Parenting is ‘tougher than ever’ in pandemic era; speakers offer way forward

Matt Regitz, left, and Johnny Philp lead parents in a discussion on the theme "The Post-Coronavirus Church: Parenting Just Got Even Harder" during an evening of fellowship and community hosted by Peoria Notre Dame High School on Oct. 26. (The Catholic Post/Tom Dermody)

Catholic parents need to support one another and bring Jesus into their home discussions all the more because COVID-19 has made parenting “tougher than it’s ever been.”

“As we talk about this pandemic and what has changed, it’s just tougher,” said Matt Regitz, one of two youth and family ministers from Texas who spoke at an evening of fellowship for parents at Peoria Notre Dame High School on Oct. 26.

“Everything about the world we live in is tougher,” continued Regitz, the father of four children at home in Houston as well as a daughter who died in childhood. “Maybe our parents said the same thing when they were raising us. But I think we’re now in the ‘tougher than it’s ever been.’”

“These are hard times for young people,” agreed Johnny Philp, director of evangelization and catechesis at Sacred Heart Parish in Conroe and the father of three. “Statistically speaking, our children are more stressed than any previous generation,” he said, pointing to rising depression and suicide rates.

Both speakers also noted troubling trends in the church, evident prior to the pandemic and perhaps being accelerated by it. Only 18 percent of Catholic young adults attend Mass weekly, they reported, and more than half of American adults have left the faith of their childhood. Today’s youth face the cultural pressures of a secularized society hostile to beliefs, often without the benefit of like-minded believers in their neighborhoods and communities.

YOUR DOMESTIC CHURCH MISSION?

By further isolating them, “COVID has made the challenge harder, especially for our kids,” said Regitz, a former parish youth minister who with his wife Stephanie are co-founders of Survive and Thrive Ministries. “I’ve seen firsthand what the last year and a half has done to them emotionally, physically, spiritually, and mentally.”

“I’ve seen firsthand what the last year and a half has done to (our children) emotionally, physically, spiritually, and mentally,” said Matt Regitz in speaking to parents at Peoria Notre Dame on Oct. 26. (The Catholic Post/Tom Dermody)

The way forward is through the family, he emphasized, quoting St. Mother Teresa: “If you want to change the world, go home and love your family.”

Specifically, Regitz and Philp — who the following day combined to lead a retreat for Peoria Notre Dame juniors and seniors — reminded the parents of their responsibilities as “keepers of our own domestic church.”

“During COVID every church in America closed down in the span of a couple of days,” recalled Philp. But Catholic parents would have done well to realize that “God just opened a church in every single house in America.”

He encouraged the parents to develop a mission statement and three core values of their domestic church. And both he and Regitz guided the parents through a series of discussion-starting questions on faith topics including “Who is Jesus to me and what has he done in my life?”

“Imagine having a conversation like that with your teenager,” said Regitz. “I believe it is going to be questions like that — when we bring Jesus into family moments in a relational, vulnerable way — that are going to build our young people into saints.”

“GOD TRUSTS US IN THIS TIME”

The two speakers acknowledged that parenting during a pandemic is new territory.

“This is my first global pandemic,” said Philp, “and this is definitely your kids’ first global pandemic.” With three children under the age of 4, “all my kids know is COVID,” he added.

“What I’m telling young people is that God trusts us so much to be in this time in history,” said Philp, noting that applies to parents as well.

Quoting St. Augustine that faith is “caught, not taught,” Regitz urged parents — and especially fathers — to model the faith in their homes and accept their role as their children’s “primary and first catechists.” Just dropping the children off at church or school is not enough.

“We’re relying on ‘Father’ or ‘Sister’ or the faculty at our schools to do it all and hope (the faith) sticks to them,” said Regitz. “We’re going to have to start carrying even more of the load, and I want to empower and affirm you as parents.

“I know the reason we’re gathered here is that you love your kids,” he said to nearly 40 parents in attendance. “We’d do anything in the world not just to help them succeed in life, but ultimately to get them to heaven.”

Sister Sara Kowal, SCTJM, principal of Peoria Notre Dame, said the school plans to host similar gatherings for parents on a regular basis.

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