Archive for Culture and Parenting

My Kid Is a Special Snowflake . . . and So Is Yours

ID-10023106I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that you’ve almost certainly encountered the following attitude, whether it’s a post on Facebook, a self-righteous HuffPost article, or even in conversation on the sidelines at your kid’s soccer game: The world would not be such a screwed up place if everyone stopped telling their kids that’s they’re such unique, special little snowflakes.  Basically, the world would be nicer if we just told our kids they’re just the same as everybody else — no better, no worse — and that they can’t actually do whatever they want with their lives just because they want it.

It’s true; there does seem to be an upcoming generation of children and young people (ok, and plenty of adults) who think that the world revolves around their desires and worldviews.  And I completely agree that it’s a disturbing trend. However, is the answer to stop singing our children’s praises?  To stop telling them that they are unique and *gasp* special? I just don’t think so.  Not for any studied or developmental reason, but simply because it wouldn’t be true.

My kids are special.  So are yours.  So are the kids down the block. But here’s the key: we can’t stop there.  I think we should be telling our kids ceaselessly about the beauty that is each person’s uniqueness – not just theirs’.  We have to go on to tell them about how people are special in other ways- that each person has been given beautiful gifts, talents, flaws, and quirks by God.  Special doesn’t mean better- it means being wonderfully, terrifyingly, challengingly, and beautifully who you were made to be.

I know what you’re thinking: This is all just a nicer way of saying your kid is a special snowflake, worthy of being protected from the big, bad world.  Not at all.  In fact, it’s the opposite. If we are teaching our children that each person has their own special dignity and unique purpose on earth, we will raise children who recognize this dignity in all of the people around them and who will be willing to put their own comfort aside to protect the dignity of others.

From the time they are babies, children are able to make assumptions about the world around them based on their own experiences.  When a child is made to understand that they are special, they are loved, they are a beautiful part of a larger plan for this world, just as each person living is special, loved, and part of a bigger plan, they will grow up with a more outward-looking, compassionate, and selfless view of the world.

Having an understanding of their gifts should go hand-in-hand of the responsibility they have to use these gifts in the service of God’s plan. Because that’s the point.  On the other hand, if a child doesn’t have this understanding, they will look to the world for things to set them apart, like money, prestige, or material possessions.  And we’ve all seen where that’s gotten us.

Of course, as with everything we try to teach our children, we have to live it. We have to honor the human dignity of the people around us, as well as the people in the world who are “hidden” in our society. We cannot tell our kids about all the wonderful ways in which God crafted their souls to be unique and special and then avert our eyes from the homeless man standing on the street corner.  Or the handicapped child playing next to them at the library.  Or the relative who we just have such a hard time getting along with.  Our children need to see us loving these people in concrete ways, and hear us talking about the ways in which they are unique and vital to God’s plan for the world.

Some would have us believe that we are creating a generation of spoiled, self-indulgent children because of the way we talk to them about their gifts and talents.  This might even be true in some cases.  What it really comes down to is the way we show them what we value in them and in others.  It’s up to us as our children’s caretakers to show the next generation that everyone is deserving of the dignity of being uniquely, specially created by God.

What Adolescents Want (and How Attachment Parenting Gives It to Them)

teensMy 11-year-old always seems to be hanging around lately. Peering over my shoulder as I pay the bills, following me around as I search for a quiet room to sneak in a few minutes of prayer, and shuffling around the corner with a bored, middle school expression on his face right in the middle of a good conversation with my husband.

This is a kid who loves spending time with his friends. And there are times when I wish he was around a little more. But when he is home, I can’t seem to get rid of him. Most of the time, I love this. I want to spend time with him. I miss him when he’s gone. And I can’t help but feel a little worried that, one of these days, he’ll suddenly turn into the stereotypical teen and retreat into his bedroom or head out with his friends, never to be seen again.

So during those times that I really need to get bills paid, or I’m trying to concentrate on a Skype meeting with some fellow writers, I don’t put up too much of a fuss. I let him look over my shoulder. I let him sit next to me and invade my personal space. Because I’m not raising him to be a stereotypical teen.

I’m raising my son to look to my husband and me first as he figures out who he is in this world. When he was little, I taught him that he could trust me by responding promptly to his needs and always being there for him. He believed that I cared, and he believed that I understood him. I gave him a lap that was always ready to hold him, a bed that was always open to his presence, and a home where faith and love welcomed him with open arms. He knew he had a place where he belonged. By showing empathy towards his needs and responding to his cries, he learned that I am someone with whom he can always share his feelings. I am someone with whom he can be himself without fear of judgement or criticism. And, as a baby and toddler, he usually tagged along on most of my grocery shopping trips, social outings, and church activities. He learned to enjoy and absorb the world, while following my guidance as he learned how to live in it. These were all needs that my young son had, and they were fulfilled through intentional parenting. And as he grows up into a young man, I’m realizing that those needs haven’t changed.

The YDisciple parish youth group program outlines the five driving needs of adolescents in this way:

1. THE NEED TO BE UNDERSTOOD

The need to be understood is a great psychological need for us as human beings. Unfortunately, the majority of teenagers do not believe that adults understand them. When an adult takes a genuine interest in a teenager and seeks first to understand, that adult earns the right to be heard. If adults want to hand on the faith to teenagers, they must seek first to understand what is going on in their minds and hearts. Teenagers don’t care how much we know until they know how much we care.

2. THE NEED TO BELONG

Teenagers are driven to meet the “need to belong” before higher growth needs like understanding and living the Christian faith. In fact, it is often the case that teenagers will compromise the morals in which they have been raised in order to belong somewhere. If adults don’t help teenagers build healthy, life-giving relationships with one another, then teens will find a way to meet that need themselves. On the other hand, if adults create an environment where teens are known, loved, and cared for, they create an ideal environment for discipleship.

3. THE NEED TO BE TRANSPARENT

Teenagers rarely have the freedom to be transparent today, especially with one another. It is too dangerous to be vulnerable in a peer-dominated world focused on image and popularity. Teens long for the opportunity to be transparent about their doubts, concerns, fears, insecurities, hopes, and dreams, and to have the confidence of knowing they will not be judged, but loved and supported. In fact, this is necessary in order for them to grow in self-awareness and self-esteem.

4. THE NEED TO ENGAGE IN CRITICAL THINKING ABOUT FAITH AND LIFE

Teens are transitioning from concrete thinking to abstract thinking and are able to conceptualize ideas such as love, justice, fairness, and truth. They are also capable of pondering the big questions in life such as: Is there a God? Do I need religion? Can I know God’s plan for my life? In addition, they are in the process of establishing independence and becoming their own person. Deep down they desire to be treated as adults and no longer want to be told what to do or what to believe. They are critically evaluating what they have been raised to believe and are not that interested in answers to questions they are not asking. Thought-provoking questions, lively discussion, dialogue, and freedom of expression engage teenagers in critical thinking.

