When my eldest son was in preschool, I made the mistake of handing the buck to the Pope when it came to some of our parenting practices. When Jack would ask why he couldn’t watch a particular show that his friends were watching, I’d say, “Well, we’re Catholic and those families aren’t, that show just isn’t a good one for Catholics.”

But then it came time for kindergarten, and we enrolled him in our parish school. Now he was being influenced by even more kids, and older kids, and the things they were watching and doing were even further outside what we considered acceptable. But now, they were all Catholic. It seemed pretty unreasonable to Jack that he wouldn’t be able to go to a co-ed slumber party, or watch a particular PG-13 rated movie, or stay up until 10pm, because the kids he knew who were doing those things were also “Catholic.”

We didn’t last very long in that particular schoolย (homeschooling has been a better fit for us for the past six years) but I learned an important lesson.
Now my kids all know that the reason we do things or don’t do them is because WE ARE TIERNEYS. No more, no less.
We have a family culture. It is completely unique to us. It’s cobbled together with pieces of Catholic and American and Irish and German and Marine Corps and Chicago and SoCal and Jock and Geek and Nerd cultures. It’s all our own.
Our kids understand that Tierneys do things the Tierney way. They have absolutely NO expectation of being permitted to do or not do the things that other children do or do not do. Because they know that they are Tierneys and Tierneys ALWAYS x but Tierneys NEVER y.
We are lucky enough now to be a part of a community that shares our traditional Catholic faith and values, but even within that group there is an astounding amount of variety in what different kids are allowed to read and watch and do, what chores they have, how late they stay up, and how they approach their school days.
None of this is a problem now. We don’t have to make value judgments on other people’s parenting decisions. We don’t have to tell our kids that other families are doing it wrong, or less-Catholic-ly. We just tell them that the Smiths do things the Smith way and the Tierneys do things the Tierney way. It covers a multitude of questions. Almost all of them.
Establishing that family culture was hardest with our first. I think it was for a combination of reasons. One, he’s very observant and is always up in everyone else’s business, so we’ve always had a lot of explaining to do for him anyway. Two, as our oldest and our only one who was ever enrolled in a brick and mortar school, he has been exposed to more kids and more varied kids. Three, he just tends to suffer things more than the other kids do.
So it took a while with him. He would ask why he couldn’t play that video game or have a cell phone or have his own room when other kids he knew could. We would explain to him the reasons why we didn’t think those things were a good idea, but we would also ALWAYS remind him that we are Tierneys and the main reason he doesn’t have his own room is that Tierneys don’t have their own rooms.
After years of not backing down, we got him on board. And once Jack is on board with something, all the other kids fall in line like ducklings.
Our kids know that while Tierneys DON’T do things like Have TVs in Their Rooms, or Order Chicken Nuggets at a Mexican Restaurant, or Eat Meat on Fridays, Tierneys DO do all sorts of other awesome stuff that other families don’t do like Have Conversations With Their Children, and Like Spicy Food, and Eat All the Treats in the House on Fat Tuesday.
It keeps us confident in our particular brand of parenting, and it gives the kids pride in being members of our family, which they understand to be unique and special and unlike any other. Even if that means they have to go to bed earlier than the Joneses on New Year’s Eve. Because the Tierneys always go to the Parade. And we always do it well-rested. It’s just how we roll.


It’s been a while since I linked up with the gals at Fine Linen and Purple for What I Wore Sunday. So here goes . . .

Sweater, skirt, shoes: Boden
Shirt: Anthropologie
Bracelet: the Irish Saints (from QVC, thanks Gramma!)
This photo shoot brought to you courtesy of:
official sleeping baby (2 months)
official sleeping baby holder (11 years)
official photographer (9 years)


  1. Cristina

    I really love this idea! I've been using it on my boys since you posted the spicy food post and it works like magic ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Amelia Bentrup

    We basically do this too, although I never thought of it as "creating a family culture", more just doing what we do. I say things a lot like "We don't get our ears pierced before age 12" or "We don't buy goldfish crackers", but it works for positives too "We eat ice cream every Sunday" or "We like this show"

    • Laura Pearl

      I was thinking the same thing, Amelia. We've always had our own family culture. We never really consciously gave it the name "the Pearl way"–but it was definitely our way. Pearls couldn't watch certain shows, play certain video games, have their own rooms, have TV's in their rooms, have cell phones of their own until college (they borrowed mine when they were driving in high school); because that was just the way we did things, and they learned to accept it and maybe even be a little proud of it.

