Marriage prep begins in childhood

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My next-door neighbor, Karla, recently posted this conversation with her 7-year-old daughter, Ainsley, on social media:

Ainsley: Dad is really nice to you.

Karla: Yeah, that’s what’s supposed to happen, husbands are supposed to take good care of their wives. 

Ainsley: Some husbands don’t.

Karla: Don’t marry that guy.

Ainsley: How do you know what kind of guy he is?

Karla: Spend a lot of time with him, then have him spend time with your family and friends and see what they say about him, and listen.

Karla ended her post on a triumphant note: “SEEDS PLANTED, BABY!”

Exactly. Karla’s conversation with her daughter Ainsley shows that preparing for marriage doesn’t just begin in the few months before the wedding. Marriage preparation begins in childhood.

It begins years before a bride-to-be approaches the parish office with her fiancé to fill out paperwork, meet with the priest, get a date for their wedding, and go through a marriage prep course or retreat.

When she was a little girl growing up in her family, watching how her mom and dad interacted, the future bride experienced the love, the chores and the give-and-take of family life. That was part of her marriage prep. Years before her fiancé met her, when he first asked a girl out on a date, when he developed his ideas of how men should relate to women, when he formed a brotherhood among his scouting troop, his marriage prep process was underway. The stories they each read or watched on screens and the dramas that played out in their social circles — these all affected their formation, too.

The Catholic Church distinguishes three separate periods of marriage preparation: remote, proximate and immediate. Proximate and immediate preparation have to do with being engaged, going through a marriage prep program, and planning the wedding. Remote preparation is everything else, from conception up until engagement.

Here is how the Pontifical Council for the Family describes it in a 1996 document creatively titled “Preparation for the Sacrament of Marriage”:

Remote preparation includes infancy, childhood and adolescence and takes place first of all in the family and also in the school and formation groups. This is the period in which respect for all authentic human values both in interpersonal and social relations is transmitted and instilled, with all this implies for the formation of character, self-control and self-esteem, the proper use of one’s inclinations, and respect for persons of the other sex. Moreover, especially for Christians, a solid spiritual and catechetical formation is also required.

This is the time for learning that the human person is “called to live in truth and love,” and that “everyone finds fulfillment through the sincere gift of self.” It’s a time for learning values such as giving, sacrifice, renunciation and self-control. It’s a time for learning moral behavior and developing the ability to critically evaluate the values of the surrounding culture.

The church affirms that “the example of parents, which becomes a real witness for those who will marry in the future, provides stimulus, support and consistency to this kind of Christian lifestyle.”

Ainsley clearly saw the witness of her sincere, loving Christian parents. The church calls the “Christian lifestyle” and “witness of Christian families,” who form the domestic church, a true “form of evangelization and the very foundation of remote preparation.” The parish and its catechists also have an important role to play in passing on Christian values to the next generation of brides and grooms.

For parents looking for resources to help with this important mission, here are two to start with:

Because none of us want our daughters to marry “that guy.”

Northwest Catholic - June 2018

Sarah Bartel

Sarah Bartel, a member of St. Andrew Parish in Sumner, holds a doctorate in moral theology and ethics from The Catholic University of America, where she specialized in marriage, family, sexual ethics and bioethics. Her website is