Thinking Aloud: Young Faith

As I mentioned yesterday, Flora is going to be receiving her First Holy Communion this spring.

This is an exciting time is the evolution of her faith, although, let’s face it: She probably doesn’t know that yet.

Confession (ha!): I don’t remember my first reconciliation (commonly known as confession or penance) or my First Holy Communion. I do remember a set of children’s Bibles I got at the time (Old Testament and New Testament, naturally). I read the heck out of those Bibles. They were written to my level, and they were GREAT stories.

As most 7 and 8 years olds do, Flora has a pretty simple, straightforward view of God and religion. Her faith is absolute. God exists (probably because Mom and Dad and most of the other people she knows say God exists), and being bad gets you in trouble. Be good so you don’t get in trouble. (This probably goes for more than just spiritually.)

Before she receives First Holy Communion, Flora will receive her first reconciliation. Right now, I’m pretty focused on making that anxiety-free for her. It’s tricky. She’s 8. It’s not as if she has a lot of major sins on her plate to confess. I don’t remember being anxious about it — but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t. (Mom, Dad, any memories of this?)

When they had the parents’ meeting about reconciliation, they had some tips about it. There was also a nifty historical lesson by our deacon that I enjoyed. My Catholic school days are far behind me, and if I knew some of the stuff he talked about, I had forgotten it.

I plan to talk to Flora about confession, and how it’s meant to make her closer to God. I’m not going to focus on the “everyone’s a sinner” aspect of religion at this point. One of the ideas I had was to run through the Ten Commandments with her, and have her base her confession on them.

The deacon talked about the Seven Deadlies, but I think those are too advanced for Flora. “Sins,” he said, “are the perversion of natural needs and desires.” (I’m paraphrasing, but it was an interesting way to look at sin.) Hence the Ten Commandments idea.

I don’t want these sacraments to provoke anxiety in Flora. I don’t want her to hear, “You are bad, and this is why you have to do this.” Being closer to God is an occasion of joy.

As part of her preparation for these sacraments, I have been working harder to take her to Mass each Sunday. (Confession: I don’t make Mass every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation. Confession: I need to go to confession.) For one, because it’s important for me to go to Mass. For two, because it’s important that I set a good example for Flora. And for three, because it’s important that Flora learn that it’s about more than sitting there being bored. Mass gives us a structure in which to offer ourselves to God (in thanks, in despair, in need, in hope).

At some point (well, I hope), Flora will realize why Mass is important, why religion and faith are important in general. And it’s not that we practice our faith or are good people because if we don’t we’re “bad” and we will be punished.

As faithful adults, we go to church, and obey the commandments, and are in general good, moral, and ethical people because we love God. We want to do what pleases and glorifies him — not for us, and not so we don’t go to Hell — but because we love him.

Please note, I am not saying you have to be religious to be a good, moral, and ethical person. There are plenty of crappy religious people (who are probably depending too much on the “But I believe in God!” strategy to get them through) and lots of very kind and good agnostic and atheist people. The absence of religion doesn’t make you a terrible person; the practice of religion by itself doesn’t make you a good person.

For me (and I’ve said it before), my Catholic faith and its practice is a source of peace and strength. I have my issues with the Catholic church. But the core message of love that I get from Jesus and God is worth the struggles with their representatives on Earth.

Do you remember your First Holy Communion or Reconciliation? How are you going to help your kids understand them (if you have kids)?

Parenting 101

Before I get labeled a hypocrite — which, granted, it may be too late — I want to make one thing absolutely and completely clear: I have no issues, problems, judgements, or bad things to say about the way that phdinparenting (PHDIP) chooses to parent, raise, school, feed, diaper/potty train, and/or otherwise bring up her children. She has opinions and positions that I do not share, but I don’t have a problem with that. I know many people — even many people whom I love dearly — who don’t share my opinions and/or positions — parenting, politically, spiritually, laundry- and otherwise.

I’m hardly a radical.

I did get a bit snappish and territorial over the rather lengthy comment she left on my Down with the Mommy Wars post, leaving me in a quite ironic position, of course. I’ll put the question out there: was the length of her comment out-of-bounds? A bit long for usual blog etiquette? Or am I talking out of my ear? I did, it is true, ask her the questions, in a private email response to her original comment.

She deems her reply not suitable for her own blog. *Ahem.* So she left it here.