5. THE NEED FOR GUIDANCE

Teenagers need dialogue, collaboration, and friendship with adults in order to become adults themselves. Relationships with adults help them answer deep fundamental questions like: Am I lovable? Am I capable? What difference does my life make? They are naturally idealistic and desire to be challenged to greatness through the direction, encouragement, and support of caring adults. It is a well-known educational principle that young people will rise to the level of our expectations of them. Teenagers will give their lives to Jesus through the witness and encouragement of loving, faith-filled adults.

While the YDisciple program is designed for parish youth groups to carry out in small group settings, the five driving needs of our adolescents are still there when they return home from their church activities. In fact, adolescents especially depend on their parents to fulfill these needs in the home and help them create peer groups that do the same. Meg Meeker points out in her book Boys Should Be Boys: 7 Secrets To Raising Healthy Boys that “in one survey, 21 percent of kids said that they needed more time with their parents. But when the parents of these kids were polled, only 8 percent responded that they needed more time with their children. We become so absorbed with keeping up with our daily lives that we miss seeing what our [kids] really need, which is simply more of us: our time and our attention.”

When we spend more time with our kids, whether that be by taking them out for ice cream, playing a game with them, going on a bike ride together, or simply working side by side on a household project, we send the message that we understand them, they belong somewhere, they can be who God created them to be around us, we’re willing to converse with them about whatever is on their mind, and we care enough to guide them through our Christian witness.

And so I allow my son to breathe down my neck while I sort the mail. I answer his questions while I balance the checkbook. And my husband and I continue our in-depth conversation about our faith even after he walks into the room.

Because he’s growing up, but he’s still learning. He knows that my husband is the one who can teach him how to be a man, and that I’m the one who can teach him what to look for in a wife. His parents are still the people who he trusts to answer his questions and help him navigate the world, and this trust is what keeps us honest and shapes us into better people.

Our son depends on us to grow into the person God created him to be, and we depend on him to do the same for us. This is the beauty of family, of relationship, and of a firm foundation of trust and love.

Grateful Parent, Happy Parent

gratitude

“When we were children we were grateful to those who filled our stockings at Christmastime. Why are we not grateful to God for filling our stockings with legs?” — G.K. Chesterton

All parents want to be happy and God wants that for us, too.  There are obstacles to our happiness, though.  We can fall into the trap of believing that once our baby sleeps through the night we will be happy. Or when we move into that larger home. Or when our toddler matures and stops throwing tantrums. We wait and hope for that moment when we will have the right house, the right job, the right behavior in our child. Of course this is an illusion.

One of the best ways to thrive as a parent has nothing to do with anything in our external environment. It boils down to our attitude, our perspective, our deepest beliefs about our life as parents. In particular, the happiest parents are those who cultivate gratitude, who recognize the many gifts they receive as parents – gifts they never expected, asked for, or deserved.

1. Why being grateful makes us happier

Scientists only really began to study gratitude in the last 10 to 20 years, but their findings are pretty startling. Many psychologists once believed that humans are born with a “set point” for happiness and that nothing we do can change it much. But the research on gratitude contradicts this viewpoint. People who cultivate gratitude in their lives experience measurable increased happiness, decreased depressions and anxiety, and better interpersonal relationships. Here’s a great article over at Psychology Today that provides a nice overview of gratitude research.

Apparently Americans express gratitude less readily than people in other cultures. Perhaps we struggle with gratitude because we so value independence and self-sufficiency while gratitude by definition requires us to recognize that somebody has given something to us that we have not earned, that we owe somebody a debt of thanks for a gift received. Gratitude is always other-directed. You can be proud of yourself, angry at yourself, or love yourself, but you can’t really be grateful to yourself.

I think this is why gratitude is so powerful in transforming us emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. God made human beings for communion and connection, and a grateful spirit allows us to move more easily outside our little shells to acknowledge one another, to embrace some other. We, for a moment at least, acknowledge that we are better off because of another person, that we get by only because of the work, generosity, and gifts of others. Gratitude feels good and leads to a better life because it allows us to be more human.

2. Gratitude 101: Recognizing and acknowledging gifts

We all have habits that make it hard for us develop real gratitude in our parenting. One of the big ones is viewing ourselves as victims of our children’s choices and habits. We may also have an unconscious sense of entitlement: we think we deserve a particular life or child we don’t have! Or perhaps we are not willing to see our own part in the struggles we have with our children. Are we inconsistent with rules, boundaries, and expectations? Do we yell too much? Shop or drink too much?

We can change these habits. Cultivating gratitude is a choice, not just an emotion. We can choose to become more grateful parents: we can cultivate the habit of gratitude and before we know it, we will be happier parents, able to recognize the spectacular gift we have received in each of our children, more alert to the graces of God in ordinary moments with our kids.

Being grateful requires us to recognize a gift and then to acknowledge it. How does this work for parents? Here are some practical tips for becoming a more grateful parent:

Journaling: Consider keeping gratitude a journal. Set aside a few minutes at the end of the day to write about five that occurred during the day that you are grateful for. I think this is a great idea for developing a heightened awareness of the good things of life that might go unnoticed because we are distracted or inattentive.

Prayer: Spiritual directors often tell their directees that the first step in spiritual growth is to foster a grateful heart. When I learned about the practice of the Ignatian daily examen prayer, I was told that the first step in the prayer is simply a gesture of gratitude. Megs Blackie over at Ignatius Spirituality explains:

“Gratitude is an acknowledgement of the continual gifting of God. And my expression of gratitude probably doesn’t begin with saying ‘thank you.’ Rather it begins in the savoring of what I have, in the celebration of the life that is. As I begin to savor and to celebrate, I start to look around for those whom I should include in my thanksgiving. I cannot help but turn my attention to God.”

To savor and to celebrate. That is the heart of gratitude. Sin often begins with a failure to recognize God’s gifts, a failure to give thanks. So the first step of the examen prayer is to reflect back over our day almost like a movie being replayed. We pause and meditate on any interactions or struggles that really stand out. We pause and reflect on these moments, look for and acknowledge God’s grace at work.

Visual reminders: Gratitude mentors encourage us to place visual reminders of gratitude around our homes. These might be little plaques or word clouds about gratitude, or perhaps something tangible that symbolizes some gift we want to honor. My youngest daughter Lydia likes to give my wee flowers that are so tiny I can hardly place them in a bud vase without drowning them. When I place these on the window sill above our kitchen sink, it is a reminder of my gratitude for her sweet gestures of affection. I am currently planning a quilt made from some of my children’s old clothing, particularly their baby clothes. If I ever manage to finish it, it will be a visible, cuddly reminder to be grateful for the unfolding of my children’s lives. My older daughter Claire made several painted river rocks over the summer. I think placing a painted gratitude rock on a tray on a nightstand would be a simple, lovely reminder to count our blessings.

