Fostering Parent Participation

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An excerpt from Engaging the Parking Lot Parent


The grace of God calls catechists, teachers, and administrators to meet parents where they are … as fellow pilgrims on the journey home. Companion with compassion: Convey sensitivity to their needs. The word “compassion” comes from the Latin com (together/with) + passio (suffer). Translated, “compassion” means “to suffer together, to suffer with” another person.

Some parents feel disenfranchised, inadequate, overwhelmed, impotent, or any number of things that separate them — or create the perception of separation— from other parents and catechists. And even if they do not feel such conditions, the fact that they are insufficiently involved in the faith formation of their children indicates that they are in need of evangelization. For if experiences of Jesus were common to them, they would automatically bend over backwards to help their children experience Jesus and cultivate a rich, vibrant relationship with him.

Modeling support

An important way to draw parents into fuller engagement with their children’s faith formation is through the extension of support, encouragement, and helpful resources. The following two examples illustrate ways to do this.

1. Work around the family schedule
Sister Maria Regis Turney, IHM, worked for three years in a parish in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. She found a way to reach parents through the sacramental preparation program for children receiving the sacraments of initiation at a later age. Rather than offering a single option, she tailored the program around the varying needs of the parents and families. Older students helped with younger students, so it was possible to reach a wide range of ages within the sessions. An individual family could switch days when necessary to accommodate their schedule. Some parents taught their children at home and gathered once a month to review what they had done and look ahead to the next month’s study.

She told me:

Once a month, families came together for a total-group session and to prepare for a prayer service. As an expression of service, older students helped younger children. For the final prayer service, all members of the family came together and then stayed for a concluding lunch. Parents pitched in to help with preparation and clean up. Lunch was uncomplicated. Each family brought what they thought all could eat, and we served it buffet style. Students and their siblings stayed in one group while the parents met separately. It was a very special time. We became a family, a form of domestic church.

2. Provide at-home resources
Merry Reardon, an experienced catechist and pastoral associate for faith formation, designed an at-home program for sacramental preparation that honors the family as “first place of education in prayer” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2685) and the parents as primary educators in faith. As a way to provide support and encouragement to parents, she met with them once a month for two years. In the process, parents were given tools to teach their children, as well as tools to share their faith. Parents were provided with a book to use as a vehicle of conversation rather than as a textbook.

Merry Reardon told me:

Parents responded positively to this process. It was a bit scary at first, but once they realized that it was meant to be a conversation and that they are not being asked to “know it all,” they settled into their roles. Parents were provided with additional digital resources to help support their efforts, as well.

Respecting parents’ time pressures

Demonstrate that you recognize the restrictions on parents’ time. Honor their needs by streamlining expectations in pre-class preparations. Think twice before sending home requests to gather/obtain certain materials for a class project. Employ practices that honor family time needs while supporting the goals of the catechetical program.

For instance:
■ Plan ahead. Give as much advance notice as possible of upcoming events, preparation needs, and deadlines.
■ Post information for parents on the catechetical website so that it is easily accessible. Engage a tech-savvy parent or highschool service-student to maintain the website.
■ Consolidate paperwork into a single communication. Condense the information into a single document or include an overview let ter with a bulleted item list (with due dates where applicable) for individual attachments.
■ Create succinct materials, such as letters, articles, or newsletters, with bulleted items, and avoid dense, crowded print.
■ Work with other catechists to coordinate projects so that parents with more than one child in the program are not responsible for multiple tasks within a given week.
■ Provide childcare for parent-involved events.
■ Make meeting times convenient. Alternate the scheduling of sessions between evening and daytime gatherings, or before or after weekend Masses.
■ Make meetings brief and succinct. Stick to the point — the one issue or theme of the occasion. Begin and end on time. Limit sessions to a maximum of 90 minutes. Provide snacks and significant breaks for longer sessions.
■ Digitize a meeting to use at a variety of times, and post it on your program website.

COMMUNICATE. Show respect, consideration, and concern. Encourage. Be positive and dependable, open and receptive to parent suggestion/input. Be collaborative, helpful, sharing, and caring.

BE SUPPORTIVE. Give constructive advice; and, rather than being a judge, practice the role of a companion, one who walks the same road.

Excerpted from Engaging the Parking Lot Parent: A Catechist’s Guide Fostering Parent
Participation by Sr. Patricia M. McCormack, IHM, EdD. 2017. Published by Twenty-Third
Publications, ( Used with permission. All rights reserved.
Editor’s note: This excerpt has been modified to fit this format.


Sr. Patricia M. McCormack, IHM, EdD, is an international formation-education consultant and author of Engaging the Parking Lot Parent. Find more at

This article originally appeared in Catechist magazine, September 2019



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