How Moms Can Raise Boys to Become Great Catholic Men

Through sound principles, strong parenting, true friendship, constant prayers, and the gift of God’s grace, all of our sons have the ability to be the strongest — and holiest — men in the world.

Ary Scheffer, “St. Augustine of Hippo and His Mother St. Monica of Hippo” (1846)
Ary Scheffer, “St. Augustine of Hippo and His Mother St. Monica of Hippo” (1846) (photo: Public Domain)

­It’s no secret that Catholic moms are filled with anxiety these days, facing down a sex-obsessed society designed to undo all the sound Catholic teaching and virtue training we try so hard to instill in our children. Moms of boys are especially worried, as the culture of ubiquitous pornography is set to snare them at every turn.

What’s a mother to do?

As a veteran mom of eight children, six of them boys, I have spent the last few years trying to instill hope and confidence in my fellow Catholic mothers. Raising chaste Catholic boys and men is more than possible, even in this confused culture, and the tips I offer you here are expanded upon in my book, Raising Chaste Catholic Men: Practical Advice, Mom to Mom.

First, there are three basic rules I follow when raising up faithful kids:

  1. Moral formation is the top priority. On the list of what is truly important, it comes above and before educational concerns and career goals, extracurricular activities, social considerations, cultural experiences and travel — everything.
  2. Our Catholic beliefs need to make sense to our children. When the world and all its suffering, sin, goodness, joy, and chaos has a context that makes sense to a child, he will be confident and secure. This is a huge key to keeping your child Catholic.
  3. Nothing is off limits for discussion. And I do mean nothing. We want our sons to come to us with all the uncomfortable and even cringe-worthy questions, and we must not lose our peace when they do. If we recoil from honest questions, our boys will avoid approaching us in the future and will go elsewhere for their answers: to their peers, to the internet, or to other adults who may not share our Catholic worldview.

Once those principles are in place, I am a big proponent of being your child’s parent and his friend. I know, I know, we aren’t supposed to be our child’s friend, because (as I used to repeat myself) “children need a parent, not a friend!” While it is true that our kids desperately need us to be strong parents, I began to realize that I wanted a friendship with my child as well. Can the two ideas be reconciled? Absolutely.

Don’t get me wrong: You don’t want to be the “cool mom” who is immature, ridiculous, and overly permissive — and your child does not want that either. But true friendship means enjoying each other’s company, having mutual interests and affection for one another, sharing inside jokes and a lot of laughs. Friendship and strong parenting can coexist, so long as the parenting part stays firmly in place and takes precedent if ever there is a conflict between the two.

Where does chastity training fit in? It starts when they are little, by respecting a child’s latency period, or what St. John Paul II called “the years of innocence.” From the Vatican document The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality: Guidelines For Education Within the Family:

This period of tranquility and serenity must never be disturbed by unnecessary information about sex. During those years, before any physical sexual development is evident, it is normal for the child’s interests to turn to other aspects of life.

In other words, until they approach puberty, let the children be innocent. Mothers, don’t worry about or read into things that are quite normal and not “sexual” in nature. For example, our baby boys and toddlers tend to grab and touch and play with their private parts, some boys more than others! My advice for all young mothers: Don’t freak out! Yes, redirect and distract him. Yes, put him in clothing that helps hinder that little hand from getting in his diaper. Yes, remind him cheerfully as he gains language skills that “we don’t play with our private parts, honey.” But don’t project “future sex addict/predator” onto your baby, and do not shame him; he is innocent. Relax, and keep your sense of humor. (Oh the stories I could tell about little boy parts!) A son’s behavior when tiny is no predictor of future chastity, I assure you.

But when our boys hit puberty, what then? Surely that’s the time to freak out? Nope, because you are keeping to your sound principles. You are morally forming the child in the virtues as he grows, you are making sure that the Catholic Faith makes sense to him (Theology of the Body, Natural Law, explaining to him the many real-life consequences of sexual sin), and you are always available to answer any and all questions he has (if you don’t have the answer, you will find it). You yourself have been an example of faithful Catholicism, living with an integrity that your child can see and respect. On top of all that, you have a true friendship with your boy. Good job, Mom! There is a great chance your son will keep the Faith.  

That’s not the same as a guarantee of course. Even if you have done everything right, a son may still go off the rails. That pesky and wonderful gift we call free will is the variable that is necessarily his alone. What to do, then, when things go wrong? Refer back to the “no freak outs” rule, and hit your knees. St. Monica had a rough decade or two with her son St. Augustine, who was none too keen on chastity or the Catholic Faith at that time. How did she help bring him back?

Something we rarely remember is that the holier we become, the more powerful are our prayers. The closer we are to the Heart of the Trinity, the more efficacious will be our petitions and supplications. So, become a saint! Saints, who have a deep and abiding friendship with Christ, possess an overflow of graces that can be applied to those around them. You’re called to holiness anyway, so how beautiful that your sanctity can influence the salvation of your son!

I have not spoken of the role of a father in a boy’s life, as that is beyond the scope of this brief article. But while the importance of fathers and other godly men cannot be overstated (please see Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted’s Into the Breach exhortation to Catholic men), we women must take care to support and encourage our sons in their uniqueness as men. They need us to affirm their God-given instinct to protect, provide, and lead. Our boys were made with the desire to be heroes, and leading lives of heroic virtue fits that bill. I tell my sons, “The strongest man in the world is the one with the most self-control,” and as they grow up, they become powerfully aware that chastity is a rare and desperately needed heroism in our day.

Moms, through our sound principles, strong parenting, true friendship, constant prayers, and the gift of God’s grace, all of our sons have the ability to be the strongest — and holiest — men in the world.