3. Gratitude even on bad days?

What about really horrible, frustrating days? Can we find gratitude on these days? Absolutely. Here’s a great reminder from Henri Nouwen:

“Gratitude as a discipline involves a conscious choice. I can choose to be grateful even when my emotions and feelings are steep and hurt and resentful. It is amazing how many occasions present themselves in which I can choose gratitude instead of complaint. I can choose to be grateful when I am criticized, even when my heart responds with bitterness . . . I can choose to listen to the voices that forgive and to look at the faces that smile, even while I still hear words of revenge and grimaces of hatred.”

The fun, sweet times with our kids are easy to spot as graces we can be grateful for, but even the crummy stuff holds special graces. Maybe you had a flat tire and your van was filled with hungry, tired kids. While inconvenient, upon reflection you may remember that the tow truck guy was pleasant and humorous and made you smile. This is a grace for which we can be grateful. An argument with a child might lead to greater understanding between the two of you or you perhaps recognize some habit in yourself that isn’t working in your relationship. We can be grateful for these insights despite the discomfort of the argument.

Our perspective shapes our experience of parenting. When you’re a parent, inevitable frustrations and challenges arise, but how you perceive the situation can change your physical and emotional reaction to your children. When you perceive yourself as a victim, as not getting something you earned or deserve as a parent, you can become resentful. Before long your whole experience of parenting has soured and you have a hard time recognizing how privileged you are to be a mom or dad.

Recognizing the many things we have to be grateful for as we raise our particular children, in our particular home, on this particular day will make us happier parents no matter the challenges we encounter. Gratitude is the greatest enemy of resentment, period. Developing a habit of looking for graces and offering our gratitude increases our awareness of the way God is always active in our lives, how he always accompanies us on our parenting journey.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Resources for Your Gratitude Practice

Thanks: How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier by Robert A. Emmons. The science of gratitude and how to practice it.

Gratefulness: The Heart of Prayer by David Steindl-Rast. “Waking up to the surprise that we live in a given world means coming alive. Awareness of this surprise is the beginning of gratefulness.”

All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day Remind Us to Be Saints, Not Stars

“What if we took all the money and time we put into tutors and coaches and private lessons, and invested instead in making our children holy? Not well-known and praised and celebrated for what they do, but humble and meek and truly holy in who they are?”

halloween image

The other day, after volunteering in our son’s kindergarten classroom, my husband came home more anxious than when he’d left.

I expected to hear about the challenging craft he’d been directed to help with, or about the stress of leading five kindergarteners at once, or even about scissors or glue mishaps. But, no. My husband’s unease stemmed from none of this. It was, rather, the result of reading.

As a high school English teacher, leading a reading center should have been in my husband’s wheelhouse. And it was. What left him perturbed was what he witnessed.

“Did you know how well some of the kids in that class can read?” he asked.

“No,” I responded.

“Well, they can, some of them,” he answered.

I saw where this was going. It was headed down the road of concern about the fact that other kids were succeeding at something and our son was lagging slightly behind. It was aiming in the direction of talks we’d had about the successes our son’s peers had enjoyed in a variety of sports while we’d not yet signed our child up for even a single organized activity (because he didn’t want to).

The worry my husband was experiencing wasn’t unique to him. It is, I fear, an anxiety most parents today share: the need to have our kids succeed. And not just to succeed but to stand out in even the most successful crowds. To be stars.

We see it in the flourishing tutoring industry, with education centers popping up on nearly every street corner. We see it in the need for more sports centers, recreational teams, and travel leagues, increasingly sought out when our kids are still at remarkably young ages. We see it in the popularity of reality entertainment shows like American Idol and The Voice, where contestants give up nearly everything in their lives for a chance at fame and financial freedom.

But, while we see and hear a lot about encouraging our kids’ academic, athletic and artistic prowess, we hardly hear much about their spiritual growth. While we hear a lot of concern for our children’s bodily wellness and financial security, we hear very little about the wellness and security of their souls.

Oh, sure, we say, of course I want that, too. But, it comes as an afterthought. As a runner-up desire to the first place hope of forming our kids in the way of fame and fortune.

And that’s what worries me. I am deeply concerned about the tremendous importance we, as a society, place on our children’s earthly glory and what little importance we place on their eternal glory. The priorities we have for our children couldn’t be more backwards, and for me this came to light as I participated in the Halloween weekend.

For the past two years, my parish has hosted a Back from the Dead cemetery walk. Along the graveyard path, attendees “meet” saints like Edith Stein, St. Gianna and St. Therese of Lisieux. They also “meet” souls who are in Purgatory. This single walk brings together Halloween (graveyards, the dead), All Saints’ Day (the saints we meet on the walk), and All Souls’ Day (the stories of the souls in Purgatory). And this year, on the walk, I met the faults of my own soul and began to think deeply (or more deeply than usual) about the souls of my children.

Because I’d been slowly starting to veer from the narrow way. The start of my son’s elementary school years saw me stepping out on the popular path of worrying about earthly gain and successes. (My husband wasn’t the only one sizing our son’s skills up to those of his peers). We were in danger, I realized as I listened to the stories of saints and sinners, of taking our kids along for this ride.

As I meandered through the graveyard, I pondered more deeply on a question my pastor had just posed in the day’s homily: what would happen if we sacrificed and suffered for our children’s eternal glory instead of their earthly glory? If we took all the money and time we put into tutors and coaches and private lessons, and invested instead in making our children holy? Not well-known and praised and celebrated for what they do, but humble and meek and truly holy in who they are?

I left the walk grateful that we have a time of year such as Halloween, All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day to remind us of our mortality and the afterlife. To call us to meditate not on the things of this world but to meditate on those of another, more permanent world. For by thinking of the next world, we can better live in this one.

What Does It Mean to Be Free and Brave? Reflections on Pope Francis’ Speech Before the US Congress

pope francis before congress

Pope Francis addressed the U.S. Congress today and amidst his profound and sensitive reflections were these words about the state of the family in the United States:

How essential the family has been to the building of this country! And how worthy it remains of our support and encouragement!  Yet I cannot hide my concern for the family, which is threatened, perhaps as never before, from within and without. Fundamental relationships are being called into question, as is the very basis of marriage and family life.

In particular, I would like to call attention to those family members who are the most vulnerable: the young. For many of them, a future filled with countless possibilities beckons, yet so many others seem disoriented and aimless, trapped in a hopeless maze of violence, abuse, and despair. Their problems are our problems.

Families are, indeed, being threatened from both within and without. We are aware of the many external threats, including the attempt by legislators and the U.S. Supreme Court to redefine marriage, a cultural disregard for strong, traditional families, and the intrusion of immorality into our homes through a flood of technology. It’s easy to forget the internal threats though — those forces from within that Pope Francis mentions.

