A mother's faith and a child's future in the Church
'Living a faith you love in an institution that regularly outrages you'
(Photo by Jeff Leuders via Shutterstock)
Mary Elizabeth Williams, Salon.com International
May 27, 2013
It’s probably a lot easier if you’re certain. If you’re a firm atheist or a devout evangelical. But when you’re living a faith you love in an institution that regularly outrages you, it’s a little tougher. Especially when you’ve got kids.
Thirteen years ago, I carried a baby into a church and, as her family and friends stood around her, promised to raise her in that church. Four years later, I made the same vow for her sister. And now, in two weeks, my firstborn makes her confirmation. She will be, for all intents and purposes, an adult in the Catholic Church. She will no longer attend Sunday school, and she will be free to make all her own decisions regarding her faith (or lack of it), and her relationship with the church (or her departure from it).
It has not always been an easy road, for any of us. Even long before my daughters were born, our family wrestled with how to raise any children who might come along. We knew it would be challenging. And for my kids, it has been. That’s how it goes when you’ve got a mom who’s a gay-friendly, pro-choice, bigmouthed practicing Catholic. That’s how it is when you grow up going to a terrific, Capuchin-run little parish church — but the rest of your community is almost entirely secular. My elder daughter is routinely — mostly good-naturedly — teased by her buddies for being, along with the one practicing Jewish kid in her class, “religious.” “My classmates watch movies like ‘The Help,’” she tells me with a 13-year-old’s characteristic eye roll, “and think that being a Christian means sitting around the table holding hands and saying, ‘Praise the Lord!’” In case you’re wondering, we don’t.
Our friends find their own ways of working through their spirituality and their children’s. My friend Marjorie says, “I emphasize the social justice aspects of Judaism and do mitzvoth with the kids, talk about the parts of our religion I struggle with, share how my upbringing was different from theirs — and what I think was lost and gained.” Jessica says, “We enjoy our families’ respective traditions, like an English-inflected Christmas and boisterous Seders. We talk a lot about the mysteries of life and the various ways humans have tried to understand them, with much appreciation for the beauty of science.” And my friend Helene, who grew up alongside me in our old Jersey City neighborhood, had both her children baptized but reached a turning point when she learned a priest she’d worked with at a radio station early in her career “was abusing kids for decades.”
“The diocese knew about it and not only did nothing,” she says, “but had us playing his tape-recorded prayers and sermons over the airwaves long after he was gone. They should be brought up on racketeering charges. So I’m out.” But, she says, her kids “know all about Jesus and what a cool guy he was. How by dying he walked the walk, and didn’t just talk the talk. I tell them, if he could be up there on that nasty cross and still forgive all those assholes who put him up there, well, you can cut anybody some slack. So he died for you to know that. You have to love everybody. Everybody.” Helene’s kids are, unsurprisingly, pretty rad.
Being a parent means making choices – including choices about the things you yourself are often ambivalent and conflicted about. And I’ve struggled over the years over how to impart the Christian values I treasure to my kids without saddling them with the worst aspects of organized religion — to raise them without shame or intolerance or fear of a mean old God. Yet raising my kids Catholic has given my girls the option of accepting or rejecting the faith that simply ignoring the church would not have. And to be frank, a religious upbringing has offered my daughters some other practical, less spiritual perks. If at some point they express interest in a Catholic high school or college, they’re better prepared for what would be in store. If someday they want to get married inside a Catholic Church, to men, they will have made their sacraments and will have that option. Besides, if they never get anything else from all their years of Sunday school, they still will have an understanding of a whole lot of the themes of Western art for the last 2,000 or so years.
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