In less than two months my oldest son will start kindergarten. As we approach this milestone I’m filled with all the normal emotions, misgivings and uncertainties. My baby is growing up and the routine of living as we’ve known it for four years is about to change. He’s embarking on a new and exciting phase of his life, one that will fill his days for years to come and will provide an important foundation for his future. School will be the single biggest influence in his life outside of what we do at home. The significance of this scares me a little.
Several months ago I wrote a post about how we had decided to baptize our children Catholic. My husband and I are Catholic, however, we don’t, nor were we raised to actively practice our faith. I attended a Catholic elementary school, received all of my sacraments, but my family didn’t attend church on a regular basis. In fact, outside of the main denominational holidays, we hardly went to church at all. My husband didn’t receive his sacraments and didn’t attend a Catholic school.
Earlier this year, when it came time to decide where to send our children to school it wasn’t immediately obvious that we should send them to Catholic school, even though they were baptized. I thought long and hard about what the choice would mean for our family. My husband isn’t the type to worry about this kind of stuff, so the considering is mostly left up to me. I knew that a decision to send him to Catholic school meant, at the very least, a peripheral commitment to raise him in acceptance of this faith. I wanted to be completely comfortable with that.
A few weeks ago we attended a kindergarten information session. We were given a copy of the book Yellow Bear Goes to Catholic School which addresses some of the common anxieties associated with starting school, and as the title suggests, introduces concepts associated with Catholic school such as the church, the bible, a priest and Jesus. We read it to our son before reading it ourselves. I’ll admit we raised our eyebrows a few times, and C also seemed a bit concerned. To be fair, it was likely the thought of starting school that was the cause for him.
For a non-religious family, the story was somewhat startling. Not because we aren’t faithful people, because we are, we just don’t ascribe to the principles of the church and organized religion.
Part of the reason I decided to send our children to Catholic school was my understanding that a denominational education today is more about values and less about religion. That this environment would provide an important complement the moral framework we practice at home. Before reading this book we hadn’t introduced our son to the concepts of faith, church and Jesus. In reading this book, I was reminded that our choice meant these concepts would now play an active role in our family dynamic and at the very least we had better be prepared to start discussing them. I suppose I also felt as though we had made a decision, once again, without really making a decision.
I believe in God. I believe in the Holy Spirit. I believe in Jesus Christ. I believe in heaven. I struggle with the concepts of organized religion. But I know the foundation that this education will provide my son will be strong and nurturing and meaningful. I believe it will reinforce important lessons that we teach at home about generosity, acceptance, love, and peace. All of that is important to me.
What was also important to me, and which is harder for me to admit, was that I was drawn to the idea of sending my children to a school where I believe the other families have made a commitment to the same values of ours. In all honestly, my real fear in sending my son to school comes less from the education and more from the influence of the other children. I understand this is real life, and that I can’t realistically protect him forever, but he’s about to be exposed to a whole new world, one in where I will have less control.
As his first day approaches (please summer slow down!) I’m thinking carefully about all of the new influence he’ll face and how to handle them at home. I don’t have any answers, but I’m hoping to find a confidence going forward so that I’m ready for all this.
Do you raise your children in faith? What does that mean for your family? How do you model it in your home? Do you discuss issues as a family or is it just about leading by example? Do you go to church? How do you inspire your children’s spirituality? Do you think that’s something we can do as parents? How do you handle outside influences in your home? How do you protect your children?
Postscriptum: For some reason I can’t leave a comment in my own comments section, so I’m adding a few additional thoughts here.
Thanks everyone for being so generous in sharing your thoughts and comments on this issue. I truly appreciate and welcome them. The discussion this post has sparked is quite interesting and varied, which I suppose is a testament to the complexity of the issue.
I’m not sure I did a very good job of expressing myself, but I did want to add that I in no way think that public school is inferior, only different. I don’t doubt that there are negative influences everywhere and my children will be exposed to different things no matter where I send them. I feel badly if I left the impression that I’m branding anyone with any brush. I, of course, don’t think that parents who send their kids to public school are “less moral” than everyone else, but I do think that parents who send their children to Catholic school mostly believe in God and the importance of spirituality in life.
What I’m hoping by choosing a faith-based education is that, though we don’t practice our religion in the traditional ways, the many Catholic morals and values that I do believe in will be reinforced in some way through their learning. It’s also about providing an opportunity for my children to receive some kind of spiritual guidance. I realize I’ll be doing this at home, but I think the more we reinforce it, the better.