Within our own families, seeds of darkness always wait to be fertilized. Selfishness, greed, jealousy, bitterness. The devil adorns these vices in lovely garments, so that we can tell ourselves things like “I don’t put up with any garbage” or “I am very ambitious and hard working” or “I always protect my rights.” Or we prioritize our reputations, bank accounts, and physical appearance over the relationships in our families. It’s so easy to do, so seductive. We protect our homes from the internal threats that Pope Francis mentions through our openness toward one another, our willingness to sacrifice our own desires for the needs of our families — especially the most vulnerable, and by our willingness to move outside ourselves to play, work, and worship with our families. It seems so simple, doesn’t it? Building a community of love is simple, but challenging.

Pope Francis opened his speech with these words:  “I am most grateful for your invitation to address this Joint Session of Congress in the ‘land of the free and the home of the brave.’ ” I thought about what it means to be free, to be brave.  Real freedom requires the resistance of love.  I think many American are very confused about that; they assume freedom means they get to do whatever they want without limits, without boundaries, without responsibility. But that is not freedom; it is a prison.  The thing that confounds people about many Catholic families is our belief in self-giving love, in our belief that we can never be free until we grow to a place where we can give generously. This is very strange thinking in our culture. Sometimes reality look crazy; sometimes the truth is strange.

The truth about children — how they thrive, what they need to grow up into whole, joyful, contributing members of society — is uncomfortable for many people because it’s inconvenient and challenges them to be free and brave.  Building a community of love requires real freedom and real bravery, but it is how we express the image of God in ourselves. Being a mother has helped me become more free because I’ve come to understand the spiritual significance beneath simple acts of mothering, in particular, the way in which I am caught up in divine love when I stretch my limits out of care for my family. As for bravery, being a mom has helped me become more brave, too. I am more willing now to resist the status quo, to question popular views about children and families. Perhaps most importantly, being a mom has helped me face the truth about myself when I am not free, when I have failed to be brave — when I’m stuck or broken.

The Pope will have plenty more to say about the family during his time with us at the World Meeting of Families, but how wonderful that he expressed his love and concern for American families before Congress, 30% of them Catholic. The Holy Spirit is always working.

Image credit: Kevin Lemarque/Reuters

Bringing Up Bèbè: A Critical Review by Jana Thomas Coffman

bringing up bebeAccording to Pamela Druckerman’s Bringing Up Bèbè, the French not only have us beat in the world of fashion, fine dining, wine, and culture, but they’re better parents as well. Druckerman claims French babies generally sleep through the night by 4 weeks, toddlers in restaurants sit patiently through 4-course meals, and parents set firm boundaries so they can enjoy a café and adult conversation while children amuse themselves quietly in the background. Her essay, “Why French Parents Are Superior,” echoes these same themes. How does Druckerman’s advice relate to AP? Is French parenting really superior?

For me, the answer is no. Let me start by saying that I adore France and the French people. I lived in France for a year as an English teacher, and as I write this I am in France again for a language study program. The French gave us Voltaire, Monet, Renoir, and a rich literary history such as Les Miserables, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Candide, The Phantom of the Opera, The Three Musketeers, and The Man in the Iron Mask. I find their language beautiful and nuanced. Their cuisine and their wine are superb.

However, as an AP parent and an avid people-watcher, I have come to disagree with Druckerman on many levels. French parents aren’t better. The French parenting I’ve observed is just as varied as American. Some parents are strict; some are not. Some parents have well-behaved children; some do not. While I’m sure we can learn some things from our fellow parents across the Atlantic, Druckerman’s overall view of French parenting does not fit well with AP. Let’s explore why.

Le pause. First, many French babies are sleep trained. Druckerman doesn’t call it sleep training; she calls it le pause. French parents don’t rush immediately to pick up their babies at the first hint of a nighttime squawk. Rather, they let them fuss to see if the baby will go back to sleep on his own, and only pick him up if he wakes up and really begins to wail. While I can agree a few minutes of fussing between sleep cycles is normal, Druckerman never really defines le pause. Is it one minute? Two? Ten? According to this review, it’s five to ten minutes. Ten minutes of a crying baby is not a “pause” to ascertain if baby will go back to sleep. It’s the beginning of sleep training. More alarmingly, according to Druckerman, if French babies don’t faire ses nuits (“do their nights”) by about 4 months, sleep training begins in earnest.

Dr. Sears and Dr. Popcak, gurus of the AP community, both strongly advise against sleep training. Here, Dr. Narcia Navraez, professor of psychology at Notre Dame, discusses how cry-it-out and other sleep-training methods negatively impact babies’ mental and emotional health. Babies whose parents respond quickly to their cries learn that they are in a safe place and that their needs will be met, leading to greater confidence and independence later in life. On the other hand, babies who are left to cry learn the opposite, leading to insecurity, fear, and mistrust. These children often become withdrawn, anxious, and depressed. While I can certainly emphasize with French parents’ desire to get a full night’s sleep, I prefer to prioritize my child’s desire for nighttime comfort and connection over my own convenience. Sleep training at a young age can lead to lack of trust and connection with caregivers, which leads me directly to my next point .

Lack of Connection. In my observations, in general French children are less connected to their parents than children in an AP home. This is not to say that French parents don’t play with, laugh with, cuddle with, and care for their children; they do. Yet I see some troubling signs. I’m currently living with a single French mother with a daughter exactly the same age as mine (3.5 years). This mother co-sleeps, but she only breastfed for 6 months. She expressed amazement and dismay that I breastfed for 18 months, so I didn’t have the heart to tell her I’d actually let my daughter breastfeed for much longer than that. According to a 2014 study, French women breastfeed considerably less time than their Western counterparts. Only 10% of French babies are exclusively breastfed by 3 months, and only 39% are breastfed at all by that age. By six months, only 23% of French babies receive any breastmilk, and at a year the number drops to 9%. While the original article is in French, an English summary can be found here.

From these numbers, it’s safe to say a high number of French children are sleep trained and formula fed. While I don’t have numbers to back this claim, I’ve observed a lack of connection. French children often have les doudous. Le doudou is a toy or blanket the child sleeps with and carries for security. The daughter in my home cannot leave the house without her doudou, which is a scrap of blanket. She takes it to preschool, she takes it to spend the night at her uncle’s, she takes it to bed. We can’t even go out to dine at a neighborhood restaurant without the doudou. While many American children grow very attached to toys, my daughter never did. Sure, she had a favorite bear, but we never went through a phase where she could not leave the house without it. My daughter nursed for both nutrition and comfort on demand, and so she felt confident enough and connected enough to me that she did not need a plush toy or blanket for security. Of course, children with differing temperaments may naturally gravitate more toward a comfort toy, and some well-attached children may have security toys or blankets while others do not. The important thing is for security toys to augment, rather than replace, parental comfort. I wonder if so many French children, allowed to breastfeed and snuggle until they feel secure enough to self-wean and grown in independent on their own time, would need a security toy to sleep or leave the house.

