What I Learned When My Kids Went to School

Danielle Bean recently told me, “When God said, ‘In pain will you bring forth children,’ He wasn’t just talking about being in labor!” It’s so true: Bringing up children is a work of joy and delight, but also an enterprise fraught with so much pain, fear and anxiety, it can be almost intolerable (and there’s no epidural for child-rearing!).

One especially painful enterprise is figuring out your child’s education. After six years of home school and one year in Catholic private school, we enrolled our kids in a local public charter school. Was I nervous? You could say that: I didn’t sleep for about a month, fretting about all the things that could happen to my little ones. They weren’t used to this kind of thing! They won’t know how to act! They won’t know how to stick up for themselves! And, worst of all, they won’t be with other Catholics. What would become of them?

Well, I’ll tell you. In the last month, my daughter made the conscious decision to forgive and remain friends with someone who hurt her, because she knew this girl has troubles and needed a faithful friend. Another daughter spent her day off with a girl she doesn’t like, because no one else will hang around with this girl. A school friend stayed for dinner and was mystified when we said grace—so my kids explained why we do it, and who God is. And my son stood up during “share” time and, with a shaking voice, explained that it upsets and troubles him when people use God’s name in vain, and he asked them to stop.

I’m glad my children were there.

Now, don’t get the idea that my kids are some kind of niminy-piminy ferverinos who choose plaid uniforms voluntarily because it makes them feel close to God. They are nose-picking, sass-giving, homework-losing, chore-dodging, sibling-pinching little termites, just like everyone’s kids. But I was astonished and delighted to find out that we seem to have given them a firm grounding in their faith. Apparently we’ve raised them to know that their faith is Good News, which ought to be shared. And I was delighted to see how brave they are, and how generous.

So, here’s the deal: Your first job is to protect your kids, obviously. But your second job is to make sure your kids understand that Catholics are supposed to be protectors. They are supposed to be the ones who help. They are supposed to be the ones who speak up when something’s wrong, or be the one who does the unpopular thing for the right reason.

I’m not sending my kids forth to martyrdom. When there’s any whiff of danger to my cubs, I turn into a raging animal like any other mother. But I think that Catholics can be prone to sensing danger where there really is none—and what does that do? It deprives the world of your wonderful children. So if you are in the position of sending your kids into a less-than-ideal environment, don’t assume you’re throwing your innocent one into a den of vipers. Some of those vipers are actually weaker than your child, and need a friend. Some of those vipers come from homes that have no use for God, but they need Him just as much as your kids do.

I’d love for my kids to be able to pray before meals without feeling weird, to talk about their many siblings without being the oddball—to be in a place where being Catholic is normal and accepted, just part of everyday life. But there was no such thing for us right now (and no, home school is not always the answer); and plenty of other parents are in the same position.

So I’m writing to tell you that if you’re facing the prospect of a secular school for your kids, don’t be afraid. Maybe it’s a terrible place; or maybe it’s a place like the rest of the world, filled with a few bad people, a few good people, and lots of in-between. Not all secular schools are as whacked-out as the ones featured on Drudge. Maybe, just maybe, God will make some unexpected good come out of a bad situation. Maybe the school you find is a place that needs your kids—and maybe it will be good for your kids to be needed.