Family for Life

"Daddy, I'm pregnant."

My unmarried daughter's announcement last February forever changed our family. No longer could "unplanned pregnancies" or "single mothers" be spoken of in abstract terms, as things that only happen in other families.

This was a flesh-and-blood reality that challenged us to renew our commitment to Christ and to our beloved firstborn daughter.

The early weeks of 2006 had some remarkable twists. On New Year's Day, hours before heading to Boston for my annual Ignatian retreat, my wife Maureen gave me the surprising yet wonderful news that she was pregnant. In February we learned that she was carrying twins, but the joy tuned to sadness as one died in utero, then the other. While Maureen was still recovering from her seventh and eighth miscarriages, we learned that we were to become grandparents for the first time. Over the course of the next several months, we had our ups and downs, but we've come to see in a more profound way God's providential love for our family.

Life Choices

Like all Catholic parents, we strive to provide all our children with a solid formation in the Christian faith. While parents might disagree on the exact amount of "sheltering" that needs to take place, clearly during our children's formative years it's crucial to maintain some control over their environment and activities. Yet when our children become adults in their own right, we can't exercise the same type of control. We desire good things for our adult children, but we can't make decisions for them.

 Maureen jokingly says, "I hate free will" when our children make bad decisions. If it were only up to us, our children would always choose Christ and His Church, and they would always choose that which is morally good. Yet they are all on their own journey home to God, and we have to trust that the Lord in His time will lead them to repentance and conversion.

In this particular situation, we obviously could not undo the sins and bad choices our daughter had already made as an emancipated adult. Even more importantly, going forward we could not "control" the outcome, despite my conviction that "Father knows best" how to handle the situation. Maureen and I had to learn that what was needed was not control and coercion, but love, support, and wise guidance. Our daughter had to make her own difficult decisions, and that was scary.

Baby Matters

In the weeks following this "bombshell," my daughter was inclined to choose to place her child in an adoptive home. There is substantial irony in this, as Maureen and I have had several experiences of adoption as the adoptive parents.

I affirmed my daughter's inclination to go the adoption route. The totality of her circumstances, not to mention the absence of a father, seemed to point clearly in that direction. At her request, I began looking for a couple that might be open to an independent adoption.

As a matter of principle, I knew that adoption would be a good, loving decision. At the same time, what grandparent does not want to be part of their grandchild's life? I have frequently called upon grandparents in that situation to be generous in supporting adoption and not to lay undue pressure on the mother to keep their grandchild. The shoe was now on the other foot, and so now I had to walk the talk. I'm glad I did, but I learned to have more compassion and understanding for grandparents who don't want to "lose" their grandchildren.

As it turned out, however, our daughter really wanted to keep the child and be a full-time mother. She just couldn't see how it could all play out given her difficult circumstances. I continued to encourage adoption and lovingly set forth the harsh realities of single motherhood. Even more, we encouraged her in her spiritual and personal life to grow in faith and responsibility.

Over time, it became increasingly clear that her heart was set on keeping the child. We did our best to change gears and support this decision once it was firmly made. We invited her to move home rent-free so that she could be full-time, nursing Mom. She accepted.

Coming Home

Our daughter's moving home required quite an adjustment for everybody. After being on her own for several years, our 26-year-old had to deal not only with meddling parents, but also five younger siblings ranging in age from 14 to less than two, as well as her elderly grandmother. For our part, we had to get used to having an adult child in our midst, learning to balance parental concern with the desire to give her appropriate freedom and space.

Slowly but surely, our daughter blended back into our household. She grew accustomed to the rhythm of our daily life, from our more conventional hours to prayer time, family meals, and our busy homeschool day. I have commented in recent months that she has become, in some sense, more a part of our family than ever before. I'm very proud of her.

I realize that our society in general is too accepting of many evils that touch upon human sexuality and marriage and family life. All the same, as the pregnancy became more obvious to all the world, I was so grateful for the love and compassion showed us by the families in our parish and community. I don't recall hearing any judgmental or condemning remarks.