Differing Social Expectations. The social expectations in France are different than in the United States. Druckerman expresses amazement at the well-behaved French children sitting patiently through (she claims) nutritious, 4-course meals. I haven’t observed that. I’ve observed French children screaming and standing on chairs in restaurants. I’ve heard parents admonish them 5, 10, 15, 20 times in the same patient, quiet tone without any change in behavior. The difference is, the people around the baby (both restaurant patrons and waiters) smile indulgently, as though to say, kids will be kids. At dinner one night, the 3-year-old stood on the bench and waved and shouted to people. The elderly couple behind us laughed and smiled, and the waiters laughed it off. We breezed out without leaving a tip, nor was one expected. In the U.S., parents are not given this much grace. Other patrons expect children to act like adults, and if they are going to act like children, the parents should keep them home. It’s unfortunate, but the pressure on parents in public dining is immense. No one would smile indulgently if my daughter behaved like that in public, nor would the waiters smile and wave away my apologies.

Likewise, French parents I’ve observed are fairly lax with expectations. Yes, the preschools do serve nutritious, vegetable-rich, varied meals, but I’ve also watched the daughter in my home eat nothing but a plate of fries for dinner. Her cousin, a bouncy 2-year-old, was told 6 times by his parents and older sister to stop touching a public plant. Each time he ignored the request and each time he was gently and calmly reminded again. Clearly, he was in charge and he knew it. These children interrupt, scream at their parents, yell commands to adults (I’ve been yelled at to “Stop talking!” and the mother just chuckled about it and stopped our conversation), and cry the moment they don’t get their way. The parents rush in, apologizing for choosing the vanilla instead of chocolate ice-cream cone or for letting the building blocks accidentally touch. When they announce it’s bedtime, tantrums and wails of “Non!” are regular occurrences.

Clearly, in the U.S. most adults would not consider these behaviors acceptable. Normal, perhaps, but certainly not to be encouraged. For us, it’s a behavior to correct, not to ignore. While I appreciate that our French counterparts accept that their children are not adults and should not be expected to act like adults, setting clear boundaries for behavior and gently guiding them to better choices is always preferable to passive parenting without guidance or consequences. So yes, French mamans do enjoy their café au lait or espresso while chatting, ignoring or tolerating the frequent screams, interruptions, and demands. Yet this is not to say French children are better-behaved, only that their bad behavior is treated differently. As an AP parent, I prefer to spend the time necessary to teach my child the correct behaviors than ignore them so I can chat with my friends.

Secular vs. Christian Values. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, France is largely a secular nation. Once strongly Catholic, France is now one of the most irreligious countries in the world, with about 50% identifying as atheists or agnostics and only 10% identifying as regularly practicing Catholics. In Druckerman’s book, French parents have several stated goals: teaching patience and delayed self-gratification, encouraging autonomy, protecting adult time in the evening, and children “finding their path in the world.”

Clearly, these things are not enough for a Christian parent. I don’t want my daughter to just find her own path in the world, I want her to find the path to Jesus. Like all parents, I want my child to be polite, bright, happy, and engaged, but I also want her to serve others, honor God, study the Bible, attend Church, and live a holy, Christ-filled life. While I’m online researching community service projects to take my daughter to this summer and fun Bible lessons to familiarize her with the Word, French parents seem to be more concerned with training their babies to give them an uninterrupted night’s sleep and letting their toddlers amuse themselves so they can enjoy a coffee in peace.

In the end, Druckerman’s book is not for me. Nor, I think, is it for any AP family. Druckerman has some interesting observations on French culture and ideas about parenting, but in the end, let’s take the book for what it is: a sociocultural memoir, rather than a guide to attached, secure, loving, Godly parenting.

ABOUT JANA  

Jana and KaylieJana Thomas Coffman lives in Alabama with her husband, Chris, and their daughter, Kaylie. Jana and Chris are an NFP (Natural Family Planning) teaching couple through the Couple to Couple League. Jana is currently working on her Ph.D. with an emphasis in Spanish and Linguistics and a minor emphasis in French.

 

3 Benefits of Family Movie Night

movie night

 

On more than one occasion our Holy Father has urged parents to “waste time with your children.” I think we need his wise guidance.  Some of us may be sacrificing family time because we worry or assume that if our kids aren’t busy with extra-curricular activities or our own calendars aren’t filled every hour of the day, we’ll all be left behind. We need to give ourselves permission to leave whole days open for “doin’ nothin’” with our kids.

In the Cameron-Smith home, one of our favorite ways to waste time together is with a family movie night!  I talked about this recently on Greg & Lisa Popcak’s radio program More2Life.  Their show was about ways to connect meaningfully with our children and movie night was my 2 cents.  Nothing signals my brain that it’s time to relax than when my 8-year-old grabs the popcorn maker and the other kids start dragging out their pillows and blankets so they can get cozy in front of the television. Aside from movie night being just good ol’ fun, here are three practical benefits:

1.  Fosters communication between kids and parents

Laughing and joking around together during and after a movie builds rapport and a sense of solidarity. Movies also provide opportunities to communicate with our kids about morality and the consequences of our choices. Every story, including the story in a movie, has a basic conflict that the main character must face or resolve. After the movie, ask your kids what they think the main problem was in the story. How did the protagonist try to solve their problem? Was she/he successful? Ask your child how she might have done things differently.  We ask these questions in a non-judgmental, casual way so that everyone feels comfortable joining in the conversation.

2.  Provides an opportunity for us to train our children in compassion and empathy

Human beings are born with a capacity for empathy, but it’s only a capacity: children need particular experiences in childhood in order for that capacity to unfold.  One of these experiences is gentle mentoring from parents about what other people are thinking and feeling. Movies provide an easy, fun way to do this mentoring. When a person in the movie is frightened, sad, or angry we can talk to our kids about that character’s perspective and experience.  We can ask questions like, “What do you think John was feeling when he couldn’t find his dog?”, “I wonder if Jane was sad or frustrated when her friend called her a name?”  This gives kids an opportunity to exercise their empathy muscles in a non-threatening way.

3.  Requires us to define our family values (if we want to use media intentionally)

Did you know that the Church has actually affirmed that movies are “a gift from God springing from human intelligence and industry” (Miranda Prorsus)?  Like any gift, movie making is a talent that can be used for good or for destruction. Some movies are clearly inappropriate for family viewing, but beyond the clear stinkers, we have to practice prudence to discern which movies are right for our particular family.

If we can define clearly what our family values are – even write them out formally in a mission statement – we will be way ahead of the game when trying to pick out good movies.  When you know “what you are about” it helps guide discussions about which movies to watch.   Are the movies we want to watch strengthening or weakening our shared values? Every movie has a “bad guy” or some struggle: what is the underlying message in the movie about the dignity of human beings, how we should treat one another in conflict, how we respond to those who are weaker than ourselves?   After you watch a particular movie, talk with your kids about which Christian virtues were present or lacking in particular characters and their choices.