    • Laura Pearl

      I just re-read this and I didn't mean to sound so negative. We had a lot of fun things we DID do that were unique to our family and part of our culture, too. Lots of conversation and laughter, not just all strict rules! ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. Amanda

    Love it! We're hoping to do the same thing, though you're right that it's so much harder with some firstborns! Unfortunately we've got a whole bunch of firstborns and our foster daughter is the biggest challenge with this because she knows exactly what other families do because she's only lived with our family for 5 months. It's harder for her but hopefully we'll get her there too ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. Unknown

    This also can bite you as the kids grow. I can't forget my husband's cousin defending her area of gloom at our wedding reception by stating again and again that "M****s don't dance." This "reminder" kept her siblings in place while others danced. It was like saying, we don't celebrate, we don't care to be good guests, our way of doing things take precedence.

    I know you mean the culture in a positive way, but what else are your kids ascribing to the Tierney way in their minds?

    • Kendra

      Well, I can't know the answer to that question for sure, I guess. But I do know that they would have happily danced at your wedding. I'm sorry you had a bad experience with this idea.

  5. Laura Christine

    Do Tierneys all have great shoes? ๐Ÿ˜‰ I really like yours! And wow I'm jealous of your warm weather.

  6. Jenna@CallHerHappy

    The Tierneys also write great blog posts and take adorable pictures. Thank you for having a blog.

  7. Molly

    Love it Kendra – it's a very simple idea, yet I can't say I'd have ever put it together. =)

  8. Erica Saint

    We do it the Saint way! Our oldest never questioned it because he is easy going, but it took longer for our middle child to accept that we do things our way. When our oldest started working, I would say to him as he was leaving, "Remember that you are a Saint." I didn't have to elaborate because he knew all that the statement encompassed. I think your last paragraph sums it up well. They feel good to be a part of our unique family.
    Your outfit is very pretty! ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Laura Pearl

      You have the best name for this concept. "Remember that you are a saint." I love it! ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Kendra

      Being a Saint OR a Pearl are both pretty awesome!

  9. Micaela Darr

    I like this, Kendra. We've always said, "We do/don't do X because all families are different and in OUR family we (insert positive statement here)." But I do like the idea of adding Darr to it. We also always talk about being Team Darr, so this would flow pretty naturally from that.

    Like your photoshopping. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  10. Laura Pearl

    Kendra, I love this!! And I think all the best and happiest families have a unique family culture. I know we did; and it was hard having the kind we had, because so many of our kids' friends could do and have so many things they couldn't. But as adults (our five sons now range in age from 21-30), they look back and like the way it was around here; and although a couple of them balked a bit when they were boys (like your Jack), they're planning to raise their kids in similar fashion. I'm going to pass this on to them–so that they can explain to their kids that they can do x but not y "because we're Pearls."

    Awesome post!

  11. Elise

    I really love this idea, Kendra! Thank you for this food-for-thought…
    And I love your outfit – especially your skirt!

  12. Christine

    While we do *have* a family culture, I love the idea of making it so explicit to our kids. I feel like it could only help in terms of avoiding various arguments and disapointments, as well as bringing the family closer together and making everyone feel bonded in a common identity. Thanks for the post.

  13. Dixie

    Neat! This also must cement feelings of family togetherness and the right kind of pride. A question, though: what do you say when the kids ask (if they do), "Why do Tierneys do/not do x?" What I mean is, how do you make it clear that what the Tierneys do or don't do is not arbitrary, but is instead either based on what you believe is right or is what you as a family enjoy?

    • Kendra

      I have had lots of really honest discussions with the kids about why. For instance, they think that the idea of unlimited screen time is just fabulous. But when I help them to understand that we should all PITY children whose parents can't or won't spend time with them or let them make messes so all they do is watch TV or play video games all day, it really has made sense to them.

