Talking to kids about tough topics, with grace and confidence

“God knew what he was doing when he made us the parents of our own children!” says Leila Miller, co-author with apologist Trent Horn of the new book “Made this Way.”

Leila Miller (left) and Trent Horn (right) are co-authors of the new book "Made this Way."

Whether the topic is transgenderism, same-sex marriage, or pornography, as a parent you don’t need a book to tell you how muddled and confused the culture is. But you may very well need one to help you explain to your children how the moral law and the Church approach each of these controversial topics. To meet this need, Leila Miller, a Catholic writer and mother of eight, teamed up with Catholic Answers apologist and author Trent Horn to write Made This Way: How to Prepare Kids to Face Today’s Tough Moral Issues, which explores topics ranging from divorce and contraception to reproductive technologies and homosexuality. The book, published by Catholic Answers Press, received an endorsement from Cardinal Robert Sarah.

Catholic World Report spoke with Miller and Horn about their book, the moral law, and raising children to be faithful Catholics in our culture without being anxious or fearful.

CWR: What prompted the two of you to write this book?

Leila Miller: Many Catholic parents, especially moms, had approached me with the fear and trepidation they have in raising their children in a world that has seemingly gone mad. They are not wrong in that assessment, as even the most foundational and obvious truths are now being denied, but I wanted to make sure that they had practical tools to teach their children moral truth (specifically on all contentious issues of human sexuality). I want to help parents know that they do not have to live in fear and anxiety, but that God has given them the authority and ability to form their children well, even in a morally chaotic culture. Trent had much the same idea, and as Providence would have it, our timing and our unique areas of expertise here really dovetailed nicely!

Trent Horn: I had received several requests to write a book like this and, while I’ve studied these moral issues for over a decade and even debated them on college campuses, I have very little experience imparting them as a parent (my children are all under four years old). I approached Leila and asked if she would bring her experience as a mother of eight and prolific Catholic blogger to the book, and I’m thrilled with the book we’ve created from this partnership.

CWR: What is the natural law?  What are some misconceptions people have about the natural law?

Miller: Natural law is another term for the universal moral law, which we can ascertain with the use of human reason alone. For example, we humans can understand, from the light of human reason alone, that rape is wrong. That targeting and killing innocent people is wrong. Even that cutting in line is wrong (hey, there is not one person who does not instinctively feel there has been an injustice if someone cuts in line in front of us!). Because the term “natural law” can be confusing, folks tend to dismiss it. They believe that natural law means “laws of nature” or “what feels natural to me” or “what happens in nature” (such as with animals acting instinctively). All these things are not what we are talking about when we speak of natural law truths. Natural law asks, “What is the nature of a thing?” “How do we use a thing according to its nature?” The beauty is that when we use a thing according to its nature, there is flourishing. When we use a thing against its nature, there is no flourishing and often disastrous results.

Horn: Natural law is how rational creatures, or creatures like us who have the use of reason, participate in the eternal law or God’s plan for creation. We understand not only the way things are but the way they should be. We can look at the world, including our very bodies, and see God’s design reflected in it and act in accord with principles of reason to seek the good and avoid evil.

CWR: Why do you think the natural law is useful in explaining truths to children and teens? Why not just refer to the Bible and the Catechism?

Miller: It’s important for all Christian children to know their Bible and their Catechism. But today’s culture won’t allow us to stop there. Unfortunately, our kids will get eaten up and spat out if they only have reference to arguments from Scripture and the Catechism. They live in a world that does not care one whit about religious arguments, and so when they face the outside world of secular “progressives”—who will be very aggressively vying for their hearts and minds—they will not have reasoned responses. So, we must equip them with them. Even St. Paul said that the pagans have an understanding of the moral law that is written on their hearts. In this culture, at this time, when we are post-Christian and practically back to pagan understandings, we need to be able to appeal to reason and natural law in addition to Scripture verses and the Catechism.

Horn: Natural law is useful because some people distrust the authority of the Catechism and the Bible. If we can show them that Catholic teaching is simply the most reasonable thing to believe, then they will be more willing to follow it and not merely see it as an arbitrary series of rules.