For myself, I remember a priest once saying that God's love, when focused on us sinners, shows itself as mercy. I want my daughter and all my family to come to a profound experience of God the Father's love for us. As a human father, I thought it was absolutely necessary to communicate to my daughter God's fatherly love and mercy. It surely wasn't the only thing, but it was the most important and God-like thing.

Similarly, I always want my family to see the Church as the Family of God, our true and lasting home. Even though we might stray, the Good Shepherd goes looking for us, and there's great rejoicing in heaven when He finds us and brings us back into the fold. If my family is truly to be a "domestic Church" or as Pope John Paul II called it, a "sanctuary of life," I felt it was imperative to extend an arm of assistance, welcome, and unconditional love to my daughter in her time of need.

New Arrival

Through the spring the entire family eagerly awaited the newest Suprenant.

Meanwhile, there was subtle yet real strengthening of family relationships.

Maureen became her labor coach and helped her get ready for childbirth and beyond.

Finally, on June 13th, the feast of St. Anthony, little Alexandra ("Alex") Marina Terese Suprenant was born. It didn't take much for this beautiful little child of God to steal her grandpa's heart.

Our daughter and Alex are a gift to the entire family. They share a room with my daughter Mary Kate, who loves being their "roommate." Alex has two doting uncles (Samuel, 5, and Raymond, 2) who consider themselves her bodyguards.

Meanwhile, our daughter continues to grow and mature as a full-time Mom. She has been a big help to her ailing grandmother, and she has become an indispensable part of our homeschooling operation, as she has been Samuel's kindergarten teacher this year. But beyond all that, her face looks happier than it has for many years.

My prayer and wish for my daughter is that she and Alex will continue to live with us. We want to encourage her ongoing growth as a woman of God and as a mother in our home until that day, God willing, our Lord calls her to the Sacrament of Marriage. Of course, all of that is her decision, not mine.

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  • Guest

    I was so touched by Leon Suprenant Jr.’s column, posted on Catholic Exchange today (Jan. 15) about coping with his daughter’s out-of-wedlock pregnancy. As president of Catholics United for the Faith, an excellent organization, he has shown that he and his family not only “talk the talk,” they definitely do “walk the talk.” Their family’s story of coping with what was an initially a crisis is also a clear illustration of God’s wonderful providence when we trust Him enough to obey Him in all circumstances. Thank you so much for sharing this; it is a really powerful pro-life testimony.

  • Guest

    I wish that the author had commented on whether his daughter had repented of her decision to engage in sex outside of marriage. I pray that she will soon be lead to a marriage vocation so that her baby will have a father. In the meantime, I’m glad that she has the support of her family in raising this baby, and I wish that single mothers without such support would more strongly consider placing their babies for adoption with loving couples who are unable to conceive.

  • Guest

    What a blessing your family is to each other Leon. I am so impressed by this story of faith, hope and love. It is obvious the Suprenants are a Godly family. Thank you for your witness.

  • Guest

    I felt moved to respond to this article, something I have never done before. I think it’s great how this “bombshell” taught Mr.Suprenant, Jr. to have a better understanding and to show more compassion towards grandparents who may never see their grandchild because of adoption. What’s even better is that through all of this their daughter can understand the true meaning of unconditional love. Something that we know is there but can’t fully understand until we become parents of our own or when we are on the receiving end of total love, understanding, and support when faced with the possibilty of disappointing a loved one.
    As for the comment about whether his daughter repented, well that’s between she and God. If your daughter becomes half the parent that you and your wife are-she’ll be awesome!

  • Guest

    This reminds me of a beautiful homily my great Priest gave a couple of months ago. He said that our first response to a pregnancy outside of marriage should be one of joy for the life of the child, not judgement of the mother or father. When an unwed mother comes to him to tell him that she is pregnant, he says “how wonderful!” The situation may not be what she had hoped for, but the unborn child belongs to God and is not a mistake. The announcement of a new life, a new eternal soul, deserves to be welcomed with joy! Of course the Priest leads the mother to healing her relationship with God through the Sacrament of Confession.

