Catholic confirmation – what makes a rite of passage meaningful?

Recently I had the good fortune to be invited to the confirmation ceremony of a friend of my eldest.  Although I’ve been invited to all manner of coming of age ceremonies (people know that it’s my thing!) I’d not been to a Catholic confirmation before.

After the stage had been set: a beautiful building, special clothing, candles, incense, and chanting, each adolescent was called by name to stand in a semi-circle at the front.  They were then asked a series of serious questions relating to their faith.

As babies at baptism key adults in these children’s lives undertook to answer these questions on their behalf; now in their teens, these young people were taking over this responsibility for themselves.

This was no small thing.

Over several months they would have met together with elders of their church to learn more about their faith and what it would actually mean to say “I do” to the questions at their confirmation.  In these times when the majority of teens are not actively practicing any religion, the need to truly search for meaning in their faith would have been very real.

After being called forward by name, and agreeing to take on the adult mantle of their faith, each child was brought to the Bishop, one by one, to be anointed and to take a new name of their own choosing.  With tears in my eyes, I watched as each child stepped up to the Bishop with their sponsor at their side.  Their sponsor, often a parent, stood behind them, with a hand on their shoulder, as the bishop touched their forehead with consecrated oil and spoke the words of confirmation.  I could feel the power of tradition as the same actions, the same words, the same ceremony was repeated for each child as probably would have been done for their sponsor years before, and most of the adults in the congregation.  A choir sang in beautiful harmony in the background.

Although there was a steady stream of thirty or more children, the attention that each child received gave a sense of the importance of what was happening for each one.

I talked to our newly confirmed friend afterwards and he said, “At first I was sort of going along with it – but when it came to it, in the actual service, I had one of those moments that felt really peaceful… what being in touch with God feels like.  It confirmed why I’m Catholic.”

This is the power of ceremony:- this young person’s ability to take responsibility for some very important aspects of his life was acknowledged.  After a period of instruction and guidance from their elders, each child was asked to step forward to take up that responsibility. 


Adolescents strive to be seen and treated as young adults 

Many religions have continued to recognise the importance of taking their young adults through a process of initiation into adulthood.  Most young people are denied this however – as many families no longer have a religion to which they subscribe.   Unlike with baby namings, weddings and funerals, the secular community have lost this particular ceremony – the rite of passage marking a person’s coming of age.

This is to our communities’ detriment.  We miss the opportunity to positively influence our teens shaping into adults. Young people crave their maturation to be acknowledged and if the adults won’t do it, they’ll create it for themselves through mimicry of what they perceive to be ‘adult behaviour’ using dress, drinking, sexual activity, and risk-taking.

Research shows that teens have brains that are being reconfigured – and while they are reforming, they are maleable and vulnerable.  Young people benefit hugely from the guiding influence of honourable and caring adults.  Many teens have few others than their own parents (and sometimes not even them) to turn to during their times of challenge and change.  We abandon our teens to a long drawn-out adolescence if we don’t enable them to take over the reins and begin to adopt the attributes of a maturing grown-up.

What makes a rite of passage meaningful is that young people are taken to one side and time is invested in preparing them for adulthood.  They are challenged and tested and prove themselves to be ready to take a symbolic step towards young adulthood.  This step is witnessed and celebrated in the eyes of their community.  Young people feel that their maturation is acknowledged and many report a positive shift in their sense of themselves.

More parents are realising the power of providing their child with explicit support as they come of age.  This website is expressly designed to support parents in doing this.  The Journey on the right hand side of this page guides you through this process – with suggestions about how to deepen your relationship with your child, to stand you in good stead as they enter their teens.  Information on how to create your own rite of passage ceremony is also here.  Specific information is available for mother’s guiding girls through puberty.  Then the pieces that I write regularly are sparked by what girls say in my groups, or conversations with mothers, or your comments on this website.

I really appreciate your comments and contributions.

Posted on 31 January 2014
Musings: Coming of age, Rites of passage
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‘Woman to woman’ – what are we all talking about?

– Sexism rating for films:
At least two named women characters must talk to each other about something other than men for a film to receive the highest rating for gender equality in Sweden.

That doesn’t seem like much of a requirement – two women chatting (but not about men) somewhere within a story lasting ninety minutes or more – and yet a whole bunch of films fail: the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy, all Star Wars movies, The Social Network, Pulp Fiction and all but one of the Harry Potter movies.



The women we see on our screens have a huge impact on us – it creates expectations for how women look, and behave, and the part that women play in life.  It would be great if our culture reflected who we are, but it doesn’t.  I don’t want my daughter to feel she has to be toned and gorgeous, a bit part to any man on the scene, or absent when there is any action.


Readers have asked me to collate a list of good books and films that provide inspiring role models for our growing girls.  Mothers in my current Girls Journeying Together group are compiling their suggestions, see comments below.

I welcome your suggestions for this list, saying why you like the book or film and what age you feel it would be suitable for – so we can co-create a resource for everyone.


Photo: 123RF by allegretto and Sasin Tipchai
Posted on 14 December 2013
Musings: Parenting girls
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Films are a great way of raising issues

You want to inspire your daughter to be all that she can be, films can be a great catalyst.
You want to communicate something, find a film and use that as a springboard for talking.
When you can’t get a teen to talk – this can be a way in.

Here is a list of some of the films that you may like to check out with your daughter.  Please add to my brief descriptions, re-write them, comment, disagree, and add your suggestions:

Brave (U) – a girl and her mother don’t see eye to eye and a huge battle of wills ensues.  To save the day, and the kingdom, they have to learn what is meant by: “Fate be changed, look inside, mend the bond torn by pride”  Mother and daughter come to see each other’s point of view and realise that they’re on the same side.