CWR: The book is about natural law, but information from the Bible and Catechism is often woven into the answers. Why is that?

Miller: Because it’s all different parts of the same truth. God made all things and is the author of all truth, and so the truths of the moral law, the universal pull of conscience, the truth of how we were made, our human nature, and the truths of the Bible and the Catechism (Church doctrine and revelation) are all perfectly in harmony. We know our Faith through reason and through revelation. We can speak to other Christians through use of Scripture and the Catechism (and better inform our own faith), but we must also be able to engage the culture through its “non-religious” terms, at the level of reason and common sense and human nature.

Horn: Because of sin, human beings can have a hard time grasping natural law truths about morality. We are very good at rationalizing away rules that we find to be inconvenient. That’s why it can be helpful to point to an explicit command from God given to us through his Church in order to have certainty about the content of the moral law. For example, people might argue about whether marriage by its nature is life-long, but you either believe Jesus when he said, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her” (Mark 10:11) or you don’t.

CWR: Which topic was the most personally difficult or challenging one to write about?

Miller: I think the chapter on modesty was the most challenging, since even faithful Catholics do not like to talk about it and seem to get a little embarrassed by it. It seems so “uncool” to talk about modesty. We have to remember that modesty is actually a virtue, and we cannot jettison a whole virtue, or ignore it as if it doesn’t exist! We already know that the culture has decided to do that very thing with the virtue of chastity, but Christians should know better than to do that with any virtue. Modesty is the facilitator of chastity in so many ways, so we must embrace the former if we really want the latter! I think we tackled the subject with sensitivity, addressing modern concerns and sensibilities, and I hope that especially young women readers will come away from it with a new understanding of its importance and not immediately recoil at the suggestion that women (and men!) practice the virtue of modesty.

Horn: Modesty! Even faithful Catholics can become very defensive when people criticize their understanding of what particular styles of dress are and aren’t modest. That’s why we kept those chapters focused on general principles about why modesty matters, instead listing something like a “dress code.”

CWR: What are the years of innocence and what must we do to protect them?

Miller: The years of innocence, also called the “latency period,” are the years between about age 5 and puberty. These are the years when the instruction on human sexuality should be indirect and never explicit. Children have a right to their sexual innocence and we as parents, and all adults, are charged with protecting that innocence. It used to be a lot easier to protect a small child’s innocence, because the culture used to back up what the parents were doing, and there was no disagreement about the wrongness of sexualizing small children, much less introducing them to deviant or perverse sexual practices or beliefs. Today, all bets are off, and parents have a harder time providing that protection. Nevertheless, the effort must be made to preserve a child’s innocence during the young years. If that means limited screens, no smartphones, and switching schooling options, then so be it. We are accountable before God for protecting our children’s innocence the very best we can.

Horn: The best thing you can do to protect your children is to surround them with peers and families who also share your values about preserving a child’s innocence. Unfortunately, in our sinful world innocence comes in scarce supply so when your child sees something upsetting or sinful you should remain calm and tell them about how sad it is when people don’t choose to follow God’s plan in life and why we should pray for them so they can find true happiness in Him.

CWR: What do you think the biggest mistake parents make when it comes to imparting information on these topics?

Miller: The biggest mistake, in my opinion, is lack of confidence. Many parents are terrified of talking to their children about sexual issues, and some of that stems from the fact that they themselves are poorly catechized, and they feel they are ill-equipped to form kids. But honestly, God knew what he was doing when he made us the parents of our own children! He has confidence in our abilities, and he will give us the grace we need to accomplish his will in the education and formation of our children. So, be confident. If you have to pretend to be calm when your child comes to you with a tough question, that’s okay. Be an actor! Learn to have a calm face, a friendly demeanor, even if you are dying inside. We want our children to come to us, and the first time we react with disgust, anger, shame, or horror—or if we just brush them off—they will not likely come to us the next time, and they will look for answers from their peers or the Internet. We don’t want that!

