A Story of a Messy Family

Ryan was livid as he put his tools away in the garage. He was doing this in part to calm down, and in part to delay having to go back and face his wife. Ashamed that he had lost his cool again, he felt he just could not take it anymore. He was spent emotionally from the recent conflict and physically exhausted from a long day of work. He couldn’t believe how she undercut and criticized him in front of their children. He felt all alone in wanting to raise their kids with respect and obedience. When he finally came back inside, he didn’t notice the silent tears of his wife.

Nicole didn’t know what else to do when he came into the house so she said nothing. This division between them had been growing, and once again, he had lost his temper at the kids and then at her. She didn’t feel like she had a choice, but was compelled to make sure her children were not yelled at anymore. She was afraid when he shouted. She would not consider divorce, but their marriage was hanging by a thread. And she felt alone and didn’t know who to talk to.

Many couples feel like Ryan and Nicole but they don’t have anyone to turn to. They don’t want to air their dirty laundry to friends or family, yet both of them are frustrated, feeling as if there is no way out. They are committed to their marriage, but realize that constantly “whiteknuckling it” is not a strategy for a thriving marriage. Unfortunately, they are not the only ones effected by these difficulties.

What Ryan and Nicole didn’t fully understand was that their children were in the crosshairs. The home that was supposed to be a safe haven was becoming a place of stress and division.

Their ten-year old son could not articulate why he didn’t feel safe or welcomed when mom and dad were like this. Ryan and Nicole did their best to not fight in front of their three kids, but the kids felt the “cold war” and the tension. The oldest child would escape to his room to play a video game and chat with his friends. But inside he was crying and didn’t know why. He slowly stopped believing that his parents loved each other and sometimes wondered if he was the reason. He was the one that dad was yelling at for 2 forgetting to take out the trash. This son didn’t know what he was feeling—guilt or something worse—but he couldn’t deal with it, so he just tuned it out.

His younger sister, eight years old, didn’t know what was wrong but knew something was off. Once she saw mommy crying and tried to hug her, but when mom tried to hide the tears, the little girl felt pushed aside and lost. Her mom was not aware of the storm brewing in her little girl’s heart.

And the toddler was just a ball of energy, oblivious to anything else going on. But when mom was sad, he became crabby and demanded more attention than usual, adding to the stress and noise in the home.

This family may have looked from the outside like things were fine—perhaps some even considered them a model family. They went to church on Sunday, they prayed at home, mom helped out at their school, dad occasionally went to a men’s group, and they seemed like a happy family. But beneath the surface, this family was headed for a dangerous cliff.

This is why we want to invest more deeply in expanding our efforts at reaching new families—because it has never been more difficult to keep a marriage alive, form a family, and raise kids in the Faith than it is now.

Couples like Ryan and Nicole know that what they are doing isn’t working but they can’t see a way out. They are lost, embarrassed, and isolated. They don’t know where to start or how to begin to live the way they had always dreamed. They lack examples or mentors around them to show them the way. The beautiful plan that the Church lays out for these couples feels out of reach and unattainable.

Ryan started praying for a solution and a way out of the mess he was in. He began to get desperate as he began seeing everything his wife did as an attack or undermining him. His inability to control his anger almost always left him feeling ashamed and guilty. It became more of a downward spiral for him. But he also wanted to convince his wife that he was right in parenting the kids. Nicole, for her part, hadn’t given up yet either. She didn’t go into details but shared with a friend from the parish that they were having some problems. Her friend not only offered empathy, but she texted Nicole a Catholic parenting podcast to listen to. This was an answer to Nicole’s prayer and longing for hope. As she listened to one episode, she sensed that her marriage was not over, and all was not lost. She couldn’t remember what exactly was said, but she remembers crying because she knew that her marriage was a gift and a treasure, even though she didn’t feel that way at the moment.

This was the first turning point.

We hear over and over and over again from spouses like Nicole: people are looking for hope that the problems they are experiencing are not unsolvable, that their situation is not irrevocable, and that people, including themselves, can change for the better.

We see our role as being guides to help parents navigate the storms of family life. There is no more vital work in the world than investing in husbands and wives, moms and dads, parents and children. We were privileged to be able to play a part in the life of this family.

By the end of the week Nicole had listened to four more episodes and had a plan in mind, or at least a beginning of what she could do. Without feeling condemned, she realized for the first time how she was hurting her husband. She saw with new eyes the sacrifices he was making, the ways he was trying to form their children, but she saw how her criticism of him was tearing him down, and how this was impacting the children. She didn’t like how much he yelled, but she knew she wanted to focus on examining her own actions and what she could do.

Nicole started small by complimenting Ryan regularly, thanking him for his work and his help with the kids or chores. She bit her tongue—or tried to—when she was about to passive-aggressively slam him for a chore that was not done the way she wanted. She tried, really tried. And Ryan began to notice.