Beauty and the Beast (G) – a story of transformation with Belle, a strong character, and the Beast whose inner transformation precedes his outer one.

Little Women (U) – a mother gives her four daughters the strength and permission to be themselves – to be active, physical, audacious, and individual – in 1860s America when girls were expected to be sedate and only to aspire for matrimony.  Dare to follow your heart in love, and your passions in work.

Anne of Green Gables (NR)- a story of 13 year old orphan, brimming with simple truths about love, friendship, and family.

National Velvet (G) – inspiring horse story with mighty heroine, Velvet Brown, a thin, sickly 14-year-old who beats the odds to become an internationally regarded horsewoman.

Mary Poppins (G) world’s coolest nanny celebrates family and fun.

My Fair Lady (G) explores what makes a lady, class and and accent or what’s inside.

Calamity Jane (G) based on true life of an American frontierswoman who gained fame for fighting Indians and her kindness to the sick and needy.

The Miracle Worker (NR) is the true story about the woman who taught Helen Keller to speak; two great women.

Rabbit Proof Fence (PG) a journey of epic fortitude made by three girls walking 1,500 miles with no food or water across Australia, based on a true story.

Hairspray (PG) a girl follows her dreams, despite not conforming to normal ideals, and ends up tackling racial integration.

Freaky Friday (PG) – a high-strung mom and her punky daughter learn what it’s like to walk in each other’s shoes.

Chocolat (PG) exploring the difference between being good and being pious.  A single mother takes on a village with intuition and chocolate as her weapons.

Sliding doors (PG) about the choices we make.

Miss Potter (PG) true story of a Victorian woman who got published rather than married.

Secret Life of Bees (PG) teen girl finds solace and herself when taken in by an odd bunch of bee-keeping women.

Bend it Like Beckham (PG) teen girl discovers the joys of football and stands up for her right to play.

Little Women (PG) four girl’s journeys into womanhood.

Whale Rider (PG) a Maori tribe is seeking their new leader, blind to the natural leadership ability and adventurous spirit of a girl who defies cultural norms in expression of her self.

Juno (PG) coming of age drama about a pregnant teenage girl

Spirited Away (PG) animated Japanese tale of loss and adventure.  Sullen 10 year old girl must overcome her whiny self in order to enter the spirit world and save her parents.

Terms of Endearment (PG) the story of a relationship between mother and daughter, a real tear-jerker.

Hoodwinked (PG) modern telling of Little Red Riding Hood.

Matilda (PG) youthful independence and personal identity.

Steel Magnolias (PG) with a compelling friendship theme, as a group of women begin to depend on friends’ support through their life crises.

Believe in Me (PG) a fact-based tale about a 1960s-era girl’s basketball coach who inspired his athletes to believe in themselves and always strive to reach their greatest potential.

Girl Rising (PG-13) is a documentary about the lives of impoverished girls living in countries where education for girls isn’t a priority.

Freedom Writers (PG -13) a true story about a young teacher making a difference working with challenging teens.

Titanic (PG-13) retelling of the historic event of the sinking of the Titanic, with a strong central female character.

First Wives Club (PG) Initially about revenge but ends with women learning to empower themselves without men.

Stepmom (PG – 13) focussing on the challenging issues of death and divorce.

Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood (PG – 13) friendship, mother-daughter reconciliation, lessons learned.

Mean Girls (PG – 13) Queen Bees and Wannabes, life at high school.

Julie & Julia (PG – 13) two strong female protagonists grapple with their identity

The Color Purple (PG – 13) the life and trials of a young African American woman.

The Help (PG – 13) friendship, sisterhood, daring, standing up for yourself.

As Good As It Gets (PG – 13) an odyssey of self-realization for three characters, with Helen Hunt in a very strong female role.

In Her Shoes (PG – 13) two sisters, bonding, betrayal, discovery, reconciliation.

Not Without My Daughter (PG – 13)  based on true events, a mid-’80s Michigan housewife finds her life turned upside down when a vacation to Tehran with her Iranian husband turns into virtual imprisonment for her and her young daughter.

Riding in Cars with Boys (PG – 13) young woman who finds her life radically altered by an event from her teen years; teen pregnancy.

Coco Before Chanel (PG – 13) historical biopic about Coco Chanel, an incredibly strong woman, a pioneer in many ways.

Élisa (15) shows that parents are flawed, that girls can be wild, and the world’s often a mess. Not cozy viewing but Paradis’s character’s humanity, warmth, and flaws are oddly inspiring.

Made In Dagenham (R) – based on true events, how women in 1960s Britain brought in the Equal Pay Act.  Ordinary women following their principles find they have courage and strength they never knew, and change the world.

I Capture the Castle (R)  17-year-old begins to blossom into womanhood as she experiences aspects of life that were heretofore unknown to her, alongside her eccentric family struggling to survive in a decaying English castle.

Amelie (R) a woman decides to change the world by changing the lives of the people she knows.

Erin Brockovich (R) the true story of a single mother of three who helped win the largest settlement ever paid in a direct-action lawsuit.

The Lady (R) story of Aung San Suu Kyi and her peaceful quest at the core of Burma’s democracy movement.

Shirley Valentine (R) begins to see the world, and herself, in a different light when her best friend wins an all-expenses-paid vacation to Greece for two.


There are so many more.  Tell me what I’ve missed.

Posted on 12 December 2013
Musings: Parenting teenagers, Parenting girls
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