It's Catholic Schools Week. On Sunday, our pastor gave a nice homily reminding us that parents have the primary responsibility of raising their kids in the Faith -- and that this is true whether we send our kids to Catholic school or not, and whether we take advantage of the parish's religious education program or not.
At our house, we're in the middle of frenzy of catechetical activity that comes at the end of January, when I suddenly realize that it's almost time for someone's first confession and first Communion again; so when the words "religious education" come into my head at night, I can think, "Check!" and go back to sleep, rather than lying there in a guilty agony as I recall that one kid who thinks there are three Gods, one of whom is named "Jeremy."
Anyway, as the pastor spoke, the phrase "raising our children" jumped out at me. Why do we call it that -- "raising children?" Probably the phrase came to be just because we oversee them as they literally get taller: We mark their height as they grow, as they are raised up. There is more to the phrase than that, of course. Even kids with terrible parents grow taller! We raise them, we cultivate them, like a crop of precious seedlings,making sure they're warm and fed and not too hot and not to cold, and protecting them from pests and storms as best we can.
But when we're talking about kids, it strikes me that to "raise" them is something that takes a conscious, willful effort, even beyond doing the things like making sure they're fed, clothed, sheltered, educated, and catechized. We have to raise them up in so many other ways:
We must raise our children up from discouragement. As my kids get older, I realize more and more how important it is to be encouraging. There are so many voices (real and imagined) telling them that they are losers, they're not important, they're not worth trouble, they're not valuable. Home needs to be a place where we recognize and acknowledge what is good in them -- not by offering thoughtless praise or meaningless trophies, but by showing them daily with our words, actions, and attitudes that they are beloved and irreplaceable. Smile. Speak gently when you can. Be glad to see them.
We raise our children to have high standards. We have high expectations for them, not to feed our egos as parents, but because they are important as people. We give them reasonable responsibilities and encourage them to expect a lot of themselves -- not to settle for whatever the lowest common denominator of cultural standards, but to excel according to their particular gifts.
We raise our children by giving them a higher level of entertainment and cultural nourishment, better sounds, better images, better ideas. This is not the school's job, it's our job as parents to show them the best that civilization has to offer. You don't have to spend summer vacation touring European cathedrals, or make them recite passages from the Nichomachean Ethics before they get any pudding. Just make the good stuff a part of ordinary life: turn off the blabber of talk radio and play music in the car on the way to school. Along with the Star Wars memes and pictures of the internet's naughtiest dogs, forward to your kids pictures of gorgeous paintings and photos of amazing natural phenomena. If you come across a poem you like or a quotation that strikes you, write it on a piece of paper and put it on the bathroom wall. Be better than what's outside the walls of your home!
We raise our children by reminding them to look up, not down. Religious education should be a story of looking forward in joyful hope, not tooth grinding and hand wringing over the loss of morality in the world these days.
These are not groundbreaking ideas. But it's helpful to have a phrase or an image in mind when we face the daunting task of raising children, isn't it? The world exerts so much downward pressure on us, that we who are raising families need to make a conscious effort to provide some lift! Take a squint at your family life. Are you truly raising your kids?