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Monday, September 22, 2008

Children and Religion

Twenty plus years ago when I got married my wife and I agreed that there were certain aspects of parenting we would not compromise on.  One of these areas was religion.  We agreed that an upbringing in the church was fundamental to our children's future. Wanting to do everything we could to prepare our children to be contributing members of our society when they became adults, teaching them values, right from wrong, and providing them with a cornerstone for their lives we believed that a belief system and role modeling these behaviors would do this.  We still believe this.  Regardless of what our children did with their religion once they became adults, this was their choice, we believe that providing a community cornerstone where they felt safe to turn was core for them.  Wander as they may, as we did;  Question as they may, as we did and still do.  Believe or not, there was a part of both of us that felt this was instrumental for them. 
I was not raised religious.  My brother attended church on occasion and participated in youth activities through the church he went to while we were growing up, this I later found out was because that's where all the girls hung out.  Other than his exposure to that environment I had no exposure to organized religion.  I believed then as I do now, that there is a higher power, what that is I have questioned over my life.  I believe that I have come to know God through many ways over my many years of life, for the past 15 years it has been through the Catholic Church and our Parish's members and those who are active within the faith community.  I don't agree with all that is said and done by these people but I try to look for the message that exists within each.  It's been a long journey and one that continues but I believe it has made me a better man. 
My wife was raised Catholic and continues to have a very strong belief.  She is active in the community and believes that giving back is core to the well being of the church and it's future.
Why the background?  Why is any of this important?  I guess to set the stage for the quandary that we find ourselves in - to push or allow our oldest to start his own path.
The struggle that we have is with our eldest son who is nearing his 18th birthday.  Trials and tribulations have strafed his teen years as they do with many teen boys.  His search for independence, self-confidence, fitting in and the laundry list has led him in many directions.  Experimentation with drugs and alcohol; parental defiance (rebellion I believe it was called when I was youn); self absorption and on and on.  So, for the most part I think this makes him nearly "normal".  I could be wrong but I hope not.  He has been, through all of it, active in his religion.  He was active in the youth ministry and other ministries within our community, until he was soured by the people involved.  He used to attend Mass regularly with us without many complaints, but this is all starting to change and it's causing us to look back at our original views on what we intended to provide to our kids.
The church offers opportunities to participate in retreats to places like Disneyland and other theme parks on the west coast for minimal cost - I think a weekend in Disneyland cost $100.00 including the bus ride over to Anaheim. Our son has participated in many of these over the years.  Always with the caveat from my wife and I that he must give back to the church through participation and not just the monetary cost of the trip.  Always it's a promise that he will; the youth groups have changed; he's going to be a leader.... he hasn't.  He finds a complaint, excuse, reason to forego his commitment.  His argument is that over half of the kids/teens that go on these trips are what he calls "part time Catholics", they don't give back, they don't do this... or... they don't do that....  He has a point, but we talk about being a role model, setting the example, moving past the people and on to the spiritual realavance of what he is doing.  Maybe we ask to much, maybe we are misguided, I don't know.  Where's the chapter in the parenting handbook that tells you what to do when one questions their religion?
It is not easy being a parent.  It is even harder learning to let you child find their own way, spread their wings and explore their inner self.  I hope, as do most parents, that we have done right by our kids.  That our plans, in this case the plan of providing a safe haven, a cornerstone to lean on, are the best that we could have done by our children and their future.
There's no ah-ha moment to this post, just the general wondering of a parent of a teen.

parenting, parent of a teen, Catholic, religion

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Midwest Mom said...

Hey, Whiteline...

I, too, am Catholic and was raised to be an active participant at church (youth group, children's choir, etc.) I am raising my own children in the Church, and this year my son will celebrate his First Communion.

I think what your son is going through is a natural shift from following his parent's faith practice to the search for his own. When I went to college, I attended church only sporadically, not because I lacked faith, but because I realized that the practice was finally up to me. As time went by, I came to find that making church a priority helped me feel whole and grounded. But I honestly believe I had to come to that realization on my own after a period of searching. I believe the decision to take on responsibility for your own faith practice is the *actual* moment of Confirmation. (It has nothing to do with a ceremony in 7th grade -- who can make adult decisions in 7th grade?!?)

It looks like your son's journey into adult faith is beginning. Don't worry -- you and your wife have grounded him and with your love and support he will make good choices.

(BTW, in ten years when my kids start the same process, copy this comment and send it back to me -- please.)

Best, -MM

Troy - a.k.a. Whiteline said...

MM, I hope it's all part of his adult faith journey. I do know in my heart that it is and it is this knowledge (based on nothing at all) that I have to trust...

Thank you for sharing and for your comments. Of course I'll set your comments to autopost in 10 years, check back.

I think I'll title the post "Remember when you said..." ;)