  • Guest

    Thank you for sharing this story Leon. I wonder if you might also comment some time on how you presented this situation to your younger children. As difficult as it is for parents, it seems that instilling a correct attitude into the children would also be a challenge. I think it would be much easier for children to continue loving their sister. The challenge would be also presenting the wrongness of what she did and that she is loved despite her mistakes, not because sexual relations outside of marriage is somehow ok now or not as seriously wrong as it was before.

  • Guest

    This is almost exactly my situation. I was 26, unwed, and pregnant, but thank God for my very Catholic parents who could not have been more loving. I learned so much about compassion and love from the people closest to God who I thought maybe would have been the first to look down on me. Don’t get me wrong, it has been a sometimes rough road, but in the end it is my beautiful daughter and I — and God — against the world. I am 35 now, and my desire to be closer to Jesus has never been stronger and I am heading to a Pro-life dinner in my area Thursday! Mr. Suprenant, thank you for this article and for reminding me of how with faith in God and with a parent’s love, the bittersweet can turn out tasting really sweet! Susan Loisel

  • Guest

    In response to jbelferi’s concern. It is possible to give help to someone in trouble while acknowledging that they did something wrong. It is even possible to know that the baby is good while still pointing out that what was done was wrong.

    I was conceived out of wedlock (my parents choose to get married). This is part of a letter my father wrote to me on a family retreat.

    “You were a very special gift to a pair of wayward young people, hardly older than you are now [I had just turned 20]. A gift not planned for but much better than anything we could have planned for ourselves.
    I don’t know if you were our salvation …. but you certainly woke me up from a situation that had a lot of potential for pain and heartbreak. Decisions I couldn’t seen to make before became blindingly obvious. It was like coming fully awke out of a half dream. In other words I smartened up and married your mother! Quick!”

  • Guest

    This situation has/is happening to our family right now with my 26 yo daughter and my granddaughter. This was a tremendous struggle in faith, because we were/are a churchgoing family and even homeschooled our children but as Leon has pointed out it is a humbling experience and helps us to realize that God has everything under control and we have to exercise our faith. Also our daughter is an adult and we can only support and suggest, not order and control. However we had a great example of friends of ours whose oldest daughter also ended up pregnant and how they handled their situation with faith in God. Jeff

  • Guest

    Wow, what a story. I agree with all of the comments so far. I too laud the Suprenant family, and Leon’s increased sympathy for the grandparents in the situation.

    Let’s also pray for the child, who, although in a loving and supportive family, will eventually know that the circumstances surrounding her birth were out of order and who will apparently grow up without her father. Her father did not choose her and that hurts.

    Forgive me for being curious, but I noticed how in Mr. Suprenant’s expression of how he wanted his family to live the profound power of God’s divine mercy and forgiveness he did not mention the importance of sacramental confession. I hope his daughter received the sacrament of penance and, if not, I pray she does so soon.

    God bless the Suprenant family and all those faced with having to “walk the talk.”

    “Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.” ~St. Francis of Assisi

  • Guest

    Leo talks about how important it is to understand each person’s difficulty from the perspective that person has. I was touched by depth of the suffering he must have went through, to accept the free will of his daughter, and at the same time, the joy as he watched her grow in her faith and become so much more human.

    I have a similar story, from a perspective that seems to be much less frequently shared. When the girl I was seeing – and I never did feel comfortable calling her a girlfriend. It was a strange and twisted relationship, even if we both professed to be good Catholics – you guessed it, she announced to me that she was expecting, it woke me up. It didn’t cure me of affection to sin, but it did slowly heal me and make my faith more real.

    In it all, I think the hardest part though, was that a man has almost no say. Wanting nothing to do with the child’s mother – and perhaps there, I still need to learn to forgive – has led to a total estrangement from the child. I recognize a lot of anger and bitterness on both sides, and I ask the kind readers for your prayers that these relationships can be healed.

