Marriage Over Money: A Parent’s Guide to Teaching What’s Most Important

Catholics offer insights into a Pew recent survey on parenting goals.

The value of marriage and family life should be instilled in children.
The value of marriage and family life should be instilled in children. (photo: Shutterstock)

We want our children to love, to be generous and kind, to place God at the center of their family life. We want them to appreciate the transcendent, to bask in the beauty of art and nature and all of creation, to be educated and family- and God-oriented.

But for many parents today, that basic parental instinct toward God and family has been redirected, superseded by an increased emphasis on career and financial success. A recent study by the Pew Forum, “Parenting in America Today,” reported that while 88% prioritized financial security and listed it as one of the most important goals for their children — being financially independent and having jobs or careers they enjoy — only 21% of respondents ranked “getting married” as important, and only 20% listed “having children” as a high priority.

And nearly half of parents (48% of mothers and 47% of fathers) say that they are trying to raise their children differently from the way they were raised.

So What Has Changed?

The Pew study on parenting reflects that societal shift brought on by the cultural embrace of sexual liberation and abortion on demand. But despite the survey participants' overwhelming emphasis on success in the workplace, are jobs and financial success really the biggest source of happiness for people? Or is there greater joy in marriage and parenthood?

The Happiness to Be Found in Marriage and Family Life

The Register discussed the study with Gregory Popcak, director of, who is the former chair of the marriage and family studies program at Holy Apostles College and Seminary and has served as adjunct professor of both psychology and graduate theology at Franciscan University.

Popcak said, “I think the prevailing culture has convinced most adults — men and women — that the most likely path to satisfaction and freedom is work. Of course, studies do show that once a family has enough money to meet its needs, then money is less important to happiness. Unfortunately, it’s a tough treadmill to escape! Even so, both Catholic teaching and research into the psychology of happiness show that the more time we invest in creating strong relationships, especially strong marriage and family relationships, the happier and healthier we are and the longer we live.”

So what are the most important lessons that parents can impart to their children? Again, Popcak pointed to both our Catholic faith and the psychological research into happiness. Both, he explained, show us that emotional intelligence (or what Jesus referred to as “choosing the better part” in the story of Martha and Mary) is the most significant predictor of happiness. “The more parents invest in building strong, intimate, joyful marriage and family lives,” Popcak reported, the better. “Children need the closeness, stability and warmth that strong marriage and family lives provide, if they are to be healthy, happy kids who grow up to be happy and healthy adults.”

Popcak is also the developer of the new Catholic family-formation app, CatholicHOM (Households on Mission), which is available in both the Apple and Google Play stores and at

The Pew study showed that parents are concerned about their children’s mental health: How can parents keep their children safe in a world gone awry? “Activities and work contribute to happiness only to the degree that it supports our ability to connect with our families. Anything beyond that, and mental health and happiness start to suffer dramatically,” Popcak said.

“That said, it's hard for families to buck the prevailing culture. That’s why we’ve created the CatholicHOM (Households on Mission) App, to give families the online community, expert support and dynamic resources they need to discover how to create a strong, faithful, loving and connected family life — even in the face of a world that is trying everything in its power to stand in the way.”

Andrea Picciotti-Bayer, director of The Conscience Project and media fellow at The Institute for Human Ecology at The Catholic University of America, is a mother of 10 (ranging from 6 years of age to 25), and has a personal interest in the issue of parental expectations.

Responding to the Pew study, Picciotti-Bayer, who is also an EWTN legal analyst as well as Register contributor, told the Register, “Parents’ hopes for their children often are more about immediate concerns than long-range planning. On the face of it, these are rather alarming findings — particularly because here in the West, we are not having enough children to sustain our population, and there is a general lack of enthusiasm for getting married. But the biggest factor in these responses is a severe and quite justified anxiety about financial and professional stability in an era when careers are neither predictable nor secure. Parents know that their children will be going into a volatile and fragile marketplace, and that huge numbers of jobs will continue to be wiped out by technology. This doesn’t mean that they don’t care about marriage or grandchildren, but that job-security is at the forefront of their minds.”

