The 3 Books Every Catholic Parent Should Read

There are a lot lot lot of books on parenting and marriage out there. It's actually kind of overwhelming, isn't it? I've read and like some of them but I recently spent some time rereading a few things that I read long ago when I was just a young single whippersnapper piling up loans and filling my stomach with ramen noodles. While I really loved them then and they helped put me on the path towards my vocation, when I reread them now as a wife and mom....woah. Everything is stunningly true and applicable to me right here, right now.

I think sometimes there's this erroneous idea among lay Catholics that there is nothing to help us as spouses and parents specifically from the Church. No practical help or teachings or resources to guide us and from which to draw as we make decisions for our kids and try to live out this vocation of marriage. There's this feeling like we've been thrown out into the water and we're just supposed to swim even though many of us never learned how and there's no one teaching us to do it. We think we're just left to make up whichever way seems to make sense. Then we're surprised when we're gasping for air and feel like we're drowning and no one cares.

But it's not like that! The Church has, in fact, given us a whole lot to draw from! We just have to be willing to look for it and be willing to read it. The great thing is that these three writings I'm going to recommend were written with the intention that real living, breathing, normal people were supposed to read them. So you don't have to be intimidated or feel like you won't be able to understand them. I wouldn't go so far as to say they are easy reads but they are definitely manageable and they provide the frame of reference and belief to apply to ALL the other decisions we need to make as parents. They are relatively short and they were written for you! It only makes sense to look for our first directions on marriage and parenting from the Church first before turning towards lay experts. Don't rush through them but take some time with them. Read them slowly. Pray with them. Grab a highlighter and make notes in the margins. Maybe read them with your spouse or with a book group to gain more insight and understanding.  These writings were written to be read and used! They carry with them the capacity to change and truly transform our understanding and living out of our vocations. 

It's a huge shame that it looks like only one of them is still in print and can be inexpensively bought, though used copies are available. BUT they are all available to read for free on the Vatican website

So, here's my list of the three books that I wish every Catholic spouse and parent were required to read:

(The Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World)
This is the primary reading on the Church's teaching on family, parents, children and how the family should interact and be viewed in relation to the rest of society. It addresses the whole point of the family, its mission in society, education, relationships within the home, sexuality, family prayer, the rights of the family, the rights of children, the elderly, irregular situations, and so much more. How can we do parenting and family life well if we don't understand the basics of what God created it to be and what we are called to? You might think you know but I absolutely guarantee you that reading this will change your life and deepen your vocation. Every time I read it, I'm struck anew by something beautiful in it.

"Each family finds within itself a summons that cannot be ignored, and that specifies both its dignity and its responsibility: family, become what you are...the family has the mission to guard, reveal, and communicate love." (FC, 17)

A lot of the themes from Familiaris Consortio are found in the Letter to Families but in a much more condensed, specific, and understandable language. This letter was literally written TO families...that's you! If a pope writes us a letter, we should probably take care to read it, you know? JPII knows what's up. He knows the way that the modern world makes living family life difficult. He knows the abundance of threats to family life. He knows the modern ways of thinking that threaten the health of the family. The letter talks a lot about education, about the dignity of motherhood, the importance of fathers, responsible parenthood, how to treat and raise babies and children, how to relate to society, and more. 

"The commandment "honor your father and your mother" indirectly tells parents: Honor your sons and your daughters. They deserve this because they are alive, because they are who they are, and this is true from the first moment of their conception." (15)

Guidelines for Education within the Family
"How am I supposed to teach my kids about sex?!?" Well, there's actual real direction and help from the Pontifical Council for the Family in this one! It has extremely clear guidelines on protecting innocence, on the stages of development of children, on modesty, the four principles regarding passing on information on sexuality, how to teach the beauty and joy of the real Christian positive understanding of sex, and so much more. It VERY clearly lays out the rights of the parents when it comes to sex education in schools, the primacy of the parents' role in teaching about sexuality, and what methods and approaches are immoral and unacceptable. Don't read any book on the subject before you read this one!

"The role of parents in education is of such importance that it is almost impossible to find an adequate substitute." (23)

There are other writings from the Church, too, that are helpful in understanding and truly living marriage, parenting, and family well but these, in my opinion, are the most practical and easiest to read and apply. They talk about schooling, about friendships, about sex, about newborn life, about marriage troubles, about's all there. There is so much wisdom to be unpacked and it is so helpful to read and study them well. Gaudium et Spes, Humanae Vitae, Casti Connubi, The Theology of the Body, and The Catechism of the Catholic Church also have beautiful guidance and words for those of us living this vocation of marriage and family. We are not left alone in this difficult task of parenting and the help is there, along with, of course, the supernatural grace poured down on us through the sacrament of marriage. We just need to use it.

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  1. Thank you for the recommendations! I'm especially interested in the Letter since you said it talks about education (my current biggest parenting question). Thank you also for linking to the documents at the Vatican's website! I was able to save the document as a PDF and then send it to my Kindle - and voila! Free ebook. Now to read them... :)

  2. These are all so full of encouraging food for thought. I also think every couple needs to read Humanae Vitae. It is one of the most beautifully clear things I have ever read. And I felt so loved by the Church after I read it.

    1. HOW COULD I FORGET THAT?!?!? Yes! Definitely! ::editing that in now::

  3. My middle school daughter is getting sex ed in school and then coming home to talk to me about it. I'm glad that she's open to hearing the whole story and not just what the school teaches.

    1. The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality would be a GREAT read for you right now then. It talks a lot about what schools should and shouldn't be teaching, the role of parents, the rights of parents in these situations, etc. It's so great and vital that she's talking with you about it, too.


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