Phdinparenting, as she terms herself online, has a rather interesting blog. I’ve looked around a bit. She seems to have a good following of like-minded parents too. It’s also quite well-written, which coming from me as a professional writer, may (or may not) be a big compliment.

I am curious about something, though, and I’ve been mulling it over. Have I ever!

It’s the idea that parenting is a science, or that one can parent scientifically. For the record, PHDIP also talks about it being an art. Please, please, please, for her whole take on the parenting gig, go visit her site (you can get there via the comments on the Down with Mommy Wars post). I am not providing a summary of her ideas here — I’m not telling both sides of the story. I am writing about my feelings, opinions, and positions. These ruminations are in response to reading some of PHDIP’s stuff.

This, combined with that Atlantic article by Hanna Rosin, have gotten me … stewing. Thinking. Mulling. Bubbling. And then some.

I used the term squishy science in my emails with PHDIP. There is, of course, non-squishy science out there too. The “Back to Sleep” campaign and carseats are the two that immediately come to mind. The Back to Sleep campaign was started in 1992, so it’s 17 years old. Before Back to Sleep, putting infants on their backs to sleep was considered dangerous. Seventeen years ago, the science changed. Carseats for children and infants can only be some 35 to 40 years old. I was not put in a carseat as an infant or toddler; nor was DearDR. (Were you?) I guess we got lucky. In the meantime, there’s no arguing that infant mortality rates from car accidents dropped dramatically.

I’m not about to undertake a point-by-point “scientific” smackdown, though. If you have questions and want to do research, well, that’s why Google was invented. (That’s a joke, son.) (Kind of.)

My point is that I never thought about or adopted a certain philosophy about raising my children. I mean, I thought about having kids, of course, I just never thought that hard about it. And I certainly didn’t set out to raise them based on any certain something — philosophy, science, chemistry, whatever.

I guess one exception is that I do want to raise them in the Catholic faith. But that’s not, in my view, a parenting philosophy.

Oh, I read the books: What to Expect…, Your Pregnancy/Baby Week by Week, some Dr. Sears, Dr. Spock. I talked to people; I listened to people. I went to midwives; I wanted to have a natural childbirth; I wanted to (and did) breastfeed. But I never sat down and said, “Well, I’m basing my parenting decisions on XYZ.” I felt that the reading and listening I did was more a matter of information gathering to know my options — more like guidelines than any hard or fast rules. And I certainly never thought to myself, “Well, I’ll do this scientifically.” I never would have thought that was an option.

All that science out there now, it’s not really that old. Humans have been parenting for tens of thousands of years. The first edition of What to Expect… came out in 1984; the venerable Dr. Spock started publishing in 1946; Dr. Sears’ first book, The Baby Book, was published in 1993.

Once the girls got here, I followed my guts, used what my instincts told me were right. I checked sources, read more, talked to my pediatricians. Discovered what the range of normal was, if my girls fell or fall into it, constantly checked in with myself about what and how I was doing. Cried on the phone to my mom. You know, the usual.

The way my mom probably parented. Was my mom perfect? Yes of course! (Hi, mom. Look away now, please.) Seriously, depending on who you ask, she did a bang-up job or utterly screwed me up (it’s okay, mom, that’s probably dad’s fault. It depends on who’s reading this). Perfect? Probably not. For example, she didn’t buy organic; she didn’t raise me a vegetarian; she spanked me (but she spanked my brother more!). (Actually, my dad probably spanked us.)

Now-a-days, you can look at all those resources above, plus popular magazines and on-line communities and resources, and so on, and you can exclaim, “We’ve come a long way, baby!”

And we have. But I’m not 100% sure that the current onslaught of information can be considered hard science, in any sense of the word. Science itself is a squishy word — as DearDR puts it, “What does science mean as a way of knowledge? Why isn’t science the best way to approach Mozart’s 40th symphony or Starry Starry Night?” Why does science, why should science, take priority?

What do you think? Do you have a parenting philosophy? Did you decide before you had children what kind of parent(s) you were going to be? Has that changed since actually having children? How?

My philosophy, if I had to put a name to it? Fly-by-the-Seat-of-my-Pants Parenting. I’m-making-this-up-as-I-go-along-How-am-I-doing-so-far Parenting. Somedays: Really?-I’m-a-Parent? Parenting. I have a lot of those.

As always, I warmly welcome comments — say, between 300 and 500 words long. 😉