The other day I stopped into my son’s preschool classroom to deliver a project I had been working on for his teachers. My timing could not have been better. The class’s Mystery Reader, a friend or relative who surprises the children with a story, was an employee at a local pizza shop and had brought a pizza snack for the kids. I stayed and shared a slice with them.
As we ate, one of my son’s classmates asked me, “Do you know what ‘MR’ stands for?”
“Mystery Reader. Except on a calculator. There it stands for ‘memory recall’.”
I cracked up. This is the child who once asked me my favorite planet, and I presume the one that quizzes his teachers about the capitals of Eastern European countries. His parents are scientists.
It has been fun to watch the different interests of the other kids in his class. It has a large majority of boys, so there exists the obvious devotion to Star Wars, Transformers and superheroes. But it has been interesting to see the other unique interests the kids have gained from their families. One boy has a collection of hockey cards. Another is into professional lacrosse. Others have family cabins they love to escape to.
Some of these special interests that families have happen without our even realizing it. They just flow from the parents’ natural love for a certain thing. For instance, my husband and I are coffee lovers, and we love to linger at coffee shops. Our first date was at a coffee shop, we did our own ad-hoc marriage prep at a coffee shop and we study there as well. It’s a treat for us to drop by on a Saturday morning, and so it’s become a family affair. One shop nearby has board games and so “family board games at Dunn Bros” has become one of our fun family outings.
Other interests are completely calculated attempts to indoctrinate our children. The example I will use here is Cardinal baseball. My husband is from the St. Louis area, so even before he was born, our son owned a Cardinal onesie for every size of his first year. Although we can’t get to games very often, or even see them on TV, my husband gives my son the Cardinal update every night, to which my son replies things like, “Yep. They’re really doing good this year, aren’t they Dad?”
The point here is that kids pick up on what Mom and Dad love. Some of these things just rub off on them, and some may take some concerted effort. When it comes to passing on what should be most dear to us, the Faith, we need to do both. I think our best shot at raising faith-filled kids is making sure the Faith can be both “caught” and “taught” at home. First, our faith needs to be part of the culture of our homes. Sunday Mass is a given for Mom and Dad. Advent and Lent are marked somehow at home. We say grace and prayers before bed. In our family, we even celebrate all our favorite saints’ days (usually with chocolate pudding for dessert) and our son’s baptismal day. Through our customs and celebrations, we try and keep the faith alive in our household.
But that’s not enough. We can’t rely on the faith being entirely “caught” any more than we can rely on that as a method of teaching the ABC’s. Every parent knows that though it’s good to have books around, they have to actually be read to a child if they are to be of any use. Nor can we leave our children’s education entirely to their school. Any parent who has sat for hours at the kitchen table running through flash cards with their child can attest to that. Yet, often the same parents who are super involved in their child’s academic life figure that if they drop their kid off at Catholic school or religious education classes, they have done their part in forming their child’s faith. Of course, signing kids up for formal religious education is a fantastic start. But what can happen if the Faith is not talked about outside of Mass or the classroom is that a very subtle culture norm creeps up in the house. A silent rule takes root: we don’t talk about religion here.
I think this can be confusing for children, who have a natural capacity to love God and want to talk to him and about him. In teens, who are bombarded by the messages of a materialist culture all day, it can be an excuse to label faith irrelevant and check out.
There are lots of reasons why parents may be squeamish to talk about faith on a regular basis at home. I think the biggest reason is that many parents today were simply not catechized well when they were little. As a result, they don’t have a solid base of knowledge from which to draw once their children get past First Communion. After all, what intelligent person wants to embark on a discussion for which they feel unprepared?
So, what to do? I think there is a great opportunity for parents to learn the faith alongside their kids. One of the most beautiful parts of my job as a youth worker has been seeing parent volunteer catechists come alive in their own faith as they learn the material they are teaching their small group. So, don’t be afraid to get involved in your child’s religious education classes (or the parish-based classes if your child is in Catholic school)! Believe me, the coordinators are not looking for an advanced Theology degree. But even if teaching is not your cup of tea, there are tons of resources available for you to learn more about the faith on your own, or together with your child. Even just sitting down with your child’s religion text book once a week could be a great help.
Another suggestion would be to pick one small act of prayer that you can commit to as a family and stick with it. If your family has not been consistent about Mass attendance, start there. These days, it can sometimes take some fancy maneuvering to make Mass every single weekend and that speaks volumes to young people about the importance of the Faith. Or maybe look up a saint each day and talk about it in the car on the way to school.
Whatever you choose, if it is new it will feel weird. But that is okay! Whether it’s the Cardinals or the Catechism, passing on that which we love to our kids is well worth the effort.
Copyright 2010 Libby DuPont