Don’t feel limited to watching only Christian movies. Some movies we might have dismissed on the surface have proven to be very meaningful and surprisingly edifying for my family. For us, old classic movies often have timeless stories about the struggle between good and evil, the little guy struggling to rise above bad circumstances, or an outsider proving his value to his new community. Ty Burr’s book Best Old Movies for Families is absolutely essential for every movie-loving family.

Because we have a wide age-range of kids in our home, we try to pick things that appeal to everyone, which is a challenge. In addition to classic movies, we’ve enjoyed all the Wallace and Grommit movies by Nick Park, Benji, and the original Herbie the Love Bug movies. If you’re looking for good movie suggestions, check out www.decentfilms.com – it’s hosted by a Catholic film critic.

Let us know some of your favorite family-friendly films!

If you’d like to listen to my segment with Dr. Greg and Lisa, here is the audio file for “Family Connections Jan 30, 2015”.  My bit is about 25 minutes into the show, but the whole show was great!

 

Giving Children the Gift of Gratitude

A version of this article appeared originally in Tender Tidings Fall 2012.

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, this is a great time to share with our children the importance of gratitude.

thanksgivingThanksgiving, after all, is about far more than turkeys and pumpkin pie. It’s about offering thanks to God for his unfailing bounty and protection, especially in our time of need.

So, how do we pass on an attitude of gratitude to our children? We can begin by praying for a grateful spirit ourselves, so that we can be better witnesses to our children.  We can remind ourselves that gratitude is always coupled with the virtue of humility: We recognize that we need the assistance of God and others for our physical sustenance and emotional well-being. Nobody is an island of independence no matter how much they might want to believe it. We humans were created for interdependence.

When parents embrace a lifestyle of contentment and generosity, our children will learn intuitively the meaning of gratitude.  As a family, we can live out our commitment to growing in gratitude in tangible ways. We can choose to be content with what we already have, rather than falling into the trap of always looking to the next thing we want to possess or accumulate. How much bigger can televisions get, right?  We don’t need things to be happy. Ultimately, only God himself can satisfy our longings and desires.

Perhaps these weeks before Thanksgiving can be devoted to simplicity in our home: no more new stuff. We can use the money we save to bless those in need. Perhaps on Thanksgiving Day (or the day after) we can take new toys or a needed item to a local shelter, hospital, or other charity that’s devoted to reducing the suffering of the sick and needy.

And, of course, God has blessed us with more than material things. He has blessed us with knowledge, skills, and time. We demonstrate our gratitude for these gifts by using them to bless and aid others, which glorifies God.  We use our knowledge, skills, and time to nourish our children — body, mind, and spirit — in whatever circumstances the day presents, with an attitude and heart of love and mercy.  We do the same for those outside our family.  When we have small children it’s hard to commit gobs of time to others, but God will let you know what needs to be done and whether you’re the one to do it.   While you’re watching a movie with your family, knit a sweater for the babe of a young mother.  Do a load of laundry for the same mother while you do your own laundry.   Share your parenting wisdom with other parents at a play date.  Share with your children what you are doing and why, and invite them to participate in the work.

The bottom line is that by watching us and working alongside us, our children will begin to reflect an attitude of gratitude, too.  They will become increasingly conscious of the gifts they already have and they will eventually see that sitting still in that consciousness — resisting the modern tendency to seek ever more, bigger, better — is a gift in itself that they give back to God.

Here are few books to get a conversation going with your kids about gratitude.

Family Story Hour

I’m Thankful Each Day by P.K. Hallinan (toddlers to age 6)

Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts (preschool to age 8)

My Book of Thanks by B.G. Hennessey (ages 5 to 9)

Mary Magdalene: A Woman Who Showed Her Gratitude by Marlee Alex (preschool to age 8)

What makes a “good” parent?

“That means that for almost a quarter of a century, humans need a special kind of love and nurturing that will not only meet them and connect with them right where they are but guide them gently without controlling them and stunting their own growth intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually.”

 

What makes a good parent?

empathy father and sonIn one word? Humility.

In two words? A sense of humor and humility.

Lately, I have spent more time with my five grandchildren, all of them aged two and under. I am struck by the fact that most adults are not natural baby whisperers and that our society really does not spend time preparing hapless adults to become parents.

Children, especially babies are, well…little. Little and vulnerable. Vulnerable to the large, often clueless adults, who care for them. Put yourself in a baby’s situation. Preverbal for years, it must be frustrating to be tired or in pain, only to have a bottle thrust into your mouth or have a tense, upset mother try to nurse you when your stomach is bloated with burps.

This disconnect does not end once children can communicate. Nope, our adult reasoning simply does not always compute in little brains. Why, I have been told that human beings do not get their adult brain until they are 25 years old! Apparently, the frontal lobe that makes sane, rational decisions is not fully developed until the mid-twenties.

That means that for almost a quarter of a century, humans need a special kind of love and nurturing that will not only meet them and connect with them right where they are but guide them gently without controlling them and stunting their own growth intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually.

That means that the best parents are willing to learn — from their offspring, from books, from experience, and from others. Good parents need a wonderful sense of humor to laugh at their own blunders, to laugh at their kids’ blunders. Openness to try new tactics helps, as does creativity. But most of all, they need to be intuitive, listening to their little ones’ body language and tone of voice and their own gut feelings and instincts.

As Catholics we are called to listen to the voice of God within because those kids are His and He knew them before they were born. He knows how they tick better than you or I.  And this is often where the greatest lessons in humility enter in.  Listening to this voice of God is what truly makes us a “good” parent.

Image credit:  Ron Chapple Studios (thinkstock.com)

 

5 Signs of a Successful Family

Last week my husband and I attended a workshop led by a couple who had once been on the brink of divorce.  They had everything the world told them a successful family should have:  two children, a giant house, a vacation house on the beach, and nice cars.  Yet they success.jpgwere miserable.  Their message: the world’s definition of success is a lie.  For them, saving their family required them to leave their stressful jobs and focus on raising their children.  We can all benefit from reflecting on the true nature of a successful family.  So, what is a successful family?  How do we achieve that vision?  I explored this issue with Greg and Lisa Popcak on Thursday, March 27, on their radio program More2Life.  If you missed the show (“Parenting Success”), you can access it in the Ava Maria Radio archives here.

Anyone interested in our website probably knows already that success has nothing to do with the size of your bank account or the square footage of your house.  A successful family is one that lives out God’s plan for the family, which is to build a community of life and love.  The successful family nourishes the well-being of the family as a whole and each individual member as unique, unrepeatable persons.   Our culture tells us that certain things will make us happy or nourish our families when they don’t.  Having a vacation house isn’t wrong, but it cannot bring the kind of meaning and joy to our families that God’s plan for our family will.

