Some time ago a friend of mine shared an article written by a mom, who is an atheist, about her young son’s journey to atheism. Like many parents, she meant to leave him a blank slate so that, without her interference, he could come to his own conclusions about the existence of God and the necessity of religion in his own time. She spoke of how she wasn’t intentionally raising him atheist, and her realization that by raising him with no spiritual foundation, she actually was raising him to be an atheist.
The way we relate to God, faith and religion in our homes; whether intentionally or not, does, in fact, raise our children to be something. If we speak of God’s presence in our individual lives and in the life of our families, pray together, do charitable works together, make Mass part of our routine and celebrate holidays with their intended meaning, we are creating a culture of faith, belief and probably a lasting relationship with God and the Church that will be passed on to the generation beyond our own children. If we don’t, we are sending a different message, and imbuing our children with a different set of values.
Many of my friends, without a direct intention of doing so, are in fact, raising their children to resent Church. Many of my friends, believing themselves to be doing what is expected of them, and even believing themselves to be doing right by God and the Church, drag their kids, kicking and screaming to CCD every week. After a long day of school, sports, homework and then (if they're lucky) a rushed dinner, parents—aggravated and exhausted themselves—grumble to their kids to get a move on so they aren’t late for Religious Ed. And then…nothing else. The only experience of Church that these kids and their parents are having is the rush, annoyance and dissatisfaction of fighting for a spot in an overcrowded parking lot after a long day for something that neither parent nor child has any other material or emotional connection with. I know this is not everyone’s experience—but it is a very common experience.
Unintentionally, we are training our children to believe that religion is a requirement only for children (for who knows what reason) that will be escaped and finished with as soon as the child is Confirmed. An unintentional relationship with God breeds an unintentional lack of relationship with God in the next generation.
So, what can be done? Parents can take a look at why they are inflicting CCD on their families. They can ask themselves a few questions:
• Why am I sending my child to religious education?
• What do I hope that my child will gain from it?
• What do I want for my child in regards to a relationship with God and the Church?
• What do I believe about God and how I can respond to the relationship that God is inviting me to?
• If it is not of value to me, why do I persist in it?
We are so intentional in our parenting in so many ways. We try to establish healthy habits for our children by modeling for them, placing restrictions on and educating them. We take time and effort with things that are important to us and make sure that our kids understand them and have a foundation that they can grow on. Faith is no different. If it is of value to us, we have to make it an intentional part of our family experience—not just for the kids to "make" their Sacraments—but for all of us to live and be transformed by. We can only pass on what we ourselves have. Maybe this is the time to question what we believe, and if we find that we don’t have the answers or that there is something lacking, perhaps it’s the time to do something about it.
Begin with prayer. It’s easy to introduce prayer into the life of a family—it can be as simple as beginning with Grace before meals. Come to Mass as a family. When our families come together in worship with other families, we see that we belong to something much bigger than ourselves, we have our values strengthened and affirmed, we spend time together, and we spend time with our God. Many parishes offer discussion questions for families in the bulletin (and online) to encourage a deeper understanding of what we hear in the Scriptures. Taking these two steps will open the door for bringing God into your daily family life in a very natural way.
Teaching your kids at home is often offered as an alternative to the classroom model of CCD that can remove some of the stress, making time for faith discussions at home, parents can learn right along with their children by teaching the lessons (books or online programs are provided!) and there are a few sessions a year where families come to the parish together in community with activities and faith sharing. It is the role of the parent to be the primary educator of their children in faith. This is a great opportunity to claim that role and grow in faith ourselves. And, you’re not on your own—if there’s something you don’t know the answer to or don’t understand, the parish staff can help with that, too.
But, before you sign your kids up for Religious Ed (CCD) this year, ask yourselves some questions. Consider your intentions. Make the most life-giving decision that you can for your family.