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What to do when your spouse won’t go to Mass with you and the kids

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Katrina Fernandez - published on 02/23/17

"Start small," says Katrina Fernandez, who has some very good advice for handling an all-too-common situation

Dear Katrina,

What do you do when your husband won’t go to Mass with you and the family? There’s nothing I’d love more than for him to start going to church with me but he just doesn’t “do religion.” He’s not opposed to religion and says he believes in God; he just would rather not identify with a specific religious group. It’s just so hard raising kids in the Catholic faith by myself. They’ve started to ask why daddy doesn’t go to church. They fight me on going, saying that if daddy doesn’t have to go why should they have to.

When we talked about this before we got married he was supportive of me raising our kids Catholic. It seemed so black and white when we made plans to start a family. I guess I was  totally naive because raising little Catholics alone is so hard. He doesn’t do anything to prevent me taking them to church or faith formation but he doesn’t do anything to help either.  

How can I convince him to help me out more?

Janice B.

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Dear Janice,

I hear this a lot from young couples.  The compromise is often to leave the “religious stuff” to the one parent with the idea that the other parent won’t do anything to interfere with their children’s formation. I suppose it can seem like a pretty logical way to delegate this task but the reality of it is that unless the other parent reinforces what the other is teaching, the lesson gets lost.

As far as the non-religious parent is concerned they are keeping up their end of the bargain if they aren’t actively preventing their spouse and children from practicing a religion. Your husband isn’t demanding you to stop taking the children to church or faith formation, so to his way of thinking he is doing everything you asked of him and agreed to before your children were born. Like you said, he doesn’t do anything to hinder them being brought up Catholic… but he also doesn’t do anything to help.

Asking for that help often gets left out of the bargain because it’s hard for couples to understand (pre-kids) that you can’t divide parenting up like you can household chores. Each parent is needed to positively reinforce the other. Without that reinforcement from your husband he is essentially undermining you. Why should your children think the Catholic Church is important if their father doesn’t?   

I would ask your husband to reevaluate the terms of your previous verbal contract, just like that. Men are problem solvers so present it to him as a problem you need help with solving. The initial arrangement isn’t working out as you hoped because there are factors not previously considered that have now presented themselves. You need his active help instead of the previously agreed-to passive non-interference.   

Go to your husband when you are both in a good mood, maybe sometime after you’ve done something fun together as a family so that he’s reminded of how much his children love and look up to him. If you bring it up with your husband when you’re stressed or frustrated you risk it turning into a fight instead of anything constructive. Remind him that he’s a wonderful father and admit that you completely underestimated the impact of him not being involved in their religious formation would have. In all things, parenting is a two-person job and let him know that you can’t do it without his support on this.

Ask him to help you set the standard by being an example. It may be more than he initially expected, but isn’t that the case with all things related to parenting? You’ve given me no reason to believe he’s hostile to the Catholic Church, just that he identifies as non-denominational. I’m confident he’s probably very willing to help out more if you specifically identify the ways in which he can help.

Personally, I would start small. Make an appeal to him to participate in family prayer, like a decade of the rosary before tucking the children into bed, and then gradually work your way up from there. It’s OK if at first all he’s comfortable with is sitting by your side while you pray with the kids. Even his presence adds much needed reinforcement.

I think tenderness and time are what is in order here. Demanding immediate Mass attendance and asking what his problem is with organized religion will only drive the wedge deeper. I think if this is approached with love and genuine humility you’ll reap the reward of witnessing your children and eventually your husband learning about Catholicism.    

Read more at Aleteia For Her: “Why doesn’t Daddy go to church with us, Mommy?

Tags:
AdviceCatholicismLiturgy
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