Anyone interested in reading this probably also knows already that successful families should pray together, attend holy days of obligation, and fulfill their sacramental promises.  But here are five signs of a successful family many of us forget on occasion.  They form the acronym GRAILGenerosity, Resilience, Acceptance, a clear Identity, and Laughter.

Generosity

The parents and children in successful families think in terms of WE instead of ME.  The couple we heard speak admitted they had both been entirely focused on their own need for external approval – to be the best, the richest, the most admired in their circle of friends.  They decided instead to prioritize the needs of the other spouse and their children.  They began asking each other, “What do you need from me today” instead of “What have you done for me lately?”.   They also opened their hearts and arms to five more babies!  The most radical choice we can make as Christian families is to live for each other instead of ourselves, to practice self-donative, generous love.  Children learn this kind of self-donative love through the modeling of their parents – how parents treat their children and one another.

Resilience

Every family will face hardship and setbacks.  Oftentimes, this is where the rubber hits the road, when we find out how strong our family connection really is.  How do we treat one another during those times?  How do we get through them?  Successful families know they are not alone:  they have a strong enough rapport to come together during crises to face the road ahead together with the assistance of God.  Rather than coming apart at the seams, successful families are actually strengthened in adversity through a shared sense of determination and unity when faced with setbacks.  Studies show that families who already have strong communication skills and a respect for one another develop resilience.

Acceptance

We all makes mistakes; we are all sinners.  Successful families learn to forgive, to embrace one another even in our ‘not-finished-yet’ state.  When our children make a mistake, we don’t have to pretend like it didn’t happen, but we can lovingly and gently show them a better way to handle big feelings or frustrations in the future.  Instead of hurting or scaring our child with a harsh punishment, we can empathize with her experience while at the same time giving her the skills she needs to succeed in the future.  When we foster this kind of loving acceptance in the home, families serve as a sign to the Church and to unbelievers of the mercy of God.

A Clear Identity

Successful families make it clear up front what they’re about – which virtues and values are most important to them.  Then they can see more clearly how they want to spend their time and money.  Coming up with a family mission statement is a fun and effective way to concretize your family vision.

Laughter

We too often forget how important laughter is for creating a joyful, vibrant home.  In our achievement-oriented culture it’s easy to get caught up in pushing our kids to work night and day to become successful academically or in sports.  Good grades and sports are fine, but not at the expense of our child’s heart or our family’s sense of mirth.  Jesus surely laughed with his disciples when he gathered with them around a table for a meal.  Becoming a family that laughs together doesn’t take any extra time:  it’s an attitude, a way of making ordinary moments of connection light-hearted and fun.

So there we have it:  GRAIL.  Hopefully we can all remember to foster the GRAIL in our families this week!

3 Points to Consider When Talking to Your Kids About Abortion

Today marks the anniversary of Roe versus Wade–41 years since the legalization of abortion in America.

Abortion.

It’s an ugly word, full of secrets, despair, and misinformation.  It’s a term that most of us really don’t like to talk about.

But it’s out there, and our children hear it too.

Return of the Prodigal Son, Rembrandt

Return of the Prodigal Son, Rembrandt

With all of the conflicting views about abortion that are discussed in the media, our children are likely to experience some confusion, raise questions, or, worse yet, grow accustomed to the topic and regard it as just another part of normal life.

As parents, it is of utmost importance that we serve our children well by forming their consciences according to the laws of God.  This means we don’t ignore tough topics they are starting to learn about, even if they have only heard the issue addressed in the petitions at Sunday Mass.  Parents have to decide for themselves when their child has truly reached an age of reason–an age when he or she is ready to take on some of the more difficult topics of life.  But we must be aware of our job to guard their souls against evil by educating their minds in what lurks about, hoping to ensnare them with the pretty disguises of the devil.

So when the time feels right to you, or your child starts to ask questions, here are three points that I try to take into consideration when discussing difficult topics like abortion with my children.

1.  Be honest.

In clear language that is age appropriate, be honest with your children about what abortion is.  If they are asking the questions, they are ready to handle the answers.  There is no need to be graphic, of course, but they deserve to know the truth, that it is a grave sin, and that it greatly offends God.  We are never called to make light of something so serious.

2.  Emphasize compassion.

While we want our children to understand that abortion is sinful, we also want to encourage them to think the best of those who have engaged in it.  These are early lessons in loving the sinner while hating the sin.  Explain to your children that some people are misinformed, feel they have no other choice, or simply don’t have a very strong presence of God in their lives.  Find your local pregnancy crisis center and take your children with you to drop off a donation.  Drive the point home that we don’t condemn those who see no other way–we show them the way with love.

3.  Explain God’s love and mercy in light of your own unconditional love for your children.

God is all forgiving and ever merciful.  He waits with open arms, full of hope that the lost sheep of His flock will find their way back to their

Shepherd.  Tell your children that God loves them, and you love them, no matter what they do.  Emphasize that even though you don’t like it when they do something bad, you always love them for who they are.  Encourage them to come to you with any problem and convey that you will always be there for them, not to condemn, but to forgive, embrace, and heal.

Let us pray today that God will enlighten those who feel they have no choice, who feel they have been backed into a corner from which they cannot escape.  Let us pray that God will show us and our children how to lead others into the light of God’s merciful love.

Fix the Family Is Dangerous

Educate womenI recently read through several blog posts and watched three videos produced by the Fix the Family ministry, which is headed by two Catholic couples.  I guess these people have good intentions and I actually agree with them on a few things.  But they are dangerous, because they are envisaging a pre-50’s family in which “father knows best” and enjoys unquestioned obedience (including from the wife), in which  husbands should chastise their wives and keep them in line because they are the morally more vulnerable sex, and in which all women should be stay at home mothers.  They claim they are “100% faithful to the Vatican” yet many of their statements are so misleading, poorly reasoned, and unfounded that they’re honestly embarrassing in addition to being brutally wrong.

I would like to share this excerpt from an article by the one of the wives on why she is glad when her husband admonishes her:

“To be corrected by a husband is not a demeaning thing.  Because we obey God, it becomes a wonderful thing.  Many blessings and graces flow from this exercise of obedience, of human nature.  This is the way God designed it.   A playing out of this exercise is illustrated in Jane Austin’s Emma.  The fallen human nature of a woman is displayed in Emma as she is a busybody in matchmaking and manipulation . . . Mr. Knightly scolds and corrects her.  At the end, when they reveal their love, he tells her that she has borne his rebukes better than any other woman in London would have borne it!  . . . I am glad that my husband is not scared of me.  I am glad that he is man enough to make sure I keep my own spoon in my own pot!  He protects me from myself, my fallen human tendencies as a female.”