  • Guest

    Leon and Maureen-
    Do you see the beauty that she struggled between adoption and being a single Mom? Those were her “choices”. What a beautiful young woman she must be. We can share this story and afterwards realize she never even considered any other “choice”. Praise God for all of you. Jim Martorana La Salle Class of 65.

  • Guest

    The first words of the article are, perhaps, the most moving: “Daddy, I’m pregnant.” I have read that it is usually to a peer or sometimes to a school counselor that an unmarried young pregnant woman turns, especially when the father of the child disappears. It is rarely the parents. And yet here, the young woman turned to her parents, if not necessarily first (the article is not clear on that point), then certainly in time.

    St. Luke writes of the prodigal son that “coming to his senses he thought, ‘… I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you”’” (NAB Luke 15:17-18)

    There is so much meaning in those words, not least of which is that the sinful son did eventually come to his senses and return to his father. Up until this point in the parable, we really know very little about the father. If we had never heard the story before, we might suppose (as perhaps “tax collectors and sinners” did, Luke 15:1) that Jesus was talking about God the Father. If we were unsure about Jesus’s divinity (as many of those initial listeners perhaps were), we might think that Jesus was relating a tale of a close friend of his – or even relating his own experience as many teachers of the day very likely told of their own errors and returns to the grace of God (those teachers were, after all, teaching from the Old Testament, which is nothing if not a story of God’s love, man’s sin, and man’s return to God’s love). I am not saying that such a perspective is the right one, but we could assume that perspective in order to understand that until the son chooses to return to his father, we don’t know anything about the father except that he gave his son’s inheritance to him early. We might even be tempted to believe that this particular father was somewhat naïve, if not outright stupid (especially if we had not yet equated this father with God the Father).

    But when the son chooses to return, we gain some further insight into this father: he is a man who the son believes could receive him despite the son’s own many sins.

    Reconciliation happens on many levels. Though it is true that only in the Sacrament may serious sin be forgiven, it is often the case that godly men and women hear of a sinner’s evils long before a priest ever has the opportunity to hear the cry of the repentant soul in the confessional. If our children trust us parents to such an extent that they come to us instinctively whenever they have made a sinful mistake, then I can only conclude that perhaps we have done something right as parents along the way. A father who knows God will guide his daughter back to the Father. And a mother who loves God will do the same. But if the parents have built up walls between themselves and their children (and in the godly family, it is scrupulosity which is perhaps the highest and most enduring wall), it may not be possible for the parents to return the child to the Father.

    I say, “Mr. and Mrs. Suprenant, God bless you for being a humble father and a loving mother whose discernment and trust in God led you to educate a daughter who came back to you in her dark hour, perhaps in her darkest hour.” And to young Maureen, “God bless you for trusting your mom and dad.”

  • Guest

    The joy in heaven over when a sin changes into the opportunity for the sinner to repent and seek the love, mercy and grace of the Father is truly a marvel to think about. Pray for all fathers that we might image this in our families.

    A minor quibble — the prodigal son did not expect his father to receive him, but merely to allow him to work as a servant so he would not starve. All the more joyful given the reception he did receive.

  • Guest

    Please pray for Our Lady of America and learn Her message at http://www.ourladyofamerica.com and http://www.oltiv.org Thank you all.

  • Guest

    I was moved by Leon Suprenant's article.  We are the parents of ten children and have a daughter that had a child out of wedlock.  She also thought about adoption but decided to keep her child.  He is now seven and a remarkable little boy, a true gift from God. I am a believer that God continually sends us gifts, all wrapped/disguised in different packaging–he was our gift. Our family cannot image life without him. Our daughter lived with us for about a year after the birth, then decided to move and be a family with her son. It has not been easy but she has a lot of support and role models from within her family to draw upon. We, as a society, are so quick to judge and be critical but one does not know what it is like until you are intimately involved in the situation.

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