What Can Catholics Do to Help Reshape Americans’ Attitudes?

Picciotti-Bayer’s colleague Joseph Capizzi commented on how Catholicism provides a needed answer to these survey results.

Capizzi is professor of moral theology and executive director of The Institute for Human Ecology at The Catholic University of America. Capizzi offered two solutions, suggested by the Church’s teaching and her history.

“First,” he told the Register, “reinvigorate parish life; and, second, recommit to Catholic education at all levels, especially for children. Families are grown at home, in smaller communities. The principle of subsidiarity pushes us to recognize these communities are where young people learn about the rewards and difficulties of parenting, where they will be taught that having children is an expression of our hope and faith. We have to commit ourselves to parish life and Catholic education.”

Monica and Renzo Ortega are Catholic ministry leaders, authors and speakers, founders of the website, and hosts of the popular podcast Pre-Cana With the Pope. They are also parents to five children, ages 2 to 9 years old.

They said of the Pew study, “We would say that, because of our Catholic faith, our aspiration for our children differs from what the Pew study captured. Our worldview, in light of responsible parenthood, comes from seeing our lives’ meaning and purpose through the lens of Jesus Christ and his Church. Our primary aspiration is not listed in the survey. Our aspiration for our children is that they grow up to live lives of authentic virtue that rely on the grace of Jesus Christ.”

“From there, we pray their vocations are revealed to them in time,” they added. “From our perspective, the five options in the survey are all dependent on their following God’s will. Our role as parents is to shepherd our children: to guide and build them up from a young age, so that they are capable of hearing and responding to God’s call for their lives.”

“From the Christian perspective, a devoted married life, responsible parenthood, college education, focused careers, and Christian financial stewardship all demand excellence in virtue. As parents, we build towards that aspiration now, by building up their good habits, modeling and joining them in a disciplined prayer life, and frequenting the sacraments as a family,” they continued. “What their lives hold for them is in God’s hands, and rather than pressuring them to excel in a particular area in the future, we are focusing on teaching them to excel in virtue now so that God can use them in any way he sees fit.”

For his part, Bobby Angel, who, with his wife, Jackie, is a Catholic speaker, vlogger and author, is not surprised by the survey results. The father (the Angels are expecting their fifth child) said, “The feedback is sad, but not surprising. The sociologist Christian Smith described the common religion of young Americans as ‘Moral Therapeutic Deism’ — if we happen to believe God exists, he’s only a distant uncle in the sky who doesn’t really intervene in our lives; he just wants us to ‘be nice.’ This religious mindset convicts no one and certainly isn’t anything worth passing on to our children. And to the extent that we are only sacramentalizing our young people and not evangelizing them, putting living witnesses before them, the fallout will continue.” “We’re also seeing the fruits of our radically individualistic framework,” he continued.

“This goes back to even Stoic thought, which articulated a self-reliance that should depend on no one else for happiness (this includes the joy of the gift of a child). Aristotle and Aquinas alike asserted that we are relational beings, and thus our happiness can never be found outside of community with others — most notably, the family, which is the foundational building block of a society. Children are demanding, sure, but as Wordsworth articulated, ‘The child is father of the man.’ Especially for men, being responsible for a child (something we’re never truly ready for), is what calls out our maturity and helps us ‘get over’ ourselves. We’re only going to see more ‘delayed adolescence’ with the continuation of this ‘child-free’ phenomenon.” He added, “The BBC recently ran an article analyzing the ‘child-free’ lifestyle of young and emerging adults who are purposely opting into an intentional life without any desire to raise children. The multiplication of online ‘support’ communities and influencers indicate that this turn towards the self as our source of fulfillment will not be going away anytime soon. Our role in the future will be the same as it is today: to evangelize joyfully the life-giving Gospel of Christ.”