      They need a lot of reminders.

      I do think that lots of rules that seem repressive and haven't been explained could cause kids to be resentful. But we always have good reasons for our rules and we explain them.

      But then, at the end of the day, they don't have to agree. This is just how Tierneys do it, and God made them Tierneys, so they'll have to take it up with Him.

  14. Rosie

    That coral color is fabulous on you! Seriously jealous of your warm weather over here ๐Ÿ™‚

    And I love the "creating a family culture" aspect of this post, but what I REALLY want to know is when I can expect my 4.5-year-old to agree when I say things like that, because no matter WHAT I say, his response is to disagree. And he keeps getting smarter about it, too. Sigh.

    • Kendra

      My oldest started coming around at the age of reason, about 6 or 7, and at least understanding the concept of our family rules. And by now he really does seem to agree with us that this is a good way to do things. And I've really never had much griping from any of the others.

    • Cristina

      I'm glad I'm not the only one dealing with this! You've just filled me with so much hope–we're almost to 6 ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Rosie

      Ah, I am anxiously awaiting the age of reason… We were just having a discussion with our priest about that, and how he doesn't really believe in 7 as a hard-and-fast age of reason, but I know we can't possibly be close yet because he's just. so. disagreeable. for no reason other than selfishness and 4-year-old-ness, and I just can't think of him as a horrible sinner, you know? So I think we're preeeetty far from the age of reason but I've got hope! And he's so stubborn that I have a feeling once he's on our side everyone else will be as well ๐Ÿ™‚

  15. Laura Rose

    You look great and it all looks really lovely together. I loved your post about family culture because that is JUST EXACTLY what my hubby and I were talking about this week! We were trying to find ways to make our faith more of a culture in our house not just something we do. We just started praise and worship night as a family and daily Bible verse memorization and we are discussing more fun ways to incorporate our faith in daily life. And this morning we discussed this week's homily as usual and I felt like we were all a little more willing to join in because we are developing family CULTURE not just doing things "because we're Catholic".

  16. Anna

    This is so wonderful. My oldest has started arguing naptime. His cousins, including the 2 year old, are off naptime/quiet time of any kind. So why does he need quiet time time when he's 5? And I've tried explaining it in a 'we do what works for our family' and in my lesser moments I've even told him that it is INSANE for a barely two year old to have no kind of nap/quiet time (that was wrong of me to say, I know). The explanation just gets too long and tedious. A short pat answer like this sounds much better.
    They do share our last name though…

    Have you ever had to backtrack on one these statements? Like, if there was a time, in a new house or whatever, when it worked well for a child to have his own room would you consider it, or do you only say this when you are certain that things will never change? I'm not certain that we will do quiet time all through high school….

    • Kendra

      Good point! Certainly our rules can change as circumstances change. I'd just explain that to the kids.

      When we lived in Chicago, one of the families we were closest to was also the Tierneys, no relation! We weren't really doing this yet then, or I'm sure Jack would have pointed it out. But I wouldn't be derailed by semantics, I would say Our Tierneys or the Jim Tierneys or the 103rd St Tierneys. He'd figured out what I meant soon enough!

  17. E

    This is great! I love it! Thanks so much for sharing… I love your parenting style, and you make me super excited about having older kids one day!

    • pryorbaird

      This line was my favorite: "And once Jack is on board with something, all the other kids fall in line like ducklings." What a great picture! Kendra, I'm not sure if you've noticed But E is my best friend from growing up and from college. She is fellow blogger at http://www.emyselfandi.com with a fairly large following. I wanted to make sure you guys met via blog-world. I told her about your blog and she's been linking up to you. Your parenting advice is always welcome to our new mama ears.

  18. Nanacamille

    That is a wonderful family philosophy and the most important thing for parents is to say what they mean and mean what they say. Never back down even though it is so much easier to do. If kids know there is a chance you will back down and say "oh all right" then they will never stop hounding you about something.. It makes the Tierney family such a pleasure to be with at home and on trips.

