I know the old saying about assumptions, but I am going to make the assumption that my husband and I are not the only ones to find parenting far more challenging than it was for our parents. I remember as a kid my mom would hold me back because it wasn’t polite to ring someone’s doorbell until 9 a.m. After that I was on my own during the summer. We would get on our bikes and entertain ourselves all day long. At lunch, if I was hungry, I stopped at home to eat. If I wasn’t hungry my mom knew I would show up for supper, or at least before the street lights came on. My mom had the peace of knowing I was with about ten other neighborhood kids about my age, and she didn’t have to worry about something happening to me. There were many days we were outside all day long, and only checking in once and while for something to eat or for money to get something to eat. Unfortunately, parenting in the 21st century has changed. It has also become a life of wading through issues we don’t like to talk about.
I have two daughters in middle school. One is an eleven-year-old, and the other is a fourteen-year-old teenager. I would love to be able to give them the carefree childhood that I enjoyed, but we aren’t able to do that. My youngest daughter was playing outside our home when she was about seven, and someone tried taking her. Thankfully she knew to run to the nearest adult and ask for help. This unfortunately is the world we live in. No more carefree bike rides, pick-up baseball games, or wandering around the neighborhood until you found a friend that was home.
In middle school, we have some of the similar circumstances our daughters have, as bullies have been around for a long time. In addition to that, today our children navigate through a society that is very much as odds with our Catholic faith. There are so many things we deal with that my parents never had to. My mom died when I was in my early twenties, so there are a lot of things that would shock her, but mostly I think she would be shocked at the issues our daughters face in middle school.
As parents, we navigate that line between teaching them their faith, and yet doing what we should, which is loving others as God loves us. Wow, talk about difficult in today’s world! It would have been so much easier if we didn’t have the second half. If it was just love others, that would really leave it open to interpretation. However, we are to love others as God loves us. That is a total, all-encompassing, compassionate, and merciful love. That type of love and acceptance is a little more difficult.
It is difficult as a middle school parent to help our children who have friends changing genders, friends trying to figure out their sexuality, and friends thinking about becoming sexually active. I am wading through these difficult waters just like all other parents with kids this age. I know and understand how challenging parenting is, and I know that I never had to have these conversations with my parents.
I try to teach our girls about our Catholic faith and what we believe, and give them a strong relationship with God. I think this is important so when they are faced with today’s faith challenges, they know what they believe. God has created us all in His image and likeness. He created us to be just exactly who we are, and He has a purpose for each and every one of us. However, not everyone believes as we do. Both daughters have come to me asking questions about friends being transgender and friends not sure about their sexuality. I could have taught them to do what so many do, and tell their friends why they are wrong. I don’t think that would have done any good.
My girls and their friends know that they can come to me with any questions they have. My older daughter actually has a friend that said because my daughter is Catholic she assumed she would hate her. I think this is because of people telling her that her feelings are wrong. Instead, my daughter told her that if she wanted to know about Catholic teachings that we could talk to her, but that she didn’t think anything different about her and they were still the same people and friends they were five minutes before their conversation. My daughters are so well grounded in their faith that it makes difficult situations easier to navigate. In this situation my daughter was able to tell her friend what we believe as Catholics, and open up a dialogue with her friend.
We are all sinners. The problem is we all define sins differently. Jesus never told us to go out and point out what we think others are doing wrong, or to head to the confessional to tell Him of our neighbors’ sins. We are told to love others, as He has loved us. He didn’t say love others, only if they agree and believe in the same things you do. I never want my daughters to have a life of moral relativity, so a strong faith foundation is important. I also don’t want them to face judgment for not loving others because of their race, gender, or sexual identity. I think it is important to accept others who think differently than us.
I think this is what Pope Francis is trying to teach us. Although we may not love the sin, we love the sinner. Jesus didn’t tell sinners to go away. He surrounded himself by them. I hope my daughters will do the same, and be able to surround themselves with people they love and that love them, while remaining true to their Catholic identity, and having a close and loving relationship with God.