When my youngest was in elementary school, she repeated a conversation she had heard at home. The conversation was about our family boycotting a doll company that had decided to partner up with Planned Parenthood. Susie told her girlfriends at recess that she wasn’t allowed to play with those particular dolls because “they kill babies.” That’s how she had understood it. Children don’t get bogged down in the ethics of material or formal cooperation. When we strip away all the euphemisms, she was essentially right. There was no clean way to deliver that.
The messiness that resulted from that revelation ensued and the “helicopters” came after me. Some mothers from our faith-based school got their feathers ruffled and called the school to complain. They were upset that their children had been the recipients of such disturbing news. This disturbed them more than the fact that a doll company was colluding with an abortion giant. (Incidentally, this reveals the ways in which companies that get involved in abortion hurt everybody and throw all kinds of things out of balance. Who would have thought Planned Parenthood would cause problems on the school playground and in the way parents interact with each other and the school?)
I got a call from the principal asking me to tell my daughter to stop. This was after the fact, mind you. So, aside from appeasing the helicopters, the conversation had no purpose except to shame me (what kind of mother..!?) and to coach my daughter into silencing her message in the future.
I considered it but decided against it. How do you tell a child that her very appropriate reaction to something that seems good is actually linked to something evil, needs to be toned down? The normal healthy response to knowing something like that is not only to tell friends but to shout it from the rooftops. I was not going to snuff out her spirit of exhortation. In fact, I saw it as a fruit of Holy Spirit working within her.
I imagine the parents of those children felt blindsided. I understand some weren’t ready to tackle abortion in elementary school. But when we send our children out into the world, even into Christian institutions, we relinquish a large amount of control. It’s called life. My children, too, have been on the receiving end of “peer education.” In recess, they learned things like there are no Santa Claus, or how to spell certain four letter words. In fact, there will be many messages that combat our families’ values in and out of school.
For this reason I have erred on the side of proactively equipping them with more information rather than less. I have tried my best to do this in an age-appropriate way. Like in the schoolyard example, sometimes it has worked better than others. Finding the appropriate information for the appropriate time is a challenge. There is a temptation for parents to wait for the perfect moment, let their guards down, and to put off difficult conversations indefinitely. They imagine there will be a magical moment when their children will come to them and broach complex moral subjects like pornography or abortion, for example.
But it doesn’t work that way. How can we expect children to bring up a subject when we haven’t done so ourselves? I imagine it comes from fear that talking about the ugly parts of life will deprive them of their innocence. But, in my experience, it has not. It has, hopefully, cured my children of the pervasive cultural apathy.
Since they were very young, I have taken my children to Planned Parenthood to pray Rosaries. Inevitably they were exposed to grisly abortion images or the occasional drive by flip-off. They survived. When my oldest two daughters were young teens, we took a train downtown and went to the Kermit Gosnell trial. It was impactful to see a serial murder up close and personal. None of these things left them untouched. But that’s the point.
Now, I am not patting myself on the back. I am pointing out we might do more harm than good when we assume our children have been untouched by harmful cultural messages and we postpone contradicting those messages first. Everybody knows the best defense is a good offense. I did these things and continue to do so, to make sure that abortion never becomes just an abstract idea or, God forbid, an attractive one. Too many of us are battling abortion just in words and concepts, and letting it get lost among the “many other issues.” As a result, too many Christian families don’t give this issue the weight it deserves.
Susie is now in middle school and too old for recess. This year she is getting ready to make her confirmation and she will be strengthened to go out into the world as a soldier to face the battle against the very gospel of life. My prayer is that her sense of exhortation in the face of injustice she had a small child will only grow. It’s not a pretty world out there. In fact, to give those being confirmed a small taste for the insult they would face as Christians in the world, the bishop used to give a little slap on the cheek. Though not a part of the ceremony these days, that reminder is more relevant and appropriate than ever! If there is one thing I seek to teach my children, it is that it is imperative to never be silent or complacent in the face of evil. The world will punish them for it. But it’s worth it.
“They will insult you, they will persecute you, they will say every kind of false thing about you because of Me! Rejoice and be glad! Your reward will be great in heaven!” (Matt: 5: 11-12)
Victoria Garaitonandia Gisondi is the Outreach Associate of Priests for Life and a mother of five. Priests for Life is the world's largest Catholic organization focused exclusively on ending abortion.