  19. Ashley Anderson

    This was wonderful to read! My oldest turns 4 next week and while we've done a lot of groundwork for creating a family culture, we haven't said anything explicit. It's so helpful to read your examples. Thank you!

  20. Julie Baldwin

    This is so great. Grace is four months old, and I'm already racking my brain about how and why and because – this is a great leap off point!

    By the way, your baby has so much hair and I LOVE IT. Grace's is really only growing in the back, and I am waiting-waiting-waiting for the day I can start pulling it back with bows.

  21. Nicole Lockhart

    I have been thinking about our family culture. Our kids are quite young (3 kids one on the way, oldest will be 5 in March) but the "why" is coming up more and more. Next year there will be some big differences between us and friends as we attempt homeschooling and everyone else goes to school. My son might be able to get behind "The Lockhart Way". Thank you so much!

  22. biancefamily

    Thank you for this! I needed it. My husband and I have been struggling with the judgement of our friends for how they role as a family. I think we thought if we all believe the same way in some aspects of our lives, particularly the homeschool, nfp, importance of family prayer, then we would be the same in other aspects.

    I love the idea of a family culture and doing things this way because that's what the Biance's do! I'm definitely going to have my husband read this and chew on it a bit :).

  23. LPatter

    This is a great one! Coming around to this mentality too, but such a shot in the arm to see it proclaimed boldly, loudly and clearly!!! Go Tierney-Momma!

  24. Theresa @ OrdinaryLovely

    We've always taken this approach too, as it's what I remember from my own childhood (I'm still a little bitter about not getting to stay up later in summer like the other neighborhood kids..) We really rely on this especially as regards inappropriate language or using the name of God in vain. Until now we've just said, "we do/don't do that in our family, other families do things differently," etc… but it had never occurred to me to attach our family name to it! Brilliant! It's another small way of strengthening/unifying our little clan and keeping it "cool to be different." Thanks for the idea!

  25. The Catholic Lawyer Mama

    I love this post! Thank you for writing it! We are a young family (three boys, oldest just turned 4) and still finding our way when it comes to directing our little ones towards our family's way. My oldest sounds A LOT like yours — very observant, always up in everyone else's business, always asking questions, sensitive (as you put it, he just tends to suffer things more than the other kids do). This gives me a lot of food for thought. Thank you!

  26. MamaH

    I'm just gonna say this right here: I LOVE YOU.

  27. Katie

    Wow, I did not look like this 2 months postpartum with my fourth. How do you do it?

  28. Katie

    But whole heartedly agree with your post, we really enjoy our kids and side step so much of the complaints of many parents, and I think discipline is the reason why.

  29. Martha

    YES. We do this too!
    We do it with manners and language a lot – "Orams don't say that word" and "Orams always help clean up." Growing up, we had a VERY STRONG family culture. It was understood that we did not sass, we did not watch television, we did not behave like "silly girls" (my mom's word for girls that couldn't hold a conversation, were always giggling about boys), and we NEVER said we didn't like food, ever.

    Some of it was weird, sure, but so much of it is just who we are – we all have very good manners, we are all readers, we all eat a large variety of foods! I loved being different and my parents taught us to be proud of who we were.

  30. Erin Klarner

    I know this is kind of old, but what if other parts of your family don't subscribe? For instance, if I even said, "Klarners don't skip Mass," well, grandma and grandpa are Klarners too, and they are a non-practicing Catholic and a non-practicing Episcopalian. Neither Klarner aunt attends church either. How would you field that?

    • Kendra

      It's meant to apply to just our immediate family unit. So, even though other people to whom we are related might have the same name, "our" family rules don't necessarily apply to them. It might take a little bit of clarification at first, but my kids understand the concept now. ๐Ÿ™‚

  31. Syl

    Love this! We do the same thing and Iโ€™m glad Iโ€™m not the only one. Thank u for the encouragement.


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Hi! I’m Kendra.

For twenty years now, Iโ€™ve been using food, prayer, and conversation based around the liturgical calendar to share the lives of the saints and the beautiful truths and traditions of our Catholic faith. My own ten children, our friends and neighbors, and people just like you have been on this journey with me.

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