Pope Francis doesn't have to put up with teenagers slamming bedroom doors in the Vatican or toddlers flinging communion wafers in the kitchen, but he had some sound parenting advice for his American audience.
When he addressed the bishops in Philadelphia last week, he talked about the challenges facing modern families. The family is at the crux of most religions, so he's got a vested interest in helping the institution along.
He drew an analogy from the way economies have shifted from smaller, intimate markets built on relationships and necessity to big-box superstores built on competition and consumption. We are raising children in a culture that is increasingly competitive, in which business is no longer conducted on the basis of trust, and consumption reigns supreme.
"Today's culture seems to encourage people not to bond with anything or anyone, not to trust," he said.
It's a mistake to see the younger generation's indifference to marriage and family as simple selfishness or some other character flaw, he said. The root of these contemporary situations, he offered, is a "widespread and radical sense of loneliness."
What a poignant way to describe our social condition. There is a documented increase in feelings of loneliness, and not just among the young. I've had days when some kind of digital communication has felt like the most "real" connection to people I've had. Indeed, the human experience is one of recognizing that we are alone and seeking ways to alleviate it -- to connect and feel recognized. Perhaps we once turned toward our churches and families for that sense of connection. Now, we chase "likes" and accumulate "friends" on social networks, the pope said.
He argued that this shift in where we seek validation wounds our culture. Fierce competition and vapid consumption undermine social bonds and human relationships.
This is a legitimate and familiar critique. The strength in the pope's argument rests in the line he draws between the current economic realities to the decline of familial ties, marriage and social bonds.
He brought up the same point with both the bishops and Congress alike: We are living in a culture which pressures some young people not to start a family because they lack the material means to do so, and others because they are so well-off that they are happy as they are.
That pressure on one end to be economically stable is about more than lifestyle choices. It's about survival. It's responsible to start a family only when you are able to support one. But staggering student debt, coupled with fewer well-paying job opportunities and skyrocketing housing costs, would give any sensible young adult pause before starting a family.
On the other end, he highlighted the growing income inequality between the poor and middle class and the wealthy. Marriage rates among the non-college-educated have fallen sharply in the last few decades, creating a "marriage gap."
Francis asked the bishops, "Are today's young people hopelessly timid, weak, inconsistent?" He admonished anyone for thinking so.
Of course they aren't.
They are growing up in more pressure-filled homes and schools, in a culture with far less compassion. The cultural shifts and changing economy both contribute to weakening families in America.
Someone with hefty moral authority needed to call out political and religious leaders who preach "family values" without valuing policies that actually support families.
He didn't let parents off the hook, either.
He recalled being approached by mothers in Buenos Aires complaining about children who were 30, 32 or 34 years old and still single.
"Well, stop ironing their shirts!" he told them.
It's true. We can offer a financial cushion or launching pad for young adults without catering to them like children.
The pope's straight talk on parenting and families underscored the heart of his message: Raising a family transforms the world and human history.