as to how to do so, especially in a culture whose values are so often at odds with those of the Church. Unfortunately, many of the books written to address this issue “are written from a very catechetical or educational perspective, aiming for clear teaching but with scant regard for the context in which we live today,” notes Stanz. To that end, she has designed this particular guide differently, beginning with resources to ground parents in their own faith before offering practical help, including real life questions and answers from both young people and parents who have struggled with these issues in the real world.
One of the first points that Stanz makes is that in order to pass the faith on to young people, adults must first be well grounded in and live out what the Church teaches. “This point cannot be overstated,” she says. “It is in the family that we first learn who God is, what we believe about our faith, and why our faith is important.” We often hear about influencers in society; many parents are surprised to learn that despite TikTok, Facebook and YouTube, it is they who are the major influencers in their children’s lives. It is a responsibility not to be taken lightly.
Stanz structures this book to be a kind of interactive workshop with tools and space to learn, reflect, and practice the various aspects and topics of faith, along with some ideas about how to incorporate those things into family life. Each chapter ends the same way in a section called Take It Home.
First, she summarizes the main points as “Key Takeaways.” The next section is a kind of checklist which she designates “Reflect and Journal.” The structure of this is not just a list of questions, but an approach that encourages practical reflection. This is followed by a section entitled “Practice,” which is a kind of “how-to” about the previous chapter. Then comes a prayer about the subject under discussion, and finally, a list of recommended resources for both parents and children. This is particularly useful if there is an area in the book that needs further fleshing out.
One of the other things that makes this book unique is that it incorporates actual questions that children have asked their parents (and grandparents) about all things religious. These range from the relatively simple ones (like six-year-old Amelia who asked, “Who is God?”) to more difficult questions, posed primarily by teenagers, about hot-button issues concerning sex, gender identity, abortion, birth control, and women’s ordination. In all cases, Stanz does not water down the teachings of the Church, but approaches each question with compassion, good sense, and something else – the “why” behind the Church’s teaching. “Children hear a lot of ‘what the church teaches’ in their faith formation classes or in Catholic schools,’” Stanz says, “but we don’t often address the ‘why’ behind the ‘what.’”
Finally, parents get to ask questions of other parents in a section aptly entitled “Parent to Parent.” Again, real questions with answers and insights from others who have faced the same issues.
For parents who are looking for practical ways to pass their faith on to their children, this book is highly recommended.
Julianne Stanz is a nationally known speaker, retreat leader, storyteller, and the director of parish life and evangelization for the Diocese of Green Bay and a consultant to the USCCB Committee on Catechesis and Evangelization. Born and raised in Ireland, she is the author of “Braving the Thin Places: Celtic Wisdom to Create a Space for Grace.” She blogs for “The Catechist’s Journey,” a blog for catechists published by Loyola Press. Visit her at juliannestanz.com.