Does her husband allow her to guide him on his path to heaven?  The wife is holding on to a musty assumption that women are morally weaker than men, because Eve was the one to grab the apple.  Similarly, the husband has a very dark view of paid work because he sees it as punishment for the sins of Adam.

I had never heard of this website before reading Dr. Greg’s critique of one of their more outlandish claims:  parents shouldn’t send girls to college.  Raylan Alleman, the head honcho at Fix the Family, gave these as the eight reasons we parents should deny young women a college education:

1. She will attract the wrong kind of men.

Summary: a man will marry her because she’ll be a good provider to him and he’ll end up being a lazy good for nothing.

My response:  Um, ooookay.  You shouldn’t go to college because some lazy men might like you?  Lazy men are attracted to all sorts of women, but a well-educated woman will be more likely to see through him.

2. She will be in a near occasion of sin.

Summary: Too much sex goes on at college campuses.  She’ll have sex and end up with the wrong guy because all that sex will blind her judgment.

My response: So it’s okay for the boys to be having sex? It’s okay for us to send our boys into these dens of iniquity?  How about the many wonderful Catholic colleges that might nourish our children’s faith life, mind, and values?  Even if our daughters attend secular universities, it does not follow that she’ll become prey to the hook-up culture.

3. She will not learn to be a wife and a mother.

Summary:  College is a training for work, not for homemaking.

My response:  Of course higher education prepares us for family life!  It teaches us to consider and evaluate different truth statements, to defend our faith intelligently, to engage with the world, to awaken parts of ourselves left sleeping in girlhood.  College is far more than preparation for paid work.  By engaging in the ideas of history, we enter that “great conversation” with our peers, considering viewpoints with new rigor and awareness.  That’s preparation for all of life, not  just a job.

Also what if God is not calling her to be a wife and mother?  What if she is called to religious life and her chosen order prefers a college degree?  What if she is called to be a single tertiary?  I am not willing to presume what God has planned for my precious girls.

4. The cost of a degree is becoming more difficult to recoup.

Summary: Cost of college is inflated.

My response:  I agree with him.  The cost of college in this country is ridiculous.  But why wouldn’t this be an argument for NOBODY going to college — why women only?  What about scholarships or state schools?  What about attending college out of the country?  Finally, perhaps to many young women, that cost is worth it.

5. You don’t have to prove anything to the world.

Summary: Women shouldn’t feel their worth is determined by their job or income.

My response:  Going to college doesn’t make a woman feel that way; our culture does. Even if she doesn’t go to college, that message exists.  If she goes to college she’ll be better able to assess the credibility of some of the cultural messages.

6.  It could be a near occasion of sin for the parents.

Summary:  If parents have to pay for every child for college, they’ll be freaked out about cost, so they’ll limit family size.

My response:  If parents were willing to limit family size just because they fear college costs, they will limit family size for a host of other reasons: so they’ll have enough love “to go around”, so they can take more family vacations, etc.

7.  She will regret it.

Summary:  If your daughter goes to college she’ll be a career woman, never have kids, and will regret it later.  Many women today are admitting they regret not having children or focusing on their families.

My response:  Huh?  He is making a giant logical leap: college leads to corporate climbing maniac leads to mid-life regrets.  He points out how many women regret putting off having children.  So true.  But that doesn’t mean they regret going to college.  Furthermore, there are many, many college educated mothers who love their kids and are so glad they went to college, too.

8.  It could interfere with a religious vocation.

Summary:  If your daughter’s debt is too high, most religious orders will reject her.

My response:  Most religious orders prefer candidates with college degrees.   Be careful about debt, but go to college.  Furthermore, many women find their vocations in college.

This particular article gleaned more than 4000 comments on Facebook.  4000.  Almost all of them were critical; those supporting him said things like, “What do you expect from liberals — of course they’ll criticize plain common sense.”  I am not a liberal; and this stuff is not common sense.   (And can I point out that many of the comments were from non-Catholics who may think these are real Catholic principles?)  Clearly this website is receiving a great deal of attention and that concerns me.  Clearly their message is problematic, but it’s keeping writers busy offering critiques.  A professor in moral theology actually wrote an article critiquing their assertions about daughters attending college (it’s superb, check it out).  Too bad she had to take time to write it.  Too bad Dr. Greg had to do the same. Because while everyone is taking time to sift through the garbage, we are missing the opportunity to talk about real problems.

Moms and dads, these problems are important to me:

1.  How do we deal with the bloated cost of a college education so that all of our children at every level of society can not only attend, but can go on to use their talents in the way they imagine?  The answer isn’t to keep our girls home!  It is to examine, assess, and scream if necessary.

2.  Why do we think stay at home mothers aren’t working? Stay at home mothers WORK.  We should value ALL WORK and ensure that the dignity of the laborers is protected.  We need to have this discussion because our view of work demeans the contributions, creativity, and gifts of people who earn no or little paid salary.

3.  Why do some folks (like Fix the Family) assume working mothers are abandoning their families?  The Church does not require all mothers to stay home with their children.  CAPC supports mothers who work for pay and those who are full-time mothers.  We also support those moms who fall somewhere in between.  (All of them are working!!)  In fact, Pope John Paul II made it very clear that the unique gifts of women need to be felt not only in the home, but in the parish, in the boardroom, and in the public square.  (Incidentally, you will far more effective at making that kind of impact if you are educated, informed, and articulate . . .)  But in making these choices we have to use prudence and wisdom, and that means being informed about how our choices will affect the well-being of our children.  THIS is what we should be talking about.  We should love and support one another, especially mom to mom.  We are sisters in Christ, on this thorny road to heaven.

4.  How do we raise children who enter adulthood passionate about our Faith, confident in their own dignity, who easily live the virtues of mercy and justice in order to protect the dignity of others, including unborn children, women, and the poor?

5.  How do we nourish the masculinity of husbands and the femininity of  wives, while celebrating our shared dignity and our equal right to use our gifts and talents?  I was reading some remarks from a theologian recently on how real love brings out the uniqueness of each partner.  Love really isn’t blind.  Sometimes we see beautiful things in our spouses that they can’t even see.  Isn’t that amazing?  God also reveals more of us to ourselves when we love our husbands and wives completely, when we seek mutuality and communion rather than domination.

Now this stuff is interesting, at least to me.  What problems are  important to you?  Maybe today your biggest problem is getting toothpaste out of the toddler’s hair!  But do you see what I mean?  I think Fix the Family is dangerous because it distracts us from more productive and enriching dialogue.

I would like to share my story eventually about why I chose to stay home with my babies; why I chose to homeschool; why I don’t think you need to make the same choices that I did to be a wonderful parent.  I want you to know me better, because I think we parents need to share our personal stories of uncertainty and confusion, and how we grappled with them in the arms of Jesus.  Please share with all of us your journeys, too.  Please write guest posts for CAPC about who you are and how you ended up in this virtual “corner” with the rest of us.  All of our voices are valuable at the table.

God bless.