Ryan had not listened to any podcast episodes, but he began going to his men’s group more often. There, he listened as one of the men shared about his issue with anger and how he finally gained greater self-control. Ryan was convinced that his own anger problem needed to change but knew he couldn’t do it alone. His heart had begun to soften toward his wife again. And so he did the riskiest thing he had ever done: he went to his wife and asked for her help and apologized for yelling all the time.

Ryan and Nicole wept together. They embraced and forgave each other. Ryan began to listen to the same podcast as Nicole and he found insights into both his problem with anger and even more into how important his marriage was to his wife and his children. Ryan made a decision and from that point on, they began going on regular date nights.

This is not the end of Ryan and Nicole’s story, just the beginning. Although the names and some of the details have been changed, Ryan and Nicole are real people who shared with us how the mission of the Messy Family Project helped save their marriage.

Five years ago, I left my job and left the regular paycheck behind for a calling and a mission to strengthen families. It was clear to us that we must do this, but we were not very clear on how this was all going to unfold. Over the last five years we have heard from hundreds and even thousands like Ryan and Nicole. We have heard stories about marriages, breakthroughs in parentings, dads and moms returning to the Faith. We are amazed and humbled to play a role in the life of so many families.

It all began with the podcast, which now reaches upwards of 50,000 listeners from all walks of life. It continues in our courses, events, and downloads of free resources which comprise a reach of ten thousand families.

This past year we have launched into video podcasting and are slowly rolling out shareable bitesized clips to reach others with our message. But despite the big numbers, our focus remains on individual families, individual couples like Ryan and Nicole. Knowing that we have helped even one of those couples makes it all worth it.

This is because we firmly believe the family is the key to all the works of the Church and the key to the renewal of society.

God’s plan always comes down to souls, and souls are formed in families. Ryan and Nicole’s children are benefitting because of their parents’ rekindled marriage. Now when Ryan and Nicole speak about Christ and His Church, their witness to their children is strengthened because their children see their love for each other. The entire trajectory of this family has been changed. And we wouldn’t have been able to reach this family without donors like you!

Here’s what people like you have enabled us to accomplish:

This past year, they helped launch us into the video world, and allowed us to expand into a whole new market. We were also able to revamp our digital platform to make our resources easier to find and easier to share. And we improved and expanded our new parish parenting course, Messy Family University, which hundreds of couples around the country have attended.

But there’s more in the works!

  • Right now, we are beta-testing a new community-building parent formation program, Pizza and Parenting, and will launch it in 2024.
  • We have laid the groundwork to make our popular courses such as Women Wonderfully Made and the Family Board Meeting video-on-demand so that parents no longer need to wait for months to take a course on how to shepherd their children through adolescence or make a financial plan together.
  • And we continue to do new podcasts, now offering each one on video as well. This is due to the support of our donors, who have encouraged and supported us from our beginnings five years ago.

We have been serving families full time for five years! This was only possible because a few donors decided to make a difference by giving to the mission of the family. We are able to reach tens of thousands because a team of people just like you made a donation to support families. Will you join our team?

Would you consider becoming a monthly patron for $25 per month or giving a one-time gift of $250?

Regular support like this will give us a firm foundation for growth. You can help us reach more couples like Ryan and Nicole to give them the ongoing resources they will continue to need.

Ryan and Nicole have weathered a big storm and are now on the right path. They both honestly feel the weight has been lifted from the shoulders and they have told us they know their unity is growing stronger.

But below the surface there are other issues unresolved, and around the corner are many more challenges. Nicole now wants to have more children, and Ryan is unsure because he is not sure they have what it takes to parent the three children they have. He is concerned that their oldest son is drifting off and not connecting with the family or the faith like he used to. They have begun to work as a team, but Ryan is wondering where they are going and what’s the plan.

Their story continues and they need someone to walk with them through the coming seasons and storms of their family life.

With your support, the Messy Family Project will be ready to help.

For the sake of Ryan, Nicole, their children, and the legacy they will leave, we’re asking you to invest in the families we have the honor and privilege of serving. Right now, there is no other ministry like ours stepping in to be a voice of encouragement and providing needed resources to help these families.

The Messy Family Project is uniquely positioned to be a light in a very dark world for many people who feel alone. We are so grateful that God has used us to reach these couples, but we want to do more. Help us continue to do the work God has led us to do.

Once again, we are so grateful you are a part of our mission. We pray you are able to join the team of supporters that allow us to be there for parents. What is the most generous gift you are able to give to help us serve families? Thank you for considering making your gift today.


Mike & Alicia Hernon 

Without you partnering with us, who will speak to couples like Ryan and Nicole?

Help us continue to reach new families. 

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