LORETTA Bennett has a strategy for gathering her four teenage children.
The child and family therapist and husband of 20 years, Col, “turn the Internet off”.
“It brings our teenagers out of their rooms,” Loretta, known as Letty to family and friends, said.
“It’s one of the times of the day I enjoy the most. We have a wonderful verandah, and we sit and talk about the day.
“I love hearing the kids interact with one another and share about what they’ve been up to.”
The Bennett children Conor, 19, Clare, 18, Oliver, 16, and Emily, 14, are the beneficiaries of a couple who were raised and met in the Church and who continue to seek ways to serve God’s people and the broader community.
Loretta said she “grew up in a small country town on a beautiful farm” in Victoria with three brothers and eight sisters.
“We had a pretty incredible upbringing where my siblings were my friends and faith played a huge role in what we did as a family,” she said.
“From an early age, I remember Dad saying, ‘The family that prays together stays together’ and that was like a glue that stuck.
“We attended Mass at a little red-brick church surrounded on two sides by wheat fields.”
Loretta said her parents “laid the greatest foundation” for faith in the family.
“Their service to others and hospitality to anyone who needed a bed and a meal was incredible,” she said.
“Mum and Dad truly lived their faith by being involved in groups, visiting the housebound and sick, volunteering in palliative care, and being on ministry teams in their parish.
“We were encouraged from a young age to become involved and I loved to read at Mass.
“As a shy child, this helped build my confidence in public-speaking and got me interested in scripture.”
Reconnecting with Col at a friend’s wedding, she knew instantly that “he was the one” for her when he requested a dance.
They both had worked in youth ministry and Col’s family had ties to Emmanuel Community, an environment he said enabled him, along with time among immediate and extended family, “to absorb Christianity”.
“Col and I had been friends for a couple of years and from then on we had a long-distance relationship as he was living up north and I was in Brisbane,” Loretta said.
“We both went on a group tour for World Youth Day which is where he asked me to marry him.
“We shared similar values and loved to share a good laugh.”
The couple married in Loretta’s home parish of St Martin’s Church, Boorhaman, in north-east Victoria, remembering “the smile didn’t leave” her face.
While they lived both in Ayr and closer to Loretta’s family in Victoria for a stretch of time, the Bennetts have called Brisbane home again for four years.
Members of the Passionist Community at The Fort, Oxley, Loretta, for consecutive years, has presented positive parenting-themed workshops at Ignite Conference, as she did on September 29.
“Parenting with Purpose was about finding what is important to your family,” she said.
“The workshop went over topics such as the mission of the family, tools and strategies to build strong families, dealing with strong emotions, about building solid communication and healthy relationships.”
While family life keeps them on the hop and Col works for “a niche animal-health business”, the couple agreed that faith in God played a significant role in their lives “and always has”.
“Everywhere we have been, we’ve been involved with local parishes, on parish councils, ran Lenten retreats and parish events,” Loretta said.
“In our home, prayer is an important part of our glue and we also like debates, and have discussions on topics of faith, religion and what would Jesus do.
“While we have tried to teach our kids about faith, they have taught me so much.
“My children have challenged me to evaluate what is important in living out faith and to strip things back to the basics, of being more like Christ.”
Among the Passionists, Loretta said they felt welcomed and appreciated.
“We love the Passionists’ approach to the Catholic faith,” she said.
“It is bought back to the simple message of Christ, of unconditionally loving those around you and serving your community.
“The community involves everyone and is a place of genuine support.”
All the while, among their many commitments and faith-centred family life, Loretta and Col have been preparing to launch a new outreach to those seeking parenting help, called Reset.
“Reset will offer marriage preparation, parenting support, and child and family counseling,” Loretta said.
“We’ve been talking for years about offering support to families that are struggling, to work proactively to support families to build knowledge and skills before things go wrong, as well as offering support during those challenging times.
“It’s called Reset because when we talked about family and relationships we realised that at times, we just need to reset our thinking or what we are doing, to build something incredible.”
The Brisbane-based ministry of Mother Effect will welcome Loretta’s wisdom, as Reset, in November.
Loretta said she “felt privileged” to give an Ignite Conference workshop and was passionate about reaching struggling parents.
“I’m really passionate about families proactively seeking information and ideas of building strong relationships,” she said.
“Often, people don’t get help for relationship issues or parenting strategies until things go wrong but I think it’s important to also spend time nurturing your family and relationships when things are good, to ensure that when there are challenges, you have a strong foundation and skills that you can draw on.”
Loretta encourages mothers to support each other and pay less attention to social media.
“Images on Facebook and television tell mums they need to be back in shape, juggling careers, babies, home life, and fantastic relationships with partners, and I think the pressure can be too much,” she said.
“We need to stop and listen, rather than glaring when someone’s baby is crying or toddler is having a tantrum.
“Ask if you can help or encourage that it is going to be okay.”
Not forgetting fathers, Col said “isolation” could be a challenge.
“It’s difficult to not feel isolated when we (fathers) head off to work each day and seeing very little of our family,” he said.
“For me, the weekend is an opportunity to reconnect with Letty and our children, and to our extended family and friends.”
A shared Sunday pot roast on a welcoming verandah are the connective strategies that come to mind when the Bennetts do.