Horn: Probably freaking out and shutting down the discussion. This communicates to the child that you aren’t really confident in what you believe and so they should seek advice on the subject elsewhere. Instead, as the Vatican’s Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality tells us, “In a positive and prudent way, parents will carry out what the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council requested: ‘It is important to give suitable and timely instruction to young people, above all in the heart of their own families, about the dignity of married love, its role and its exercise; in this way they will be able to engage in honorable courtship and enter upon marriage of their own’” (94).

CWR: What if a parent feels he or she may have already “blown it”? Is there hope?

Miller: There is always hope! Every day, every moment, we start anew. All of us have the experience of “blowing it” with our children, which is why we humbly accept God’s mercy, and we pray that he would be the bridge between the love our kids need and the love we give them. Be parents of good will, prayer, and courage, from now on. And remember that God is pleased to honor our imperfect efforts. Please remember that we are not ever helpless! Scripture says that the prayers of the righteous avail much (James 5:16), so let us become holy ourselves and our prayers for our children will become more efficacious! The prayers of the saints are powerful. Become a saint! And remember to ask St. Monica for her intercession. She gets it!

Horn: With God nothing is impossible (Luke 1:37)! God chose us to be parents not because we’re perfect, but because we are capable of letting his grace perfect us as long as we say yes to it. Even if our children are far from the faith we should still pray for them just as St. Monica prayed for her wayward son who is now known as St. Augustine (in fact, Made This Way is dedicated to St. Monica). We should open up the channels of communication and have gracious dialogues that, slowly but surely, lead them back to the faith.

CWR: What area or areas do you think kids are receiving the most misinformation about the moral issues? School? TV? Social media? Family? Something else? What can be done?

Miller: All of the above! There simply is no teaching on the natural law anymore. It’s a shocking omission, considering that natural law principles were used and understood by our Founding Fathers, and even Martin Luther King, Jr. explicitly referenced the natural law in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” explaining why segregation laws were unjust, illegitimate laws. Just a few decades later, we have completely wiped out that part of our patrimony and understanding. The only antidote is to begin to teach our own children, to reclaim that for ourselves and our families, and hopefully see a resurgence of it, as folks begin to use their reason and see the world as making sense again. A natural law understanding God’s created order is the very thing we need in this chaotic world of moral relativism, bringing us back to clarity—and virtue—on so many things!

Horn: If I had to put money on it, I’d say social media. Young people (well, everyone) are addicted to the Internet and this isolates them from parents and others who have their best interests at heart. Instead, they can become stuck in an “echo-chamber” with peers, celebrities, and social media influencers who reinforce the mistaken values they have adopted from a culture that rejects objective truth in favor of “your truth” and other forms of relativism. However, if we show these kids that what we believe is true, good, and beautiful, and that it doesn’t suffer from the absurd incoherencies of our culture’s view of these important moral issues, we can provide a firm foundation for their lives that they will look back on with gratitude and respect towards us as parents.


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About Leslie Fain 21 Articles
Leslie Fain is a freelance writer who lives in Louisiana with her husband and three sons. You can follow her on Twitter here.

2 Comments

  1. Raising our children at times seem beyond human strength. The enormous effort by the mother is daunting. She beard the children, nurses them guides them and holds on with both hands from there for a perilous ride. And, that is with only one child. Just imagine eight or thirteen which my Irish grandmother had to face with full encouragement of the Catholic Church. I firmly agree that the trauma experienced by a mother having so many children should be a sin. The old adage by the clerics of “God will provide” no longer holds sway with more that 8 billion inhabitants seeking the blood of life. I often ask “how many people can mother earth provide for”? No one seems to know. I asked further “can we over populate the earth”? I ask even further “is there a tipping point when the earth can no longer provide for us”? No one replied. Well then go back to sleep and I will waken you when it is time to leave.

    God bless this finite planet.

    • That’s sort of an out-of-left field comment. Having a big family is not and has never been a sin. Perhaps you are not Catholic and so are speaking of your own subjective opinion? And no, the world is not overpopulated. You might want to check pop.org for demographics and facts on this. God bless!

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