Here’s a snapshot of one kind of American Catholic mother, writer Mary Elizabeth Williams.
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, feminist, 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…
…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.
In two weeks, my daughter will walk into the church on her own two feet and make her confirmation, because, she says, it’s “what its name suggests: I confirm that I love God.” And when I ask her why she wants to stay Catholic, she says, “My life is good, and I can be grateful. And when it’s not good, faith helps me get through it.” She’s still a work in progress, growing and adjusting her philosophy as she goes along, confirming what she believes, discovering what she still has yet to learn and what she is yet called to do. Me too. And though it hasn’t been easy or perfect, I haven’t raised my kids within the church to impose upon them an obligation. I’ve tried, instead, to give them a gift – one that’s flawed but frequently beautiful, and capable of being whatever they choose to make it.