“Handing Down the Faith: How Parents Pass Their Religion on to the Next Generation” by Christian Smith and Amy Adamczyk. Oxford University Press (New York, 2021). 264 pp., $29.95.
“Return: How to Draw Your Child Back to the Church” by Brandon Vogt. Word on Fire Catholic Ministries (Des Plaines, Illinois, 2021). 216 pp., $19.95.
“All Things New: Breaking the Cycle and Raising a Joyful Family” by Erin McCole Cupp. Our Sunday Visitor (Huntington, Indiana, 2021). 256 pp., $18.95.
By Daniel S. Mulhall | Catholic News Service
What connects these three books is the important role that parents play in the faith lives of their children. Each approaches the topic from a different perspective.
Since the year 2000 with the National Study of Youth and Religion, Christian Smith and his team of researchers have been studying the religious practice of teens and young adults and the important role their parents have in handing on the faith.
The study began with interviews of teens and their parents across religious communities. Additional studies have been made with the original cohort at 10-year intervals.
“Handing Down the Faith” is the most recent book from Smith and team detailing the current research and its results. The research continues to find that the religiousness of parents is a significant factor in whether their adult children are religious.
Important factors in handing on the faith are:
• Parenting style: The authoritative style seems best — parents who are demanding and hold high expectations but also express great warmth and regularly communicate with their children.
• Setting clear and demanding expectations of children’s behavior and attitudes.
• Two-way and friendly communication.
• A warm and friendly relationship between parents and children.
• Parents speaking with their children about religion.
This is the gold standard of research on the subject and should be required reading for anyone charged with helping parents to hand on the faith. As a research report, the book is content-heavy but people in ministry should have no trouble reading and understanding the data and its value to their ministry.
In “Return,” Brandon Vogt provides guidance to parents on things that they can do to invite their children back to the practice of Catholicism.
In Part 1, Vogt summarizes the research on youth and religion (mostly the work of Smith, et al.) and addresses some of the myths about why young people leave. He says people leave the faith primarily because they are not thoroughly engaged in or attached to the practice of the faith.
In Part 2, Vogt offers practical suggestions that parents can do to reach out to their children and gently invite them back.
In Part 3, he looks at many of the arguments made by children about why they don’t participate in the church, and then presents ideas that parents can use for responding to these objections.
The writing style is personal and friendly: The reader feels invited into a conversation. The book is clearly intended for parents whose children or grandchildren no longer practice the Catholic faith and who want to bring those relatives back to active lives in the faith.
Vogt offers no guarantees that these ideas will be successful, but the ideas seem reasonable and have a good chance of being helpful.
In “All Things New,” Erin McCole Cupp has taken an informative and thoughtful approach to how children who have been raised in dysfunctional families can overcome the negative behaviors learned in the family of origin to raise their own children in a healthy family. She creatively uses the beatitudes as a way to organize how to overcome these negatives.
The issues raised by Cupp are powerful and realistic. Many people have been burdened with negative messages and feelings of anger and lack of self-esteem while growing up. Learning to name these messages and feelings are important steps toward healing and raising healthy children.
While some of the issues raised by Cupp may seem less than harsh, they help the reader understand that some children can be traumatized by what may seem to others as minor inconveniences. What is important here is to accept and not judge.
Cupp is at her best when the focus is squarely on these issues of hurt and loss, and when the issues are addressed from a healthy psychological perspective.
The book is weakest when the author attempts to provide a theological basis for her approach. She notes that she is not a theologian but throughout presents theological speculation as if it were Catholic teaching.
For example, Cupp argues that God’s mercy is only available to people who admit their sinfulness, which contradicts the church’s teaching that God’s mercy is freely offered to all.
Despite these theological issues, the book could be a helpful resource for those seeking to overcome the dysfunction they learned as children.
Daniel S. Mulhall is a catechist living in Louisville, Kentucky.